Dear Reader,

After my father’s suicide, I searched for books to help me through my grief process, but there weren’t many available, especially not one page meditations. The nature of recovery from a loved one’s suicide, for me, was silent. The people that knew about my loss did not know how to console, and I rarely spoke about my father’s suicide. I was afraid of what others may think of my father or me. Unearned shame kept me quiet. I needed words and feelings from someone who had walked down the same path. I did not need graphic descriptions of a person’s suicide. I couldn’t deal with words that brought home the horrible scene of finding my father. But still, I needed to know that the churning feelings inside me were normal. With the thought that possibly another person could relate to my feelings, writing them has been a catharsis.

For me writing has always been a release. There was an old game I used to play as a child called pick-up-sticks. The object was to remove one stick at a time without moving the others. That’s what writing these meditations has been like for me; I picked up one thread of a thought at a time to look at and express. Singling out just one thought and developing it into concise words was difficult and frustrating. Yet, it left me with a clear heart and the ability to get on with my life. Writing these one-page thoughts were both my own cathartic attempt to make some sense of what happened to me after my father’s death, and my attempt to help others cope with their sorrow.

Writing was just one tool in my efforts to heal from the grief of losing my father. Professional direction from a psychologist helped me to understand, also, that once I was able to see my father as no longer in pain then I could begin my own healing. Joining a support group gave me confidence to stop isolating and helped me to talk about my father’s suicide.

Efforts at good writing ask the writer to always speak their truth. It was the truth that I adhered to in these reflections. I did not whitewash the pain. If you have lost someone to suicide, I hope my truth will not cut sharply into your agony. And painful though they are, I believe these reflections have a healing grace. I hope that you will find something in them that will help.


Karen Phillips

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My blog has been moved to:

Please come there to read.  There are categories like anger, fear, and PTSD that your can click on to lead you to those specific sites.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Closet Ghosts

I found the poem below in some old documents the other night while looking for something to read at my writers group.  I wrote it in 2004 and revised it a little more this week.  Daddy's shoe was the first thing I saw when I found him.  Reading this poem in the group gave me some trouble.  No one said much in the way of helping me make it better except one person.  She told me to put the word "alone" in a line by itself.  

I've found it is good to talk about things that trouble me and not hide myself from them.  As I read the poem, I could feel that old shitty fear rising up in my throat, scared of something that had already happened.  Scared of how the people in my group might think. I read it as fast as my heart was beating. Someone said it was "dark," and I said yes, I wrote it while I was in a dark place.

The same person who offered constructive thoughts on the poems I read that night wrote a note just for me to see.  These are real life experiences, don't apologize for how you felt or express them.

When I hide away from the things that scare or trouble me, when I don't speak what I believe or feel, then I make it easy, too easy, for me to fall back into invisibility.  Being invisible is just as terrifying as finding that one left shoe.

Closet Ghosts


into the closet

I found a shoe,


resting sideways

containing my father’s foot bones.

Wanting to just close the door,

I stood focused on the one

left behind




shivered up my spine as

I watched him lace up

his one-day-in-my-life

Sunday best. 

Shoe morphed into a boot

fragile now and

cracked from years

walking construction sites.

A hard hat ghosted in,

completing the wardrobe.


If I could, like God,

raise up from the essence

of those shoe bones

the image of my father,

I’d ask

“why did you leave

only a shoe?

Why not a note?”


Karen Phillips, 2004, revised 2013

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gratitude List

           Today, I woke up feeling shame that I always dread Easter.  This year that dread seems to be at a higher level than usual.  It will be fourteen years since my father’s suicide, the Friday after Easter, and I still feel weighted down.  And even that feels shameful.
            I don’t talk much to my church friends or pastor about the reason I tend to disappear during Easter.  In a nutshell, I’ve got Daddy, Jesus, and death rolled up in a pretty tightly knitted ball.  I feel pain, so I retreat.
            This morning I thought maybe a gratitude list of what is going on in my life right now might help me out of my funk.  Here it is:
·         I am grateful that my Higher Power loves me and allows me moments of doubt as well as moments of clarity.
·         I am grateful for my marriage.
·         I am grateful that my mother is still alive and seems to be doing so well.
·         I am grateful for my decision to write even though I struggle for ideas and scenes.
·         I am grateful for the Spring season coming.  I saw buttercups sprouting this morning.
·         I am grateful for my Codependence Anonymous support groups that I attend on a regular basis. 
·         I am grateful for the friendship of my dog.
·         I am grateful for grocery stores.
·         I am grateful for new friendships.
·         I am grateful for the realization that I grieve today.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Losing a Father to Suicide

