My maternal grandmother and my own father each committed suicide.
I was raised by a single mom, she did an outstanding job. Truly. I never felt as though there was something missing in not having a father figure. I did however always know it would affect me on some level. Or multiple levels. Luckily over the years I've taken the time to delve into self growth and understand how some of my upbringing has formed pathways of thinking. Sometimes I can see what's running the show and choose a new approach, sometimes I'm fully operating from my five year old's 'I'm not good enough' conversation. If you look up my birthday in the 'Secret Language of Birthdays' book I'm day of The Tough Cookie. Seems crazy appropriate considering I LOVE cookies and I've done some tough shit, like popping my own dislocated foot/ankle back into place on a mountain at night in Iceland, oh and running 100 miles too. Just another day in the life. While I appreciate my toughness factor most of the time I also recognize it's a facade to hide behind. Growing up I remember at different times trying to be tough and have reasons to explain to my little brother why our dad wasn't there. We did get to meet and hang out with him a few times throughout our lives, which was awesome. Some Summers while visiting family in Pennsylvania he would show up. Then later shockingly my mom approved him picking us up in Santa Cruz every other weekend and taking care of us for the weekend in Concord, CA where he lived at the time. My brother and I usually had a blast, whether bike riding, playing with neighborhood kids or finding and destroying all our fathers cigarettes. Especially because we knew he couldn't really get mad at or scold us. One weekend not too long after these weekend excursions began my brother and I sat out in the carport of our mobile home with our bags at our sides waiting for him to pick us up. I can't recall how much time passed but it felt like a slow motion movie where the entire day passes from sunrise to sunset. My brother asked me where he was. I had a gut feeling we wouldn't see him again. I told my bro without hesitation while putting my arm around him 'it's okay, we were fine before when he wasn't here, so we'll be fine without him too, it doesn't make a difference'.
When I was about 18 I realized that I had some pretty dark stuffed anger towards my father. This of course was apparent in how I approached dating. My conversation about that it didn't matter if we had a dad was a perfect reflection for how I treated whoever was unlucky enough to try to pursue me. It was a total unconscious getting back at my dad, I pretty much treated any suitor as if they didn't matter. As you can imagine no relationship lasted long. Which was totally fine when I was a teenager. But it was really awesome to get insight on all this so young. I reached out, well actually, hunted down my father. I knew he still lived in Concord and that he was an Iron Worker. One of my phone calls to an iron workers office was particularly emotional when I just decided to share my life story, breaking down into tears sort of begging for my father's phone number, email address, anything. She listened but repeated multiple times that all information was confidential. At some point there was a pause on both ends of the line, then in a low voice she muttered that something crazy just happened, usually the workers never come into the office, but my father had at that moment walked in. She broke the rules for me. I spoke briefly with my father who I hadn't talked to since I was a child. Tears were shed and he ended the call with 'I love you'. I couldn't say it back but I appreciated the sentiment. I also knew it was true. I came to learn through a few additional phone calls over the next couple of years that in my opinion he was the black sheep of the family, had always leaned towards trouble, made a lot of not so great choices over the years but he did have a good heart at his core.
I did not know that the events one woman who I hadn't even seen in years was going to effect so many people for so long. My mom and family members supported one another with great care, visited therapist to specifically work through it. But sometimes time is what's needed to heal. I'd say it took my mom a good two years to get through what I could only describe as depression, while definitely milder after the first few months of shock had faded. But '94 is when I mark for myself as the year I grew up. Naturally I took on more to help, whether making dinners, lunches or just anything else that seem needed at the time. Life has seemed more important to live fully for me ever since. Granted I was still a teenager and completely massaged this into justifying trying new things that could only lead me to be labeled a trouble maker. Hehe.
I'm not sure I can ever fully understand the suicide of my grandmother. There was some speculation that she may have been bipolar. At the time I made up she couldn't bring herself to face and fix the things she had created. I decided that suicide was the most selfish act one could take. When she had disowned my mother I was a child. I remember thinking to myself that she had recently given me a birthday card that included a lunch outing, then she disowned my mom, I wasn't sure if that meant my brother and I too, but she was the adult, I'd let her call me. That call never came. I went on being a kid. In those years after the disowning and prior to the death my mom and I did see her one time sitting on a bench by the beach looking straight out towards the sea. My mom and I stopped in our tracks, most likely both deciphering whether we should interrupt her or not, nothing was said, we walked slowly behind and past her. For a long time I regretted not taking Big up on that lunch date. But I also knew it wasn't my fault, I did nothing wrong. But that feeling still stays with you when you experience a suicide. You can't stop the thoughts about what you did or what you didn't do. These thoughts haunted my consciousness for a long time, then subsided in my dreams. Eventually years later there was one night when I was over at my then fiancé's (now husband and soon to be father of our first child!) apartment when he was awoken to me talking in my sleep. He listened and asked who I was talking to. I told him my grandma Big and to say "hello" while gesturing to the left side of the bed. He looked over and saw a the form of a figure standing next to him, later realizing she stood between a cloth I had draped over the curtains that was previously owned by her and us. Sort of cautiously he said "hello" to my grandma and waved. I believe I went on talking to her a bit. The next day he asked me about the occurrence to see if I remembered any of it. I remembered it all. It was crystal clear to me she wanted my help in having her three daughters forgive and release her. In time I softly relayed this message to my mom and aunts. I like to think that over time Big was able to forgive herself and release herself from this world, finding peace and contentment.
I am beyond grateful that I did reach out to him when I was 18 because of what I had learned about myself through some Landmark Education courses, that I conferenced my brother in on one of those calls so he could talk to him, that I did thank him for having me, that I was all good, that we were fine and that I did have love for him. Of course I regretted not tracking him down and returning that last call, but damn, the man never even gave me a phone number, I only got random calls from unknown numbers of friends. Having been through the experience of my grandmothers' suicide I was better equipped to deal with this one. But it was my own father, that made it scarier somehow. I remember dealing with the initial emotions through sobbing uncontrollably on my fiancé's chest while he wrapped me up in the biggest bear hug ever, we laid on our bed, tears soaking him completely, he let it flow not caring that snot was soon dripping everywhere too. If I didn't already know that he was a keeper, that moment really solidified his support and love for me.
After realizing that suicide is not black and white, that depression is an illness, it is like any medical condition, it needs constant attention and thorough care. I can only hope that somehow my experiences could help even just one person not choose the path my grandmother and father took and instead seek the help they needed, realizing that it's okay to feel what you feel, you are not alone and you have support, that there is a better way, there is another way. Like any challenge in life, that first step is the hardest. Please, please find the courage within you to take it.