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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.

Comments

09/23/2014 at 3:51 AM
Anon
Im waiting for the day to come. Its been years of him telling me he wants to go. Its unbearable because he is all I have. My mother walked out on us when I was a baby. I love my daddy more then anyone and his suicidal tendencies are taking over my life. Im trying to keep it together but some days its very hard. Im just hoping someone will write to me and tell me it will be or teach me how to be strong. Im a tough girl that just needs some guidance.
09/22/2014 at 1:48 AM
Sarah
My dad whom was my rock, strong, feisty and who I put on a pedestal Always hung himself on 10 December 2013 his 63rd birthday. A date which is fast approaching I was heavily pregnant with my second child when he did it. I feel betrayed, angry and lost and I am haunted by his suicide, how lost and worthless he must have felt. If only he knew how much I loved him My son who doesn't know as he was living abroad at the time, I have to lie to to say he is travelling until I feel able to tell him. My baby who is 7 months now will never meet her grandad, I see him in her smile. If only he knew how much he would be missed I feel so angry at him that he could throw his life away when there are people fighting for their lives through wars and illness he will never see how beautiful the world can be how much joy my baby brings and my son who adored him will be devastated and how I cannot find the words to tell my son, it's a pain like I've never known, it hits me unexpectedly a song may remind me of him I can hear his voice in my head, I replay conversations we had angry at myself for not realising what he was going through. I miss him all the time and feel like I can trust noyone or anything anymore.
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