“I just adored him.” 
            Frances Moore (1998)

            Stereotypically, my father was the breadwinner; he was the person my mother used to threaten to tell of my misbehavior when I was a child; he was supposedly the man in control.  I felt he was my protector, too, and even though I was an adult now, that child-like feeling was still within my heart.  I felt he could handle anything.  I loved and adored my father.
            Some may not care for their fathers.  Some fathers are bastards.  Really there’s no easy way to deny that reality.   Either way, the loss of someone so instrumental in getting you into this world is a major event. 
            To lose my father to a death of his own decision created a lot of different questions in my mind.  Could suicide be something that I might choose to do because I have his genes?  Did I mean this little to him?  Did I not love him enough?   What the hell was he thinking?
            Your father’s decision to die is not the sum total of his life.  If you adored him; allow yourself to feel the heartbreak.  If you were mixed up by his treatment of you; allow yourself to feel the confusion. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Visiting The Grave

It took me a long time to go back to the cemetery after my father’s funeral.  I went alone not sure what my feelings would churn up.  Disbelief, anger, sadness, worry, fear, stress, all filled me. 
I brought a single rose and a shell.  One had soft, vulnerable pedals and a stem full of thorns.  One had a spiny, barbed shield surrounding an empty hole.  Both represented my heart.  I laid them against his monument.  The cemetery was quiet.  Except for several crows squawking as they jumped on the ground and then back into a tree and a muffled road noise from the busy highway, I heard nothing but the sound of my own thoughts.
“Oh, Daddy,” I cried out, “You broke my heart.  Why did you do it?” 
Just as he left nothing explaining why he killed himself, no great answer rang out from the clouds or even in my head.  I heard only the shouting crows.  Presently, their lively game of tag gave my grieving mind and aching heart a release from the emotional turmoil.  I smiled and went home.  Throughout the rest of the week the sounds and games of the crows stayed with me—especially after I read this bible verse. 
Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  Luke 12:24-26.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Contagious Depression after the Suicide of a Loved One

            You might have called my father an adventurer.  Certainly his suicide caused me to explore a new whelm of thought.  Before he ended his life, death to me was something that came swift or slow either unwanted or welcomed.  The key idea, though, was that death came; it wasn’t an option.  Something innocent in me had the notion that no one person had that much power as to end their own life.  Death, like birth, came from God.
            The first few years after Daddy died, I went through my own depression.  I suffered through countless child-like angers at family and friends.  Little problems or stresses brought about a thought of how easily death now could be called upon.  Suicide or perhaps more the fear of it carried a heavy weight in my thoughts. 
The fear that I could simply kill myself sat upon my shoulder like a maliciously smiling monkey, chattering extreme suggestions into my ear.  I was scared of my own thoughts.  Dangerous thoughts came from the mile-wide crack in my soul; I wasn’t in full control of myself.  I felt no one in my family would understand, but they, too, were just as shocked by my father’s death.    
            Rather than death, I sought help.  I began talking, first to counselors, then to a priest, and then to friends.  It was important that the people I chose to talk with about my father’s suicide and my fears were not dependent upon my being ok—that I didn’t have to put up a front for them.  I needed to tell the truth; I was horribly afraid that suicide was genetic.  These trustworthy, objective people allowed me to safely expose my fear and be as weak as I felt.  They listened, nodded, and assured me that I wasn’t crazy—and that I had more strength than I realized.  The fears eased up as I shed light upon them.
            The thing about suicide is that its bleak aftermath wants to spread like a bad cold or influenza.  Get help.  Talk to someone immune to your pain.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Family Reactions

            The weekend between my father’s death and his funeral, my mother’s house was filled with people.  Extended family, friends, neighbors, they all came.  I appreciated most of the support, except from one aunt.  She, like me, was filled with the need to take care of my mother.  It became a sick competition between us.  I resented her help.  I felt she should back off.  Uneasy, she talked too much.
Everything she said came out wrong or inconsiderate.  She bragged on how nice my husband was and how she wished we had children—knowing I couldn’t get pregnant.  She realized her insensitivity and apologized.  Conversationally, she said someone she was close to suffered from depression and thought he might kill himself, too.  Her comments seemed casual to me.  I couldn’t process the things she said.  In my mind, it had only been a few hours since I had just found Daddy’s body.  
At first, I felt hammered by her words and listened in shocked silence.  Then my anger spewed forth.  It didn’t come out so much in my words as how I said them.  I bore down on her—leveling my eyes upon her like an aggressive dog on the verge of attack.  She went flying out of the room, crying.
            Even though we were in a reactive state of mind, the resentment stayed with me for a long time.  Slowly, I realized I had been using her as a safety valve for my anger—anger that Daddy had been so selfish, that he had left his body for me to find, that I sat there feeling so powerless.  She was a safe target, a scapegoat; I knew she loved me.  Later, I apologized. She said there was nothing to apologize for.  She was right.  We were all so full of grief. 
Grieving people say and do stupid things.  Grieving people react just as stupidly.  We hurt each other.  Be thankful.  Understanding or not, we become great teachers in the lessons of forgiveness. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011


