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Loss of a Father

Only A Photograph

By Eric Marcus, the author of Why Suicide? Questions & Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping With the Suicide of Someone You Know. Please visit him at www.whysuicidebook.com. He blogs at www.whysuicideblog.com. And follow him on Twitter @whysuicide.

It’s just a photograph, I tell myself, as I recover from the unexpected shock of seeing my long-dead father stare back at me from my computer screen. The misleading subject line of the email from Bob, my dad’s once-young protégé, read:  “Attached is your father’s portrait.” 

My dad painted and, after my parents separated in 1968, my mom offloaded his two dozen or so paintings to a couple of his close friends (I managed to rescue a few, arguing that the ones my dad painted of my brother and me belonged to us and weren’t hers to give away). So I thought that Bob, who had recently called to ask if I wanted one of the paintings Mom had given him—a portrait of a yogi—was sending a photo of the painting so I could decide if I wanted it. Instead, what he sent was a black and white portrait of my father that he shot not long before Dad overdosed and died in December 1970. My father was forty-four. I was twelve. 

Most of how I remember my dad is from photographs when he was in his twenties and thirties, when he and Mom were newlyweds and then later the parents of young children. There are very few photos of my dad from later in his troubled life, and nothing like the intense—and intensely sad—image on my computer. If you didn’t know that my dad suffered from depression and killed himself, you might think that he simply looked thoughtful and contemplative, which he was. But knowing what I know about his death—knowing what I can never forget as much as I would like to forget—I see sadness and heartbreak. His sadness. My heartbreak.

I’ve ticked off the passing years since my dad’s death with something approaching ritual every December 16, although since I marked my own forty-fourth birthday, I no longer worry that I’ll wind up killing myself too—which I’ve learned is something that children of a parent who takes his or her life often fear. And the pain of Dad’s suicide has long since faded from crushing and persistent to a simple (simple!) occasional ache. It does indeed get better with time, a long time.

But that photograph makes me more than ache. I see myself in that face, a face that I can see in my own, and Dad looks as sad as I feel when I think of him and what I lost. He’s a man I hardly knew, who died eight years shy of the age I am now, yet his absence still has the power to take my breath away and bring tears to my eyes when I look into his eyes.


07/08/2015 at 5:31 PM
My father committed suicide in January, I'm trying to figure out how to keep going with life now. It's so hugely painful mostly because, in my eyes, my father was a really strong person that could handle everything that came to his way. In the beginning I used to be angry with him for leaving me alone with an alcoholic mother, nowadays this rage is really smaller, I just miss him so much, I wish I could see one more time and ask him why.. Despite the fact that my dad's suicide broke my heart to pieces, his absence of hope gives me strength to be a better, stronger, and more comprehensive person than I was. Curiously after the day my father decided put an end to his story, I understood that suicide is never the answer, that life is a beautiful thing with it's sweet and painful moments, but despite that it is worth living and learning with it.
05/27/2015 at 9:43 PM
My father ended his life in 2003 just after I turned 13. He left me, my two older siblings and mother behind in an act of hopelessness after living a devotional life but suffering from depression and health issues. In the end religion could not give him the strength to hang in there. After more than 12 years I still grief every now and then.. Anger..thinkin about how life would have been with him.. Would I have turned out to be an other person than I am today? My advice to people is: MOVE on! Dont feel sorry for him or yourself. He made his choice and now you make the best possible out of your own life. Surely you have some relatives, friends and family who can give you strength. If not, there are helplines. Most importantly, dont listen to religious people telling you he sinned and should be ashamed of himself. He simply found he could not cope with the challenges of life anymore. He thought he would not harm anyone. That is not a sin - it is human and it happens. Especially in this more and more achievement-oriented society. I wish every person who has to deal with this the power to move on and find happiness. Think about the good moments you had with dad and all the opportunities you still have in life!
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