Now that I have that out in the open, I want to re-state and correct my first sentence. I am not writing this for the 5th anniversary of his death; a commemoration of a tragic moment, but certainly not the culminating symbol of almost 62 years of his life. I am writing because his life is worth celebrating regardless of when or how it ended, his death worth learning from, and the ongoing life of those who loved him worth living guided by how he lived.
In living with suicide, I could count the years of life with my father that were “taken” from me by his actions; or, I could count the 30 years of love and support that were given to me. I could count the number of friends and family members hurt by his decision; or, I can count the people who are still around to share in his memory, carry on his spirit, and celebrate his life. I could count the number of years since his death, count how old he would be this month, or count the time since I had to begin my life again without him. The fact is that I can count this experience in any way I choose. So, here is one way I choose:
Day 1: 4/27: I take a day to reflect. This day is not an anniversary to count in traditional ways but a dedicated time to look at myself, my family, my life and my father’s life (not his death). In reflecting:
I smile. Strange and uncertain tears well up in my eyes as pride and loss and love and gratitude push them and me beyond our collective threshold. It is a sad smile, but a smile.
I laugh. Echoes of his brilliance and his crassness remind me of the paradox and dichotomy of a man so loved by so many, and yet who did not love himself. I hear his laugh.
I hurt. His psychological pain and his endurance for most of his life, and certainly all of mine, exhaust me and his strength and survival for my sake and for my Mom and my siblings overwhelm me. I hurt for him; I hurt for my Mom, not me.
I isolate. There is fullness in quiet solitude that is the honest source of who we are. I continue to look for myself in light of my experiences and his.
Day 2: 4/28: I take a day to celebrate. This is not about a birthday, but a life that like all of ours started at birth but does not end at death. It lives with those it touched. In celebrating:
I stare. What am I really feeling? I try to be fully present with it all. I try to stop analyzing.
I smirk. His attempts at being a curmudgeon were rarely successfully hidden behind his own smirk and a wry twinkle in his eye. My smirk looks a lot like his.
I plant. His yard was a safe place for reflection and a place to grow something new and something of beauty. I plant something every year as a symbol of a life beyond our selves and one that I did not create nor can I end. But, one that I can certainly live.
I connect. In the struggle to celebrate amid the echoes of the deepest pain, my family and friends provide the vehicle to transcend; to create wholeness. I gather with my family as we share our love and support and memories. We find comfort in togetherness (and food!).
Day 3: 4/29, I start life all over again. I move forward with what is and work toward what can be in my own life, my work, and my relationships. In starting over:
I breathe. In taking the deepest breath possible, I literally can feel my capacity to move forward and, as the oxygen floods my blood stream, strength returns to my body and hope to my soul.
I cuss. I can only say that I’m my Father’s son, and a well-placed, loudly articulated f-bomb sometimes is just what I need to snap back into life.
I relax. I return to myself and feel the presence of my life and my sense of who I am and know that I have been given a great gift.
These three days are in fact a gift. In the reflections and relationships and pain and joy of these three days, I have found and experienced the fullness and intensity of being human. Humbled, broken, proud and powerful. Sad, hollow, thankful, and full. It’s all there. 27-28-29. Three days. 72 hours. 62 years.
So, in case anyone was wondering, I do not dread this time of year; I do not dread the memory of my father’s death; I count on it.