I was at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World when I got the call I’d been dreading for so long… “Sammy, your dad killed himself.” I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to the “happiest place on earth” after that day a year and a half ago.
Undoubtedly, I am in a dramatically better place than I was 6 months ago. I chalk this up to three things: counseling, my own independent self-growth (including a LOT of fitness), and the support from people closest to me.
It was far from easy getting to where I am now, and it certainly isn’t over. Losing my dad to suicide has been the most confusing thing for me to grasp. The peace and understanding that I’ve sought out has been completely unreachable at times, and I have long accepted that it is probably something I may never find true peace with. Anyone who has lost someone close to them by suicide understands the unwavering guilt that comes along with it: Did I do enough? Could I have done more? Is this my fault? I should have forced them to get professional help. I should have told them I loved them more… What was especially difficult for me is that my dad and I were not on good terms when he died. In fact, it was during an argument we were having when the very last thing I said to my dad was “just stop. Don’t bother talking to me if that’s all you have to say.” I struggle typing that line. The guilt I feel for the fact that THAT is the last thing I said to my dad is overwhelming. It’s unbearable at times. Death is one thing. Suicide is another. Thinking you are responsible for your parent’s suicide is unbearable.
People often feel guilt when dealing with a loved one’s suicide because they think they could have done more to prevent it. I felt guilty because I felt like I could have done LESS to prevent it. People ignored me at the funeral. Some couldn’t even look me in the eyes. Some walked right by me to my sister to hug her. They had no idea that my only intention for that last conversation was to feel wanted and cared for again by my own father. I was a child seeking approval. But to them, I was a monster who had pushed my dad to his breaking point.
I spent the next 9 months spiraling into an unbearable depression where I felt like I was drowning in my own guilt. I was watching my partner succeed in life while I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I tried talking to my dad. I begged him to help me. I made three separate appointments with a psychiatrist and cancelled them all. Was this my fault? Did I push my dad to kill himself? Did I contribute to his loneliness? Did my dad die not knowing I loved him? And then one night, I officially broke down. I won’t ever forget it. I was consumed with too much sadness and guilt. I couldn’t bare it anymore. The next day, I made the appointment with my counselor. That was my Day One.
Here’s what I’ve learned about suicide since then: it is much less painful accepting that you might always feel some guilt, rather than trying to eliminate it completely. You end up being kinder and more compassionate towards yourself instead of constantly battling and fighting with yourself. It is normal to feel guilty. It is normal to feel like you should have done more. It is normal to reflect on every communication you had with them and wonder what you could have done differently. I started to focus less on that last conversation and more on remembering the good times we had together. When we went on vacation every year, I know he was happy. When he yelled at my teacher for upsetting me, I know he cared for me. When we said goodbye before I left for America and I saw him cry, I know he loved me dearly. My dad was not himself when he died, and probably not himself when we had our last conversation. Demons had taken over his brain and convinced him that this was the only way. My dad took his life because of the years of depression and heartbreak he was dealing with, not because of our last conversation.
To anyone dealing with suicide guilt: depression did this to them – not you. They were fighting a chemically-imbalanced battle that they just couldn’t win. Other people will tell you it isn’t your fault and there’s nothing you could have done, and you might never truly believe that – but that’s okay. You aren’t alone. Be kind to yourself and know it is normal. You might always feel some guilt, but I promise it will get easier. Don’t let the guilt run your life. Don’t let it consume you. Focus on the good times and know it was real. Know that they died holding those good memories deep inside them, locked forever. Life will get better, the guilt will fade, and you will stop blaming yourself. Use the guilt to fuel the compassion you have towards yourself, towards the person who took their life, and also towards other people dealing with the guilt too. You did what you could. You did enough. You were enough. Play that shit on repeat in your mind every day: “I did what I could. I did enough. I am enough.” Coming from someone who has every reason to feel guilty, believe me when I tell you that it’s time to let go. Forgive yourself.