True Story: I Lost My Dad To Suicide

 No matter what, it's incredibly difficult to lose a parent. How would you cope if you lost a parent to suicide? Click through for one woman's story.
No matter what, it’s incredibly difficult to lose a parent. How would you cope if you lost a parent to suicide? Today Amy share her and her family’s story of her father’s suicide.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Amy, a 30-year-old woman from Pennsylvania. I work from home for a baby and toddler goods brand so I can spend more time with my husband of seven years and our two children. I love geek culture, especially Star Wars, Doctor Who, and video games.

When you were growing up, what was your family life like?
I had a pretty normal upbringing. I am the oldest of three and was always seen as the responsible one, but was also a bit of a stubborn know-it-all, and often butted heads with my dad who had the same traits. However, my parents were always there as a support system. I saw my dad as having all of the answers and he bailed me out of many bad decisions (though not without dad lectures!) He was my superman.

My dad had a very big personality. He loved corny jokes (“You know what really burns my ass? A flame about this high!”) and was the kind of person who could leave any situation with a new friend. He was also a very generous and giving person and did volunteer work and gave a lot of his time to his many hobbies. He would drop everything to help a friend in need.

Did you know that your dad was struggling?
I didn’t know he was struggling. He had mentioned that he had a significant loss of income due to the recession, but since my brother and I both had out first children during that time, he spent more and more time with them which seemed to uplift him.
He had recently lost one of his brothers to lung cancer, and I attributed signs of sadness to that. After his death, I was able to look back and see small signs, but I don’t think he put out enough warning signs for anyone to catch it and in fact went out of his way to hide it.

Amy and her dad
Do you know why your dad chose to end his life?
He left us a letter and video summarizing his financial problems and we discovered the scope when preparing paperwork for his estate. He was self-employed in a financial field and, we discovered, would fall behind on paying his taxes during lean years, but then catch up when business was better.
Unfortunately, he fell behind prior to the recession and couldn’t catch up. His tax debt was going to keep him from renewing a license that was crucial to his business, thus putting an end to his career. That, paired with the very significant debt, was not something he felt he could dig out of.
Can you tell us how you found out about your dad’s death?
I received a phone call from a man identifying himself as a police officer and asking me to come to my mother’s. I was having trouble grasping what he was saying because something seemed off but it didn’t register until later that he asked me to come to my mother’s house rather than my parents’.
Finally, he hesitantly told me there was an incident, and my father passed away. I handed the phone to my husband who was home sick that day (and I am so very thankful that he was) and the officer told him what had happened. I crawled up the stairs, sobbing, to throw on clothes and my husband called his mother to come watch our toddler daughter.
Since he knew that it was suicide and I didn’t, he just wanted to get me to my mother as quickly as possible. I still have flashbacks where I remember running on wobbly legs to the car, and shaking through the ten-minute drive to my mom’s. We finally pulled into the driveway and saw the officer talking to my neighbor, he just directed us inside. It was very unnerving.
When I got inside, my mom was embracing her female boss, the first person to arrive, who got up to allow my mom to tell me alone. In the following hours, my brother and his wife came, and my neighbor sent someone to pick up my sister from college. My mom had to tell us each one-by-one. Eventually, we watched my dad’s goodbye video and the next day we were able to read his letter after it was copied into the police report.
In the weeks and months following his death, how did you feel about your dad and his choice?
In the weeks right after, I focused my energy on my family. My mother had asked us to move in with her and I spent my free time either spending time with her, making room in her home, or packing and then settling my family in.
Because of the financial aspect of my dad’s death, a lot of time was also spent trying to wrap up his estate – organizing mounds of bills for the lawyer, assisting my mom in the sale of my dad’s business, fielding calls from collection agencies whose tactics were atrocious (One told me my father would be so disappointed and another told my widowed mother they would see that she’d lose her house. My advice for anyone in a similar situation is to NEVER assume any responsibility for the debt, refer them to your lawyer!)

I did everything I could to try to take the pressure off of my mom but managed to neglect my own grieving for the most part. About 10 months later, I ended up having a breakdown because I’d suppressed so much of my grief and sorrow, and I finally started counseling to deal with grief.

Has his death affected other aspects of your life?
His death affects every aspect of my life, I think about it every day. Whenever anything happens, good or bad, I wonder what my dad would say. My husband and I were trying for our second child at that time and dealing with secondary infertility. I felt a lot of irrational guilt, like if I had gotten pregnant right away that my dad might not have done it.

I know the stress did not help our fertility issues. When I eventually did get pregnant and had my son two years later, it was difficult to think that this was a child my dad would never know and vice versa. My son looks a lot like my dad and absolutely has a personality like his, and I feel so sad for the relationship they would have had.

I’m a lot more serious about mental health and suicidal ideation since then. If I feel that someone is contemplating suicide, I will take action whether it’s calling for a well-check or relentlessly checking in on them and offering my ear. While nothing can replace my dad, I feel like the friends I’ve helped have been a silver lining in this very dark cloud.
Are you concerned that you or your siblings might have a genetic predisposition to mental health issues?
I do worry about this. I had issues with depression and anxiety prior to my dad’s death and have heightened concern since my father had also lost a brother to suicide. It wasn’t something he spoke about often but was still held very close in his heart.
I was in therapy for about three years, and have a list of coping methods to help me through tough times. I found that a gratitude journal, as cheesy as I thought it was, has been an excellent tool for turning negative thoughts around.
For many of us, when a friend experiences tragedy like this, we’re not sure how to help or what to say. What would have helped you?
The single most helpful things was that my best friend just made herself available and showed up. That kind of support system is fantastic since it took the pressure off of us to ask for help, she stepped in wherever she could.

