by Deborah Greene
Monday will mark 14 months months since you left us. How can that possibly be? Some days it feels as if I’ve lived a lifetime without you, and others it is as if it just happened yesterday. If I knew then what I know now, there is so much that I would say to you Dad. And there are things I would say and do differently.
I would ask you to stay. In fact, I would beg you. I am not above saying that. I would not offer you platitudes or promise it would all get better. I never did. But I would remind you as often as I could that in all of your brokenness, just as you were, you were loved. Never again would I say that perhaps you could “fake it until you feel it.” Because I know now that faking it took far too much strength and energy. I would tell you that loving you through the hard times was not a burden. That none of us would feel better off without you.
I would ask you to give the therapist and the medication time. And just as I did then, I would temper your expectation that one day you would simply wake up and feel all better. You were so desperate not to hurt anymore and you gave that tiny pill far too much power. And when it failed to act as quickly as you had hoped, you slipped further away from us. Only we didn’t know it.
I would ask you to be honest with us. You showed us pieces of your pain. But you did not show us all of it. Maybe you yourself didn’t recognize the depths of your suffering. Maybe you felt further weakened and embarrassed, ashamed of the notion that you might consider ending your own life. So you pushed those thoughts down into that dark hole that had opened up inside of you. Oh how I wish you had said it Dad.
Remember how I told you that to make therapy work, you would have to be willing to peel back all of the layers? It would be hard, it could be painful, but it could bring you to a place of understanding yourself and your pain. And from that place of understanding, healing would be possible. But instead you compartmentalized, you rationalized and you masked the truth. Why didn’t you tell someone, anyone that death was beckoning to you, promising you an end to the suffering? Why did you only drop hints that we were unprepared to recognize then? If you had just spoken the words, you might still be here with us now.
Dad, I would tell you that we needed you. And I would remind you of all the goodness, the joy, the celebrations that were yet to come. I’d ask you to look into the faces of your grandchildren and see all of the beautiful possibilities that lie ahead. Imagine their graduations, bat mitzvahs, and weddings. Imagine sitting with mom, dancing in joy and relishing the growing beauty of the family that you created together. Then I would ask you to see the void that would be present if you were not there. I would ask you to look at the tears, the palpable sense of missing that we would all feel with your absence.
If I had a clue that you were considering suicide, I would have been on the first flight and as a family; we would have gotten you even more help. We would have come up with a plan that met you in crisis and carried you through. Why didn’t you give us that chance Dad?
If I had a chance to say anything to you Dad, I would tell you over and over again that I loved you, that I needed you in my life, that you leaving would be devastating.
I don’t know if any of it would have made a difference Dad. But I am left with so many words unspoken. There was no final goodbye. I didn’t get to hold your hand, embrace you and kiss you one last time. I would tell you that not getting to do that would forever hurt and haunt me. It feels like you simply disappeared.
Dad, I know that you were suffering. But if you were here now, I would acknowledge it with an even greater understanding. Hindsight offers me an insight that I didn’t fully have a year ago. Your pain was so very real. You hurt all over. I would tell you that it’s okay to let all of that pain show.
I would ask you to shed the layers of stigma, the shame, the fear that you would be perceived as weak, frail & somehow less of a man. Those layers only weighed you down, causing you to sink even further. And when you asked if you would ever return to your old self, I would say instead that the goal of each day should be to meet the pain, to share it, to work through it and to strive instead toward healing bit by bit. Because returning to your old self, that may have been far too lofty a goal. Perhaps you didn’t have the strength to reach toward a finish line that was so far off. But small markers, milestones that were within reach, maybe that would have been possible.
I wish I could go back. I wish you were here. I wish I could say all of these things to you Dad. I wish I knew then, what I know now. Fourteen months ago you took your life. And all that I want to share with you now; I must sit at your graveside to say. But I say it anyway. I love you. I miss you. I wish you could have stayed. We are not better off without you. We wanted you here.
Deborah Greene lives in Superior, CO with her husband & three daughters. She lost her father Lowell Jay Herman on April 20, 2015. You can follow her journey at reflectingoutloud.net where she first published a version of this post.