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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.


07/13/2014 at 3:33 PM
I am 20. My father went missing on may 7, his body was found 2 days ago in a wooded area close by. He was scheduled to go to probation that day and never showed. He was in such a deep depression with problems financially and with my mom. He was also convinced that he was going to violate probation and be sent to prison. He was so scared and cried everyday, also saying that he would swallow all his pills before he went to prison. 2 days prior to him leaving he was crying to me and said he felt like his life was over and that he loves me with all his heart. I tried so hard to ease his mind and tell him he would be okay, but he just didnt believe it. A day after him leaving my mom found a note in his drawer under 2 shirts, it said my name at the top and he wrote that he was sorry and that he loves me very much and to never forget him. I am convinced that he went into the woods with his narcotics and ended his life. To him it was his only way out. I do not know how to handle this, my father was my everything and my absolute best friend. I feel like I cant go on withoutt him. If only he knew that he wasn't in any trouble he would be okay and I would be holding him right now. He would have been off probation and free on june 14.
03/13/2014 at 11:17 AM
Where do we go from here? Its a good question. I lost my dad when I was 40. My dad suffered the loss of his relationship and couldn't survive it. There was so many implications that drove him to take his own life though. He had a lot of pain he carried with him. I won't go into details. Now, I cry when I have too. Talk to someone who has been through what I've been through. I drink water to replace what I've lost when I cry to restore my energy. It will two years in 3 days. And Im still not okay. Im considering going to counselling but not sure where to go just yet, but I have faith that I will get lead spiritually to the right place. Prayer is always good. Dreams when they come show me that my father is okay. Everyday we need to find a reason to keep going. Whether its a job, our families, our children. Travel and go within and heal yourselves, we need to be gentle with ourselves and honor our tears. Hopefull this will help someone. Joanne
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