by Robbie Graham, who lost his Dad in 2005 (not suicide) and stepson in 2012 (suicide)
Father’s Day. What emotions, thoughts, or images does this bring to mind? Some have fond memories to various degrees while others have less then fond, perhaps even bitter and angry, memories. This also applies to those who have lost a father or a father who has lost a child.
I lost my own father in 2005. It wasn’t due to suicide, nor unexpected. He had health problems for a number of years. I even joked with him that his warranty was up and that was why he was having these issues. I still remember the night my sister called to tell me he had passed. After hanging up the phone, I began to sob. It wasn’t because of sorrow as much as it was relief for him finally being free of the pain.
My father and I had a weird relationship.
I don’t know if it was because of me or him, but it was weird. One particular thanksgiving stands out to me. He brought up a topic that was directly related to my line of work at the time. As he shared the insights he had read about, I gently pushed back on some points that I knew weren’t quite right from my own experience. He began more forcefully arguing the point of view of this article he had read to which I began to respond in kind. Soon, I realized that I had been sucked into a tit-for-tat game of one-upmanship that I did not want to play. I had played it many times before with him and nobody won.
I share this with a purpose of laying the groundwork for what comes next. I want you to know that I’m not coming at this from a perspective of a loving, nurturing relationship. My father wouldn’t have won many dad-of-the-year awards (neither would I). But…
Regardless of the quality relationship, grief and mourning are necessary.
This doesn’t change the need for me to grieve and mourn the loss, including on celebratory days like Father’s Day. The situations or circumstances around not only the death, but the relationship also, do not negate or diminish this need. Whether our relationship with our loved one was great or horrible, we must properly grieve and mourn the loss.
Of course, suicide greatly impacts this ability in many ways. It complicates an already complicated situation, especially if the relationship was strained or even non-existent. My goal isn’t to try and fix the damages like potholes on a street. I want to acknowledge the difficulty while still emphasizing the critical need of mourning. What that looks like depends on me (and you) and can take whatever form is necessary for me (or you). It is still my grief and I am the expert. You are the expert when it comes to your grief. Don’t let anyone tell you how to do it, but make sure you do it. Whether it is one-on-one, or in a group, or professional counseling, engage with your grief and allow others to help you.