On May 3, 2012, I received the tragic news that I lost my own father. I addressed it very briefly on the blog here a couple weeks after the incident, but did not share any details. On this fateful day, my father decided to take his own life. He was a man that suffered from depression as long as I can remember, and it often went untreated despite my pleas for him to seek help. Many had no idea the battles he fought on a daily basis, but I promise that they were there. To complicate the situation, I was one of the first family members notified about his death and the one that lived the furthest away, halfway across the country. I had to be the one to tell my mother (my father's wife of almost 35 years) about the news. I had to be the one to tell my uncle and grandmother (my father's brother and mother). I had never felt so exhausted and drained at the end of that day, and I never have since. It is not something that I wish upon anyone.
In my first days and weeks following my father's death, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I swung like a pendulum between sadness, guilt, and even anger. Today, I still swing from one end of the spectrum to another, though it does not tend to be quite in the extremes as the first weeks after his death. For the most part, I just miss the man that raised me, for better or for worse. When my children pass one of their major milestones or speak some invaluable words, I still wish I could share the news with my father. Even as I write this, tears come to my eyes and I can feel the knot in my chest tighten.
In those days since my father made that fateful decision, I have had a lot of time to think about what we could have done differently. I have had a number of experiences where people that know the details just don't know what to say or how to act. I have had a number of people step away, pass judgment, and ultimately, make this situation even more difficult and complicated than it originally was. Over the past two years, I have stayed silent about these experiences and my father's death in general. I have done it because I didn't want the looks or the silence from others. I have decided that it is time to change.
A few months ago, I decided to break my silence to my family and friends IRL. I did this because I discovered the Out of the Darkness Walk courtesy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a community walk to help bring awareness to suicide and its prevention. And, one of these walks was coming to the mountains I grew up in and the wilderness my father loved in Montana. I knew as soon as I heard that I needed to create a team in my father's honor. It was time to speak out and possibly help prevent losing others in this devastating way. It was time to speak out against the stigma and remind people of the life my father led; not the death that brought his end.
Depression hurts. For someone struggling, it can feel like you are drowning in hopelessness and despair. It can make you feel like you are suffocating, in pain from head to toe, and make you question your worth in every aspect of your life. However, depression hurts those surrounded by it as well. You want to help your loved one. You would do just about anything to help them out of this "funk." BUT, it's not a funk. It's often not a stage that will pass. It's a day-in, day-out exhaustion that often leaves you wanting out, no matter what. I just want to let people know that there is help. There is hope. It can be easier to put on that fake smile than to ask for help. In the long run though, it's worth it to ask for help. Because suicide will take away all your future options and beauties, something as simple as a smile that you don't have to fake.
After months of planning, I will be facing my father's death head-on this Sunday at my first Out of the Darkness Walk. I will be addressing this tragedy alongside many family and friends who have also lost a loved one in this way. It is going to be hard. There will likely be lots of tears shed. I am anxious and nervous and maybe a little scared, but it is something that I have to do. It is time to break my silence and do what I can to save future lives.
As for the incredible Robin Williams, I send my thoughts and empathy to his family, especially if the reports are true about the cause of his death. These next days and weeks will not be easy for them. I encourage them to express their grief, the whole roller coaster ride or pendulum that it may be. And, I promise that the hurt does not go away. It will remain, but it will always serve as a reminder of the man that they loved and will always hold in their heart.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You deserve a life worth living.