            Probably the worst thing about losing my father to suicide was that I could never stop thinking about it.  It sat right under the edge of every thought and action.  His death invaded me, waking or asleep.  It was hard to know how to go about my life.
            One woman that I met at a support group who had lost her husband to suicide said she had to structure her life tightly to keep going.  “I did everything I could to limit the impact of the suicide and grief on my life,” she said.  “I kept going.  I kept functioning.  I took enough control that it didn't cause additional problems for me.”  I think her organized methods of structure helped her compartmentalize her emotions. 
            My sister told me that she put her grief and memories of my father into an emotional box and took them out when she had the strength.
I found that I couldn’t handle a tightly structured day or find an emotional box tight enough to hold back the thoughts.  In the beginning, my mind didn’t operate well enough to keep up with details.  Silent screams, memories, and images wormed their way in and out of all details.  I had to leave plenty of time for staring into space.  At work, I eased out of as much stress at possible.  At home, I refinished furniture, sanded the wood in a hypnotic state and thanked God that I didn’t have children.  Each of us did what we needed to get through.
Find what works best and do that.  There are no rules in how to go about a day after you have lost someone to suicide.  Just getting through it is the goal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


                        I’m not sure when portions of my journal turned into a daily thank-you-list to a Higher Power.  I wrote these the first month after Daddy died.
Thank You for
·         the bird songs when the sun comes up.  (They took me to a non-thinking place.)
·         for the smell of the woods during my walk. 
(The honeysuckle and wild roses penetrated my thoughts.)
·         for the people at work.  (They kept their distance last week)
·         for giving me a few quiet moments from the emotional waves of grief.
·         for my husband’s friendship. (How could anyone have been my friend today?)
·         for Kleenex and friendly ears.
·         for the right to my anger.
·         for helping me dial the wrong number.  (I needed to talk to that person.)
·         for the love of my dogs. (They were more tuned in to me than I was.)
·         for the sleeping-late days. (I was so tired.)
·         for letting me be a cranky child today.
·         for a chance to see an old friend.
·         for the ease of looking at the sun through the haze.
·         for helping me not to argue with my sister yesterday.
·         for the tools to clean: a dishwasher, a broom, a washer-and-dryer, a vacuum.
·         for sex and being held afterward. (I didn’t feel worth the effort.)
·         for the time that’s past since Daddy died.  (Each day will take me a step out of this hell).

Monday, June 13, 2011

My First Flashback--Salmon and Godzilla

            My first flashback came after cooking supper and then going to a movie. 
 “This is probably the last thing Daddy had to eat,” I told my husband while I fried the salmon patties.  “How do you know that?” he asked.  “Because Mom was heating up their leftovers for lunch when I found him; I’m not sure if he had breakfast.” I said.  Somehow I sidestepped then reliving the memory.  
After supper my husband left his plate in the sink and hurried to get dressed.  We were going to see a remake, Godzilla 2000.  Cleaning the kitchen, I got mad, “I’m not your damned maid, you know.”  His only defense was a smile.  I swallowed my anger, halfway smiled, and got ready for the movie, too.
            In one scene of the movie, Godzilla was shot.  It moaned and fell face-forward.  Its head was cocked to one side with its forelimb crumpled under its body.  Jumping at the shot, I thought, “That’s how Daddy was laying when I found him.”  The death scene had just completed the brain-circuit for my flashback—from salmon patties to Godzilla.  In my mind, all over again, I found my father’s body. 
I jumped up and ran out of the theater.  My husband followed me.  In the hall, I tried to convince him I was okay.  “Just go back in; I’ll be back.  I just need a minute.  It’s only a movie—for God sake,” I said, but my hands shook.  I was angry, frightened, and didn’t want him hovering over me.  “Let’s just go,” he said. “Fine,” I answered, jerked away from him and walked toward the door.
Outside in the truck, my mouth began an uncontrollable quiver.  Sweat soaked through my clothes.  It soaked my scalp.  It rolled like tears from my armpits to my waist while I hyperventilated.  We sat there till my breath came back.  I felt like I was losing my mind.
                        Emotions and physical reactions to traumatic stress are like piling a bunch of small bouncing-balls in a box.  They bang into each other and go everywhere.  It’s easy for you and others to think you’re crazy.  You’re not crazy.  You’re normal.  Talk about it with someone who listens.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Post-Traumatic Stress—Movies, TV, Anger

