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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.


01/23/2018 at 9:36 PM
Almost Gone
I am a father of two successful children...23 and 25. I've been married 26 years. I've been the same profession 32 years and am rated the best of the best. But I lost everything regarding my career....status, position, income, and retirement. The sense of loss is about to take me over the edge. I came here to read about the impact a father's death can have on children. I say children because I am not sure how much my wife would even care. Thank you for the posts...it provides some reasons to continue.
07/03/2017 at 6:44 AM
Candi Watson
April 15, 2012... my 78 year old dad called me to ask what I was doing, said he was lonely & I once again offered him the opportunity to move in with me and my family. He mumbled something about it being too late & hung up on me. He had never ever hung up on me. I called back & he answered by saying he had to use the restroom. I made him promise to call me back. He never did & I knew. I knew in my gut & I called & called but there was no answer. My husband and I drove out to his apartment & met my brother there. I could not go into the room so my poor brother discovered him & it was violent, as he had used a gun. I will never be the same after that. It is the most soul crushing event & his death & the guilt I feel haunts my me. I just have to learn how to live one day at a time/ I have a wonderful husband of 26 years & 4 beautiful children who need their mom. I'm just not the same mom I was but I am trying. My dad wasn't perfect but he was a proud Marine who served in Korea & worked hard all his life to give us a good life. He deserved better than this & thinking of his last, lonely moments almost makes it where I can't breathe. The love, guilt, profound grief & bewilderment never go away. To know I'm the last person he reached out to rips my heart out of my chest/ if only I had said something differently then maybe things would have not happened that way, but I'll never know. I miss my dad every second of every day.
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