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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.


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.
09/15/2015 at 5:24 PM
Please think about the happy memories and keep them close to your heart... I try to take that advice, and for short moments throughout my life, I've done so successfully. I can actually remember in detail [down to the point, what the weather was like, overcast sunny, mostly summer of 1949 before he sent me off into a foster home [that's a whole different story]. And I try to reconcile why he did so, and have rationalized it to the fact that my mother ABANDONED us [my father and 3 1/2 year older brother]. My father couldn't raise us alone, I became a bed wetter after hearing their [mother and fathers] last loud argument., he did what he thought was best for me and put me into the foster care system. I still HAVEN'T grieved for him. I wasn't allowed to go to his funeral. I wasn't told until days after that "daddy's dead" [was how she told me bluntly, when she brought me and my brother together for a one day reunion, with her new boy friend in toll. She was divorced from my father and living in another city a couple of hundred miles away, working as a waitress. This is not about her, but how I felt connected to my father, and knowing that he LOVED me, and all those vivid memories of things he, my brother and I did before I was shipped off to a foster home. That was the last time I saw him, that summer of 1949, months before he took his life via carbon monoxide in the garage of the building he, the only worker, who worked in our small town as as superintendent water system. I have only ONE photo of him, from a drivers license taken when he was younger a few years before he died at the age of 44, 9/16/49. It's the ONLY photo of any family member that I have in my house. I was able to enhance the photo, made it larger and framed it and have it hanging on wall next to my bed and look at it EVERYDAY, just to remind me of what was, happiness, and what I have lived with these past 66 years, a deep loss. I am the sole survivor of out nuclear family, having my brother die of MS 20 years ago, at age 57, and my mother who died from a heart attack 17 years ago, at age 75. I was estranged from both. I don't miss the latter, but I do miss my father, and now in the final years of my 73 years, look forward to joining my father and maybe re-connecting with my brother and mother. Each year a little piece of me dies, from the aging process, and I know it will be soon that we have our long awaited reunion. I will ONLY commit suicide when I lose my independent life style or am in any physical pain. Emotional pain is draining the life out of me, ever so gradually. I've truly led a solitary life, and have never felt alone, even though others have tried to make me feel guilty about such a life style choice. I am NEVER bored, don't miss the company of other living beings, and am content. Thanks for reading this.
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