People tell me that I am brave. I’m really not. They tell me that it takes courage to share my story, my loss with others. I don’t know. For me, there is no other way to wear this new aspect of self that is forever ingrained in me. I am a survivor of suicide loss. I didn’t ask for any of this and in truth, I would go back in an instant to the me that I was before: before my father’s suicide, before I became a survivor, before life as I knew it was forever altered. But I can’t.
Being a survivor feels like trying to fit into shoes that are two sizes too small or clothes that are 10 sizes too big. It’s uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit, and it most certainly doesn’t feel right. I don’t yet recognize this part of myself. Most days I don’t really want to. But I know that I must slowly grow into this new moniker, because it is my truth.
Eleven months ago, my father took his life. I know he was ashamed of battling anxiety and depression and that he couldn’t simply pull himself up and out of the depths of his despair. It made him feel weak. It made him afraid. And knowing that he died feeling this way is what breaks my heart the most, because he wasn’t weak. He was fighting an illness. Only his illness carried with it the added weight of stigma, judgement and shame. And that weight only brought him deeper into that dark place from which he saw no escape.
No, I’m not brave. I’m just trying to figure out how to live with my loss. And I know that I can’t wear it, I can’t truly own this truth, if I try to hide it. Where it fits into my world and sense of self, I am still trying to figure out. But I know I will not layer it with shame. And I know I will not allow others to judge my father. And more than anything, I know I want this tragic imprint that is now a part of my family story, to matter. I won’t cloak it in silence. I want to use it to shine a light on the issues of suicide and mental illness. I want it to humanize this loss so that people can see we were an ordinary family, and it happened to us. I want them to know my father in life, not to simply allow him to be defined by his death.
I am a survivor of suicide loss. I never thought that would be a part of my identity. But if I must wear it, I choose to do it honestly and without shame. I choose to wear my heart upon my sleeve, in all of its brokenness. I choose to be a truth-teller, even if some days I have only the strength to speak in a whisper. I choose to let my tears melt down the barriers that keep us from saying the word suicide. I choose not to let that word relegate me to grieve in isolation. I choose to give meaning to my father’s death. Does that make me brave? I don’t know. But whatever it makes me, I will own it with all of the courage I can muster.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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