            My favorite TV shows and movies bothered me after Daddy died.  High suspense stories didn’t interest me anymore.  Comedies weren’t funny.  Sad movies broke my heart too much.  That visual art medium intensely triggered my feelings in the beginning.  My heart pounding, I would rush to the bathroom wishing to vomit out the stirred memories.  Mostly, I just stared at the clear water in the toilet.  Later I simply disconnected my attention from TV shows or from a movie.  I usually drifted into thought, or maybe went to the kitchen during some action packed scene.  Dullness served its purpose for a while.  I wasn’t feeling anything.
            Then the determined anger came.  I felt it toward my father and with myself, too, that I couldn’t even get lost in a story.  So I set about the task of desensitizing, watching my favorites over and over again till I wore a callous over the ultra-sensitive nubs of my mind.   Hardening myself, I purposely watched even the hardest parts of murder and mayhem.  But the suicide themes, they were definitely off the list.  Some things can be taken too far.
My ever-protecting husband many times tried to change the channel—for me.  I got angry at him, too.  I took back the remote control and flicked the channel with my single intention.  I didn’t want suicide to ruin everything fun in my life.  I would watch what I wanted, damn it.
 Anger is an emotion of enormous power.  Filled with robust, bursting energy, it’s the spark that sets the flame.  Just as the mind mercifully shuts down in self- defense, anger can push it back right into reality. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Post-Traumatic Stress—Blood

            I didn’t realize the streams of dark liquid were blood.  Maybe it was because Daddy was in a shadowy area in his garage, or maybe it was because my mind had begun already to mercifully stop processing reality.  My thoughts had reduced to a crawl.  I didn’t see the gun hidden in a sock laying a yard or two away from his body.  It must have jumped from his hand when he shot himself.   There was no exit wound from his head because he had used such a small bullet.  Thinking he had perhaps had a massive stroke or heart attack, I didn’t know he had shot himself.  I saw the dark streams as motor oil.  Slowly, looking at his body, I wondered what he had been working on before he died. 
It bothered me that I hadn’t recognized something as vital as his blood.  That first night at home in bed, I tried to explain to my husband how guilty I felt that I didn’t know it was his blood.  The words howled out in such rushed anguish that the bedcovers twisted around my body.  I had seen my father’s blood rolling away in rivulets and didn’t know it.  If only I had of known, I could have tried to scoop it up.  Surely, I could have done something!             
Afterwards, if I saw where someone had poured out liquid on to concrete, I felt queasy, a sick pounding just under my heart.  My ribcage would widen-out in fright.  I worked, then, at an automotive dealership.  Seeing oil or some other dark liquid on the concrete was an everyday occurrence.  I felt I couldn’t get away from the sight.  Even the habit of tossing out the last few swallows of coffee from my cup when I got out of the car took my mind right back to that moment.
I had developed a phobia of dark liquid.  I felt no one would understand, so I only spoke of it once in a support group.  I cried so hard that I lost my breath.  I didn’t speak of it again for nearly a year.  I wrote my thoughts and fears in a journal where I felt comfortable crying in private.  Thankfully, that intense fear of liquid being dashed out on the ground subsided.  I’ve since learned that no matter how much I think to the contrary my mind can’t hold itself in an extreme state of fear forever.
The thing about fears is that they always seem to have a source of origin.  The truth is fears are wider and taller in the shadows than they are in the light.  Put them in the light.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

