14 November 1939–23 May 1994
Today is the tenth anniversary of my father's suicide.
Ten years ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd ever be able to face a decade without him. Ten years ago, it seemed like I'd never be able to think about anything else, ever again. Ten years ago... ten years ago, I had the worst day of my life, and my friends were the only reason I got through it.
(tiny_rhino held me together — physically held me together, it felt like, while I sat on the floor shaking — and usagijer ran all the way home from work to make sure he saw me before I had to go off to the airport to go be with my family in the UK. And my other flatmates, and my other friends, all took care of me when I finally got back home, three weeks later. It's been a decade now, and I'm still not sure I deserve such good friends, and it makes me feel very humble, as well as very happy, to have them.)
So, the day, and the weeks that followed. It was awful: there's no way to minimise it. The numbness of the initial shock faded into confusion and anger and fear and pain and shame... and, honestly, more anger. I'm still furious with my father for leaving me, and for leaving me in this way, and for leaving a shitty note (falsely) blaming my Mum for everything that was wrong between them. I'm still furious that I'll never hear his voice again, never hold him again, never receive one of his massive letters written in that bold, slashing scrawl, never make him laugh again. I'm still furious that he subjected himself to this much suffering and never let on to any of us. Furious. They say that anger at the dead, whether reasonable or not, is one of the essential elements of the process of grieving: well, my Mum and my sister and I none of us had too much trouble with that step.
But... maybe it's terrible cliché, but time does heal all wounds, at least partly, and ten years after is not the same as one week after. Or even one year after.
One year after was horrible, raw and guilty and almost unbearable, filled with morbid thoughts of how much I take after him and with fears that maybe I'd end up taking after him in this way, too. Two years after was almost the same, and three and four years after didn't really seem much better. But five years after... I was amazed, and not a little relieved, to find that five years after, without my having ever noticed any change or improvement, all of a sudden the memories weren't so bad, and the day wasn't so awful. It still hurt, yes, but... it only hurt as much as I wanted it to: it didn't surge up and hit me when I wasn't ready and it didn't overwhelm me. And that's been more true with each year since. The memories and the pain of my loss are still there, but now they're... well, I think of them as being like pictures on a shelf: when I'm in the mood, I can take them down and reflect on them and feel them as deeply as I want, but when I'm not in the mood to chew over the past, I can walk by them without having to think about what they represent. They're there if... when... I want them.
Maybe it's not just time, either. Certainly a lot of my healing is owing to my friends, old and new, who've all continued to take good care of me. But I think the biggest part of it is owing to my remaining family: while we certainly didn't all react the same way to our loss, I think the burden of my grief would still have been far harder to bear if I hadn't been able to share it with my Mum and my sister. Whatever our differences, whatever our disagreements — and they were many, especially in the first few years, and sometimes terribly painful — I could always talk to them about my father, and... it sounds banal, perhaps, but they understood exactly what I had lost, without requiring explanations. I don't think I realised how important that understanding was, except perhaps in retrospect. It made a huge difference: I only hope I helped them shoulder their own burdens as much as they helped me.
But whatever the cause, that change over the last six years has been a great source of comfort, because the lessening of the immediacy of my anger has meant that I can think back on the things I loved about my father: without forgetting about all the emotional damage he did to me (and to all of us) at the end, I can also remember — happily — the wonderful man that he was to me for most of the time we had together. It's an enormous relief to know that even his suicide wasn't enough to completely poison the legacy he left me. I can't love him now, or indeed ever again, but at least, at long last, I can love the memory of him. That's less than I would want, maybe, but it's also more than I would have dared to expect, even ten years after his loss. And if it doesn't mean anything to him (and it doesn't — he's gone), it still means a great deal to me.
So today is not a terrible day. It's a day for reflection, certainly: a day to pull the pictures off the shelf and look at them, a day to think about how things might have turned out differently, a day to wonder what my father would think of me if he were still here, a day to spend quietly (and possibly alone). And yes, a day to feel sadness for my loss, and for the pain my father put himself through. But it's also a day to remember my friends and my family and the love and support they've given me, and a day to remember that the wound I thought would never heal did just that, however slowly, and a day to remember my father at his best as well as his worst. So when I call my Mum and sister up later today, and we all say "Happy anniversary!" to each other, it won't be just a joke: today is the anniversary of my father's suicide, but it's also the anniversary of my — of our — survival. And that's a day worth celebrating.