I know it’s terrible to say, but I felt alienated when people tried to relate by bringing up a non-suicide death or the suicide of someone they were not close to. It felt like it was dismissive of the many layers of this kind of loss. The hardest part for me was knowing that my dad chose this, and knowing that he died feeling the way he did.

It helped to hear people who had known him tell me about happy memories with him, especially reminders of his amazing personality. People who didn’t know him helped a lot by allowing me to talk about my grief, or by asking what he was like. His death did not define him, and knowing that he left his mark on the world was a huge source of healing.

Thank you so, so much for sharing your story, Amy. Have any of your experienced anything similar? And if so, what helped you to work through it? 

P.S. Other True Stories dealing with loss and hardship: My daughter was stillborn and I’m an alcoholic.

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

20 Comments

Jennifer O

Thank you for sharing your story. My grandmother committed suicide when I was a girl and I've never gotten over it. The loss of a parent or family member through suicide is a very different kind of pain and loss from other deaths.
I wish you and your family peace.

Reply
Amy

Thank you so much, Akirah.

Holly, I love you too! Thank you for reading.

Jennifer, I am so sorry for your loss. It truly is a different loss and I think it's important for those of us left behind to share our stories. Thank you for your comment.

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Torie Jochims

Amy, my goodness you are a strong woman. Sharing this had to have been difficult. I have seen depression and suicide take far too many amazing people out of this world too soon. And it's never anything less than utterly devastating. Thank you for sharing, it is going to help so many people who have gone through something similar but don't know how to deal. I hope your own healing process is going alright. Stay strong.

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Amy

Torie, Wow, what a sweet comment, thank you so much for commenting and for sharing your insights.

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Girliest Nerd

I'm so sorry Amy, there are no words. As a mother I cannot imagine the pain of knowing that you have a child so like your father that he will never meet.

I recently lost a friend to suicide and did not notice anything prior that would have indicated he would do this – it was a shock to everyone. A part of me wonders, can a mentally healthy person commit suicide? He was dealing with a significant financial loss (bankruptcy) and had recently lost custody of his son in a lengthy and contentious court battle. I'm sure these events can trigger mental illness… but I wonder sometimes, can an otherwise healthy person just lose so much they don't want to live anymore? Is it fair to call that depression? Why are some people with similar circumstances more resilient in the same situation?

I'm not expecting any answers, or necessarily applying them to the situation here, it's just something I think about a lot.

Suicide is so painful and the questions I think will last forever.

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Amy

Thanks so much for your comment. My heart soars and then crashes when other people make the comparison between my son and my father. My dad loved being a grandfather, and I know he'd adore my son, as well as my brother's son, both born after his death.

As to your questions, I wish I knew. My father wasn't someone who showed many signs until we were looking back desperately to find signs, but even then there were few. I think situational depression can strike anyone, and sine my dad was the last person I ever expected to get to that point in his life, it definitely colors how I approach things now since I realize that choice is not beyond anyone.

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend and my heart is just broken for his son.

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Kristi

This is my first time on the blog, but I have to comment. My dad committed suicide last September. I was three weeks into my first year as a teacher, living about an hour and a half away from my parents. He had suffered from depression for a really long time and was an alcoholic, which is what finally pushed him over the edge.

What gets to me is when people flippantly joke about suicide. It hurts when people mime shooting themselves in the head or joke about committing suicide because there's too much work to do. I used to do that, too, but the affect that it has on someone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide is unimaginable. It's a reminder of what happened.

So thanks for your post. Your openness has inspired me to be more open, too, and to communicate when people do things like that.

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The Rachael Way

I agree with your point about people making flippant jokes… it hurts. I lost an uncle to suicide and it's not something to joke about. Thank you, Amy, for being so brave, and Sarah for having a platform that allows us to do that.

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Amy

Kristi, I am so very sorry for your loss. Please let me know if you want to talk to someone who understands. <3

I agree completely about the flippant jokes. I've lost friends over asking people not to make those sorts of comments around me. I figure if they don't have it in them to be compassionate, I don't have it in me to allow them into my life.

I am glad you feel inspired to be more open, it's one of my goals to remove some of the stigma around a suicide loss. It's a situation where those of us left behind need more care and support, but the stigma often causes us not to ask for it.

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Amy

Rachael, Thank you so much. I'm so sorry for the loss of your uncle. I never knew my uncle since he died before he was born, but my cousins were a great support after my dad's death.

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Allyson

I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved dad. I didn’t know your dad very well, but I have had the pleasure of knowing your brother since he was a teenager. I have watched him grow up to become a wonderful man, loving husband and fantastic dad. I can’t say I know how you, your sister and brother feel, but, and not many people know this, but my late husband tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide. Unfortunately he died from complications from surgery. To even think my husband tried to end his own life scared the daylights out of me. Your dad lives on in each o his 3 children and now his grandchildren as well. Suicide is a hard subject to deal with. I know there are no easy answers, and alot of hard questions. My heart goes out to you and your family. You are a strong person, and to go on social media to tell your story took alot of courage. May the good Lord bless you and your family and give all of you the strength to go on. Thank you for sharing.

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Amy

Thank you so much Allyson. My brother is definitely a great guy, I am so proud of both of my siblings and I know Dad would be too.

I am so sorry for the suffering you’ve had, if you ever want to talk, feel free to connect with me via Facebook (You can find me through my brother or his wife!)

Reply

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