At First

            Pictures of my father entered my mind, uninvited.  Thoughts of his blood invaded everything.  They swept through my every action and camped out in my dreams.  Day or night, asleep or awake, it didn’t matter.  I was suddenly emerged, pre-soaked, and never rinsed clean.  I had bloodstains on my mind.
            I obsessed.  How long had he been thinking of killing himself?  He started clearing away everything around his house nearly a month before.  Had he also planned on killing Moma?  He really could have, you know; I believed it was on his mind.  He had tried to throw away her tomato cages as if she wouldn’t have another growing season.  But Moma gave Daddy a hard time about throwing her gardening supplies away.  So he put them back. 
“What in hell’s name were you thinking?” I cried out in my sleep enough to wake me.  Had he planned on me finding him?  He knew I was coming to visit.  He knew that I usually came looking for him.  Did he have faith that I would take care of things for him?
            How long did I suffer from traumatic stress?  It was a long time.  I longed for just the grief of missing Daddy and not being stuck on how he died.  Counseling helped, although I have had uneasy feelings that tap me on the shoulder still. 
Finally, I could pinpoint when the lessening started.  In a dream, I didn’t raise that garage door; I didn’t go in calling out his name.  In my dream, I chose not to go in.  Waking, the dream left me feeling rested.  Perhaps that one particular dream was the first real scabbing-over of my heart.
            Raw grief hurts so much.  It does get easier.  It takes a while.  Look to your dreams.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Police Panelists Discuss Suicide Prevention

I sat right up front at the seminar, but I didn’t ask one question while a panel of police negotiators discussed their side of what happens when called out to a suicide attempt.  I was at a special program put on by a suicide support group.  What I heard filled me with a new respect for the police.  In some ways it helped lighten my guilt and yet burdened me with even more.  I learned that it took more than one person to talk someone out of suicide, and it took a lot of connection.
Thoughts deviled me that I didn’t do enough to connect with my father.  It was always hard to give him direct attention.  In his depression, his indifference was a barrier.  I didn’t know about assessment questions then, and probably wouldn’t have had the courage to ask them if I had.  But, I knew something was wrong, didn’t I?  Guilt ate at me like termites.
My recent anxiety came, though, because I sat in the middle of crisis prevention counselors.  Their focus topic on how to stop a suicide was altogether different from mine, the aftermath of a suicide and how to get past it.  One policewoman said it was better to err on the side of too much attention.  Sitting there listening, I felt emotionally engaged to my father’s death realizing the things that I or someone else could have done for him.  I quietly ached with my self-imposed blame that I didn’t “err on the side of too much attention.”
The negotiators all agreed that if someone completes the effort of suicide then that is the time that the police have to emotionally disengage.  Each agreed that negotiation was all about control and connecting psychologically with that person.  I shook my head and thought “for me it’s all about letting go and disconnecting.” 
Has my guilt been more self-made than actual?  The police negotiators said that “it takes a group of about ten people to negotiate successfully” someone out of a suicide attempt.  I was but one person. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Numbness and Flashbacks

            My feelings swung from one extreme to the other for a long time after Daddy’s death.  Numbly, I reasoned that I must be doing fine.  I would feel guilty that I didn’t feel anything about Daddy’s suicide.  Then I judged there must be something terrible about me and doubted my ability to love.  The next day, or maybe even the next minute, something would trigger a flashback.  It could be anything, the food I ate that day before I found him, a movie scene with gunshot sounds, or a sudden sound of silence.  And I became a trembling volcano of feelings and memories that I couldn’t turn off.  I felt like someone stripped me of my skin and dragged me through salt. 
My soul burned from those flashbacks.  I felt embarrassed by them if they happened to me in public.  I felt afraid of them if they came while I was alone.
            Those experiences led me to believe that I would never get over my father’s death.  I felt I was either a rudderless vessel carried or tossed by raging currents or sitting flat on a dead sea.  Then the anger came, and I vowed that I wouldn’t let my father’s choice affect the rest of my life.  None of those ways of thinking predicted the truth of my future.
            The actual relief of my experience came when I realized time had gradually slowed those swinging emotions and memories to something less extreme.  Little by little, I stopped reliving the pain.  Recalls became bittersweet and controllable.  That adage about time healing wounds became my truth.
            Suicide is like a razor slashing at the souls of those left behind.  The cuts are deep and serious.  No matter how much you want this to be over, keep talking, keep breathing.   It takes time to heal. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Inner Critic

