How I Survived My Father's Suicide Before the Birth of My Triplets
As I sat up in bed and listened to the horror of how he died, I became acutely aware of the words as they grabbed hold of my heart, which was pounding in my chest. I tried to remain calm as I thought about the three tiny heartbeats beating inside me. Pregnant with triplets, I was following the doctor's orders: total bed rest.
I couldn't believe that my father had shot himself in the head while I was in the hospital awaiting the babies' birth. I couldn't be with my mom as the doctors attempted to save my dad's life. I was unable to attend his funeral. I could not be a part of the rituals after his death. I had no choice. I needed to remain in bed and consider the health of my unborn triplets.
Three weeks later, my three sons were born. When my friends and family arrived at the hospital, they congratulated me on the births and in the same breath told me how sad they were about my dad's death. I was terribly confused. Was I supposed to be happy about being a mother or sad that my dad killed himself? I was completely torn between joy and grief.
I recall looking at the open door of the hospital room anticipating Dad's visit. How could he not be there at such a special time in my life? I couldn't understand why he killed himself -- until my mother shared his suicide note with me. He wrote that he could not live with his back pain any longer and was choosing to end his life. Painful deteriorating disks along his spine had caused him to feel helpless and hopeless.
Both my parents were retired New York City police officers, so my father had access to a gun. On July 12, he walked into my childhood bedroom, shot himself and died later that day at the hospital. Although I realized that suicide is intentional, as I read the note it was difficult to accept the fact that my dad really had been so desperate to die.
Soon after his suicide, I was sitting at my kitchen table painting a watercolor. When I was almost finished, a glass of water spilled, causing the colors to mix into one another. The flowers I created became a blend of various shades and hues.
Since that moment, I've thought about how the stages of grief can be similar to a palette of colors. The watercolors were symbolic of the blending of emotional, cognitive, physical, behavioral and spiritual reactions to grief. In the beginning, my emotional reactions were a blend of anger, sadness, disbelief, guilt and, later, hope that I would be able to survive the pain. My cognitive reactions included blame aimed at his doctor, nightmares about his death and a longing to see him again just one last time.
Physically, I was exhausted and weak, had little energy and was suffering from insomnia. My behavioral reaction was to cling to things that belonged to my father. And my spiritual colors of loss were many: I was angry at God but blessed to have known my dad; I felt his presence but also felt forsaken.
As time passed, I reevaluated my beliefs and found hope. And that hope made me realize that grief is a lifelong, but manageable, process.
I don't think my father's suicide was a selfish or impulsive act, but I wonder what was going through his head before he took his life. I think he believed his death was more valuable than his life, and he didn't realize the huge mistake he was making. My father's hopelessness clouded his thinking.
I will always struggle with why he killed himself right before becoming a grandpa for the first time. Although I will never completely get over it, I have gained a personal strength I never knew I had.
I did not have any control in stopping my dad from dying by suicide. But I do have control in how I choose to cope with his death and adjust to it. I have grown from the experience. And, perhaps most importantly, I have learned to find value in my father's life.
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