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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

07/05/2018 at 3:04 PM
Dawn
My mom had just died suddenly after an illness that we thought she was over. The funeral was 10 days later because they needed to find out what happened. My dad was a mess. I was a mess. Six days after the funeral my dad and I had a fight. My son and I were living with him and my mom while my divorce was ongoing. He wanted to throw me out because I wasn't catering to him like my mom did. I couldn't. I couldn't even take care of myself or my son. He came up the stairs and apologized. I told him I was hurt but we would be okay. He went back downstairs. Eventually I went down as well, and that's when I found him. I still can't talk about that and it's been six years. I was 36.and I still hold myself guilty and am angry at him. I want to scream at him and ask how my son and I could not be enough. I know he was hurting. My mom was my best friend. I miss her everyday. I still dream that one of them is still alive and I find them, then wake up crushed again. My dad survived the initial attempt but died 9 days later from "failure to thrive" I cared for him during that time, trying to do anything to give him will. He died. Even though his death didn't happen when I found him downstairs, he killed himself. I buried my daddy exactly one month after I buried my mom. Obviously I'm still struggling. If you are thinking about suicide... DON'T. your children, your loved ones, may never recover. And if you have children under eighteen please realize that THEIR chances of committing suicide are vastly increased. PLEASE get help.
07/01/2018 at 8:14 PM
Tyler
My 72 year old father just attempted to commit suicide in his home after my mother got into a small altercation with him. He left a note not to revive him and took 5 pain killers. The idea of him not wanting to live anymore crushes me. He means the world to me and I can’t imagine not being able to see him again. He admittedly needs help with depression and we will support him through any time of need. I pray to god that he gets better soon and begins to enjoy life with us again. I do not fault him for any actions, but just pray for a solution.
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