Since my inner critic usually stood over my shoulder to sound off, it was hard to describe her looks.  I caught a few dim glances of her in the mirror.  Her lips were in a perpetual frown; on her tiptoes during a rampage, she tried to make herself bigger than the whole of me. 
She was my internal nitpicker.  Her words, filled with perfectionism and off-handed remarks, hurt my feelings sometimes till they became numb. More often she just aggravated me.  If I didn’t redo something till it was past good enough, she berated me over and over for days.  She came at me about neatness, too, with a listed spool of criticism.  “This house looks like crap,” she said.  “Other people keep their houses clean.  The young woman next door has two preschoolers and her house is spotless.  You need to vacuum, mop, dust—oh, God, do you need to dust—and spray some deodorizer for that dog of yours.  It stinks in here!”
            Sometimes I wouldn’t listen to her.  I’d write things all jumbled-up with my thoughts tossed-up like pick-up-sticks letting the chaotic words go out for the world to see; then I’d get mad at her.  Why else was she in my head if not to keep me on my toes? 
            Once she verbally abused me as I drove down the road.  When I missed the turn, I heard her. “Are you just stupid or what?”  Fed up with her, my inner self-talker, I slammed on the brakes and shouted “shut up.”  Surprisingly, she quieted down as if realizing she had gone too far.
            But my inner critic also rescued me.  When my father died, she stepped in.  “You need to get someone for the funeral,” she said rather gently.  I let her loose on all the details while other parts of me hid behind a wall of shock and grief.  She did her job well that year pushing for the care of my mother, carrying out an elaborate Christmas party, selling our house, and supplying the energy and determination to go to work each and every morning. 
Thinking back now, my father’s suicide must have terrorized my inner critic with all the details to look after as much as it did other parts of my psyche.  It was hard to give comfort to that side of me though; I was always on the defensive against my perfectionist method of coping.  I think I unknowingly invited more hopelessness allowing her to direct so much of my life at that time.
Living comes from all your faculties. 
Become aware of your inner critic.  This is a hard time for her, too.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nothing To Give

At its best our mother/daughter relationship was an intense flip-flop thing.  One moment we bathed in each other’s love and attention, sharing laugher and friendly conversations.  Then—flip, one of us penetrated the other’s skin-thin edges and we got mad, or hurt, or both.  Sharp words crystallized into sudden swords stabbing.  Then—flop—we would start a conversation about Daddy or gardening or birds, the whole time smiling those there-you-go-again grins.  It had always been like that for us.  We were close. 
My mother and I shared the brunt of finding my father’s body.  The first year after Daddy’s suicide, we reminded each other of that day just by eye contact.   Traumatic shock affected our relationship. 
  I felt angry and guilty toward her.  I didn’t want to talk to her about my father after his death, good or bad.  She had trust-issues and leaned on me for too much emotional fuel.  I erected reinforced wall-boundaries. When she crawled over them, I felt angry that she wouldn’t seek support from anyone else.  Sometimes I even hated being around her.  Then I felt guilty—thought myself uncaring.  To keep from hurting her with these feelings, I kept an emotional distance.  And truth be known, I think she felt the same way around me.
I wished that our relationship would snap back to its original innocence and felt a spinning anger at my father that his action had set Mom and me haywire.  At least we still had gardens and birds to talk about.
           Some things shouldn’t be measured in terms of good or bad.  They are as they are.  Suicide takes its toll in relationships and each person is responsible for their own grief.  When the well is empty, does it apologize to the dropped bucket?

Saturday, June 4, 2011


            I awoke one morning with clear visions of Daddy teaching me how the guts of an AC unit worked and then another memory of his sitting at the kitchen table trying to drum into my head the notion of compound interest.  In the first, he pointed to black tubes with his grease-covered fingers, and though his brow beaded with sweat, his eyes smile-crinkled at my understanding.  But in the next, he sat upright with a pencil eraser tapping impatiently at the examples that made no sense to me.  “Look here,” he said, his voice raised and frustrated, “you mean you can’t understand this?”  I never wanted to talk to him about money, but always, I loved helping him work out there in his garage. 
            After his death, such nightly memories sucked away my energy.  Throughout the day, I felt like bland food with no added salt, no pepper, no spice.   Come nightfall, thoughts and memories of him flickered behind my eyelids like a movie-marathon.  I saw him laughing, talking, or just looking off into thin air.  I saw his hands petting his dog or holding my mother’s hand.  I saw him sitting on the couch with his elbow on the armrest.  I heard him cuss under his breath when something he fixed broke.  I heard him whistling when things he worked on went right.  I missed him so much—I still do.
            At first, those memories hurt.  Leaded with the pain of his suicide, they came with extreme sadness and wild, horrible imaginings of the seconds before he shot himself.  Later after time healed the rawness of my grief, my true memories helped me understand that his life meant far more than just how he died. 
Memories are a pathway that connects us to others.   Memories help me hold my father in a gentle and real place now.

