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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.


03/05/2016 at 10:35 PM
raeanna duck
My Dad committed suicide 1 year ago on March 17th, the death certificate says 18 but that is only because that is when he was found. My daddy died alone. I felt it in my heart, 2 hours before he pulled the trigger. 6:42pm March 17th my heart told me, 8:48 my daddy died. Icould have stopped him if I had trusted my instinct. It's too late
09/18/2015 at 6:26 PM
I'm 23 and my father committed suicide when I was 8 years old, leaving my mother, brother, and myself behind. Today I was denied an apartment, it would have been my first apartment and first time leaving home. I work a well paying job for my age, and have everything to be grateful for. I'm so depressed these days, my job is too stressful, and I've been neglecting everything. All I do is lay in bed and work. Lately It's been so hard to eat. Tonight I contemplated suicide for the first real time, i've always fought off ideation fairly successfully. But I cried so hard in the bath tub this evening, and i cry thinking about going back to work in the morning. Weekends depress me because they're a reminder that I'm working for them. I don't know what to do. My father was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I'm a drug addict, 3 years sober and doing really well. It feels like I will never be normal, people act strange around me and I do too. I feel most comfortable around my mother, and even she can get on my nerves. I love her and my brother more than anything or anyone. I'll never kill myself as long as my mother is still alive, and that thought even scares me. I wish I had her sense of 'everything will be alright', as she truly seems to mean it and believe it when she says it. She wants me to be happy and successful, and I want to be for her. All I want is for us three to finally feel at ease and feel happy. One day we will, when all the pain and suffering is over, and maybe then dad will join us.
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