A letter to my father

One reader’s feelings on the tragic loss of her father

Dear Dad

It reads 'accidental death' on your death certificate but to my mind, and perhaps yours too, there was nothing accidental about it. For, uncomfortably enclosed in brackets, lies the shameful word 'suicide'.

When I realised what had happened I could scarcely breathe. I couldn’t understand how, for everyone else, the world just continued as normal when you detonated such tragedy in mine. I was blown apart. What were you thinking? Where you out of your mind? How hard was living for you? Why choose death? Why? This tiny word held so much importance for me, this never knowing; so hard to accept. Dad, you left so many unanswered questions behind.
Did deciding to die take more or less courage than continuing to live?

I was tormented by horrified imaginings of your final thoughts, your final moment. All alone. Full of guilt because I couldn’t stop you. I just couldn’t save your life. In blaming myself I became imprisoned by your act of freedom. Full of pain and anguish, hopelessness and fear, I tortured myself with doubt. Believing I wasn’t good enough; that you would never have left if you truly loved me. Later, seething with anger and self hatred, I raged a war over you. Consumed with loss I hated all the Dads in the world and each and every unabandoned daughter. If the world was too painful for you Dad, did it have to be too painful for me too? Am I allowed to be happy when you must have been so sad? More afraid of love than loss, the child in me chose not to cry. For more than twenty years.

I chose a lifesaving profession because in my inability to save you Dad, I needed to save someone. I had plenty of rescuing relationships in desperate attempts to be good enough for love instead of only good for leaving. I was scared when I reached your ultimate age of thirty-eight. Was ability to commit suicide your legacy, I wondered? It was an emotional time but no; it’s not for me and not for my children. Not in this moment now anyway. Although I know the next moment may feel completely different. Is that how it was for you, Dad? Did you forget to remember that the routine of life goes up and down? That some times are good and some times are sad? That some days you might want to die but did you truly want to be gone forever?

Even in death you still are and will always be my Dad; despite me feeling rejected and abandoned by you and rejecting you in return. My Dad, even though you chose not to be with me. You chose not to be with anyone, not even yourself. Is that how it was, Dad? It doesn’t mean your life and death was meaningless and just like a father who might have been by my side, loving and supportive, I am who I am because of what you chose to do, what you did and who you were.

Today I give thanks for what you gave me. The lessons learned from your life choice, the path you chose to take - to help me on this journey of mine. Your death planted a treasured seed of curiosity in me for I forever find wonder in the ‘why’ of things. I took many years to realise the gift you gave me. That your choice was never about me. For I am not the centre of any universe, least of all mine and nor is anyone else. No matter what they think. In choosing what was right for you Dad, you set me free to choose what is right for me. No longer bound by what I should and could or ought to do. No more blame or self sacrifice or wallowing in trauma from the past. I forgive you Dad. What happened was no reflection of me and has no relevance to me apart from how I choose to respond.

I have developed great courage, strength and resilience and today when moments arise where I feel abandoned, insecure or rejected I try to remember this is not connected to now or even to me. It’s simply a whisper from the past bringing deeper understanding and more time for letting go.

I forgive myself and in forgiveness and acceptance, coming and going, in tiny little steps, I slowly learn the wonder of an open heart. A heart free from fear, free from punishment, free from pain. In this single moment now I choose to let my fear go. Dad, you offered me the firm foundation to begin my flights of freedom. To choose love. To find happiness. To discover joy.

For me, freedom comes from letting go of the need for someone else to prove I am loved and accepted. To truly know myself that I am worthy of love. Just like everybody else. Only when I begin to be kind, supportive, to love and to nurture myself will I find real happiness. No one else can do that for me. Much as I resist, it has to come from me. Joy comes from the freedom of accepting life just as it is. In this moment now. Resistance truly is futile. Nothing needs to be different as this is how it is. Peace and tranquility is here. In me. In the stillness and the silence. Always. It’s right here in every single one of us. As best I can, I choose love.

Peace and joy for you, Dad.
Your loving daughter.

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