Friday, June 3, 2011


            I was stingy for his love after he died; he was, after all, my father.   But memories of his attention seemed always to be for someone else.
Reacting with sibling competition, I envied that Daddy had once apologized to my older sister.  When she was a child, he had mistreated her.  I guessed the reason was because she had taken all of Mom’s attention.  But I had been his little buddy.  Perhaps he felt there was no reason to apologize for his behavior toward me.  After his death, the thought of his need for my sister’s forgiveness angered me as if lightening had struck white heat through my heart.
Jealousy of Daddy’s love for Mom overpowered me, too.  I felt he loved Mom as if she were the only person in his world.  “Don’t you think your moma has such a good way about her?” he would ask me, grinning, always telling me how pretty she was.  I remembered the times he held my hands out to the light, turning them this way and that, and then with a smile declaring them “just like your moma’s.”
Even the affection he felt toward his dog tore at me.  The sound of Dad’s gentle talk to that dog echoed in my ears after his death.  Every day for years, he had taken it for a walk in the woods on the hunt. “We scout ‘em squirrels out together,” he bragged.  On my visits home, those squirrel hunts were his funny stories.
My family relationships suffered from the resentment that wiggled in and out of me like worms.  But, it seemed that as grief ever-so-slowly abated, my feelings evolved into something more respectful.  I became grateful that Daddy had given my sister a chance to forgive him.   I became thankful that his life was filled with a love that many never find.  And I was glad that he taught me how to be an honest and forthright individual.  That was his attention to me; he was, after all, my father.
Grief turns on the basic emotions like switching on all the lights in the house.  Jealousy is one.  Listen to it.  It is saying you have every right to hurt.  Talk to someone who can help you find a healthy release.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Important Relationship

            My marriage was only three years old when Daddy died.  It was my second marriage.  I was frightened my grief would tear it apart.  Those intense emotions of heartache, traumatic stress, and fury funneled their way down to one emotional pipeline and spilled out in angry, watery, aggressive reactions.  I couldn’t control my feelings and acted like a tired, cranky two-year-old child.   I felt embarrassed to cry, but tears traveled down my face in rivers.  Grief left me looking sulky.
My husband became a safe target.  Most of my anger was focused at him over trivial things.  We painted the house together and I furiously blamed him for leaving a paint-can in my way.  He worked a split shift and was sleep deprived; I yelled at him for not listening.
            My father’s suicide taught my husband and me how to communicate.  We had a lot to digest.  He didn’t understand why I was so quick-tempered, and he would react defensively.  I didn’t recognize how tremendously angry he was with my father for hurting me.  He tried to keep those feelings to himself; they came across to me as condemnation.  We had a lot of conflict—and, thank God, ended up going for professional help.
Anger, I realized, had always been my method of dealing with uncontrollable things.  That realization and my husband’s loving concern may well have been what saved our marriage.  A counselor helped teach us both how to interpret our feelings.   I learned it was because I felt safe enough with him that I centered much of my grieving fury at him.  It wasn’t fair of me to do that.  He learned that I needed to be held when I acted like a child, not walked away from. In counseling, we talked out our feelings without so much emotional-fuel.   
Afterwards, he was there for me all the way.  He hugged me, and gave me space when I needed it.  But most importantly, he listened to me when I experienced my anger-disguised emotions of helplessness.  At a support group for families affected by suicide, he learned that my anger wasn’t as unique as he thought.  My tears came with less anger after they stopped meeting his resistance.  
            After a suicide, communication and emotional support is as necessary as water and air.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


            My husband had rotator-cuff surgery on an outpatient basis.  On the second day that he was home, he lost consciousness when I took off the surgical bandage.  Not armed with enough medical knowledge, I felt scared for him and didn’t know what to do.  My hands shook as I frantically held him upright in the chair and called out his name.  Later, after my husband had regained consciousness, we laughed.  He fainted because the bandage came off with most of his chest hairs. 
Nonetheless, that inadequate feeling I had with my husband that day reminded me of how I felt when I found my father.  I felt helpless, afraid, and called out his name.  After my husband’s bandages were changed, I lost myself in a ton of housework.
Even before I saw my father’s body, I knew something wasn’t right.  His garage was strangely quiet.  The old, manual garage-door was lowered too much; the dog tied-up outside the door looked too sad.  I had a dozen questions running inside my head.  Where was he—on a walk?  Why hadn’t he taken his dog?  As if reacting to a premonition, my heart pounded when I pulled up the door.  My hands shook and time seemed to stop.  When I stepped inside, I called out, “Daddy.”  That one word echoed off the walls of my mind since he died. 
My mother and sister said I took control that day, arranged things.  It was my way of fighting off what happened to me in that garage.  I came up against the core of what was horribly uncontrollable; my mind disassociated from reality.  Later, I went on auto-pilot and made a to-do list.  Organizing, making calls, watching after my mother as if she were my only concern—all that was an effort to stop feeling helpless.  I actually felt heartless because I couldn’t feel anything, but I wasn’t.  I was just in shock.  I was a vulnerable adult-child hiding behind tasks and to-do lists.
          Sometimes just listening to my own breath brings me to the realization that many things are uncontrollable.  I do not have to be afraid of everything that I can’t control.  If I hold my breath, mostly I will just pass out and breathe again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

God Tied His Own Hands

            “Poor God,” I thought.  “God gave away all control over us when God gave us free will.” It was one of my first thoughts when Daddy killed himself.  I felt sorry for God and thought God helpless.  I imagined God crying along with my family, grief-stricken.  Everyone loved my father and thought well of him.  Everyone was hurt by Daddy’s death, including God. 

            I worried that God would have no choice but to send my Dad to hell.  From the first day, I started bargaining. I remembered rationalizing that certainly as my father’s Judge, God would have to take into consideration mental illness—even human judges did that.  Didn’t they?  Surely, my family and I were about pay enough of a hell-debt to get Daddy into heaven.  I wasn’t the only one with this worry.  One aunt said she was almost sure that Daddy had been baptized, as if that saved him from Hell—as if God would have sent him straight to hell. 

            That fear of my father going to hell was covered over later with hurt and anger.  My husband and I were invited to a neighbor’s party.  All the women chatted together for a while in the kitchen.  One woman talked about her love for God and stupidly said how sorry she felt for people who kill themselves because they would never get to heaven.  Such judgmental words about God flowed out of the same mouth that had just described a loving God.  I wished, at the time, that I could have said my thoughts to her, but I hurt too much to speak.  And I was too afraid of what I would say. I stomach ached from swallowing my words.

            It took me a while to get a handle on God’s power over death since Daddy’s suicide.  I started reading the Old Testament; I wanted evidence of a powerful God that could save my father.  What I learned really didn’t have anything to do with the business between God and Daddy.  The day after he died, an Episcopal priest told me that she believed God gave redemption even after death.  She said that she felt God would heal his mind and give him time to make amends.  Daddy’s impulsive actions, sins if you want to call them that, are now between him and God. 

What I learned was about my own relationship with God.  God wanted me to always ask, to always seek, to always find courage.  God was a tough old character that weathered my anger, despair, and even my lack of faith.  God wanted me to be happy.  But even a higher power couldn’t make me happy or make me live in the Now, the kingdom of heaven where God is, without my consent.  That was the gift of free will.  It was my choice.

“Do we really worship a God who is unable to be God when people need God the most?  None of us have kept the commandments.  Do we really believe God’s hands are tied by anything?”

…Rev. David Sawyer

Monday, May 30, 2011

Going Back

            Visiting my mother after Daddy’s suicide was more than difficult.  I varied from extreme emotions of fear and anger to numbed-out feelings of procrastination and passivity.  I forced myself to make those trips.  Driving there, I couldn’t count the number of times I wished she would sell their home of nearly a half of a century.  Nothing seemed changed to me.  She said that wasn’t true.  She was right, too.  Mom had repainted the house, had changed the household into her own place.  Still, for me, the house was stained with unthinkable memories. 
After we had found my father’s body, the police asked us to wait inside Mom’s house while they roped off the garage with yellow crime-scene tape and waited on the coroner.   Mom and I sat and just looked at each other, speechless, helpless.   Then the medical examiner came and pronounced his death as a suicide.  Screams spilled out of the both of us.  That was when her livingroom furniture became stained from my own drowning emotions.  Days, months, and years later I tried not to sit in the same chair anymore when I went there.  I tried not to look at Mom out of the same corner of my eye.  I tried so many ways to avoid the lapsed silences when our eyes would meet, for me, in that one great memory.  When I went there constant, nervous conversation poured out from me in that room, along with arguments, cut-off attempts of answering the ‘why’ question.  Or I sat white-knuckled with the same trapped-fear I have in a dentist chair.  Many times, I cut that trip so short it broke off into the quick of both my mother’s heart and my own.  For a long time each and every element of my mother’s house, as well, sometimes as my mother, filled me with dread.
            Many times I took my dog with me if my husband couldn’t go.  They distracted the demons lurking in the furniture while my mom and I laughed.  I was not aware when the dreadful feeling subsided, but it did.  It honestly did.  She and I have strived to retain our love that had always been influenced by Daddy in one way or another.   I didn’t lose a relationship with my mother just because I wanted to hide from the memory-stained furniture.
Feeling the feelings of post-traumatic fear and dread is worth the effort.