Thursday, May 15, 2014

We've got five years, stuck on my eyes. We've got five years, what a surprise...

My daddy loved me
So on this day, the Ides of May, five years ago, my dad very quietly walked out of their front door for the last time.

None of us knew it was the last time until my mom woke up and called me in a panic. I was at the office, and I started to cry. I knew it would be very, very bad.

I had a miniscule spark of hope that once again we would find him and he wouldn't be dead, although he'd barely survived his attempt the month prior. He was frail, and he was joyless. He moved stiffly, and his smile, when he forced it, was a baring of teeth, nothing more.

That morning five years ago he took a bottle of pills and he took a rope and we never saw him again. Even at the morgue, they showed Nick and my mom a picture of his face, so as to minimize the trauma.

Apparently they'd had some very bad experiences with family members getting hysterical.

Many times I'd lived through days and nights of terror, of holding my dad's hand in the emergency room or ICU and making bargains with God. But there had always been that shred of hope to hold onto.

And suddenly, there was no more hope, and also no more fearing the worst. The worst had happened.

Some friends asked me afterwards if I felt some sense of relief - a release from the constant fear. I didn't. I think it was a gradual process, getting used to a life without fear of losing him. It took a while not to flinch when I heard an ambulance.

For quite a while I was hung up on whether he died on the 15th or the 16th. And I could know but I've decided I don't want to. It's now OK either way. He was ready to go and he went.

In the five years since he left us, I've gone through anger, despair, sadness, rage. I've cried until my entire body was raw, inside and out. I've laughed at completely inappropriate moments. (I still cannot say cremains with a straight face.) I've questioned years and years of my growing up.

And I've learned a tremendous amount about life and humanity. And myself.

Because, you know, a completed suicide is all about the people left behind. We are the survivors. We are the wreckage.

The dead, one hopes, are at peace.

And so these years - like all the years, I suppose, it just took me a long time to realize it - have been about me. I make them about my dad, and there are so many things I'd still like to know. But life is about us, we who are alive.

I still have abandonment dreams pretty regularly. It's never my dad, however, who is leaving me. That would be too straightforward, right? It's always an old boyfriend who stays just out of reach, no matter how hard I try, or Nick, who flat-out tells me this just isn't going to work.

In these dreams, I am traumatized; I am alone forever. Never, in my dreams, am I able to remind myself that actually, we're married and have kids, which is not the case in the dreams.

(And in reality, what I wouldn't give to be alone for a stretch of time!)

But I get it, I get the abandonment. When I think about my dad's suicide, when I think about his death, I don't think "He died." so much as "He left us."

While he was alive, our lives all revolved around him, to the extent we allowed it. He was like a magnet, like the sun, like a black hole pulling.

When we were younger, that was just how our household functioned. It wasn't explicit, but I can look back and that's just how it always was. As an adult my brother cut him - and then ultimately all of us - out. But my mom was always all about my dad. And I was very much so as well.

Sometimes now I still grieve, and of course I still wish he were here with us. I hate that he never got to meet my kids, that they never experienced the joy he could bring. He had a terrific laugh, and when he was fun, oh, he was fun.

But I think there's enough distance for me to be honest with myself about him as well, and I realize that I don't have to feel disloyal when I think about some of the negatives of life with my dad. Life with crazy - and that's what it always was - is hard.

It can be charming and exciting and fun and exhilarating. But the crazy is always in charge, not you. You are on that bus and you don't know if it's going to barrel forward or slide over the edge.

I miss my dad so much, the dad I like to remember. I miss who he could be for my kids. But I believe he needed to go, and he'd almost entirely killed his spark before he took his own life.

I don't know what I think happens when people die, but I recently read this quote by Mandy Patinkin - who I will always associate with my dad, because he was Che in Evita, to which my dad brought three pillows for me to be able to see.  It is from this page of his quotes, touted to change your life, which may or may not, and it resonates with me:
My sense of religion is Einstein's sense of relativity. I don't believe in God. I believe that energy never dies. So the possibility exists that you might be breathing in some other form of Moses or Buddha or Muhammad or Bobby Kennedy or Roosevelt or Martin Luther King or Jesus.
At Lou's memorial service, our friend Ania said that after my wedding, Lou had told her that my dad wasn't doing well, and she knew that he felt so good that I was with Nick. He knew I had found someone who would treasure and care for me. So he could stop worrying about me.

As a parent, he was looking forward into a future for me that wouldn't necessarily include him. But he knew that I was loved. And isn't that what we want most for our children?

Moving forward, at this five-year point, I'd like to be able to focus on celebrating who my dad was, and on the good things in our lives together. Because there were lots of them.


  1. Dearest Lisa, and Betty, and Nick and your beautiful babies.... I hold up your hearts today and on so many occasions for strength. I don't think any of us survive a loved ones suicide. We just get to the end of our lives having lived with the pain. I wish you all Peace, even though I know it will not completely ever come, I wish it anyway. And Love and Hugs and Strength, Lynn

    1. Lynn, you are such a beautiful person, and I feel lucky that our paths crossed in cyberspace and will one day cross in real life. Thank you and so much love to you.

  2. Big big big hugs to you, my friend. xxxxxxxxxx

  3. This is beautiful, Lisa. You've come so far since that hopeless day, gracefully grieving, finding humor and carrying your Dad in that huge heart of yours. I admire the love you have for your parents, it's incredibly strong and I think that's just one of a million reasons you're a wonderful parent. I thought of you this morning; 5 years ago, through tears, I prayed for you and your Dad. You asked for positive thoughts, hugs, prayers - anything that would help - and I still send those to you. Just keep doing what you're doing, keep your Dad's love with you.

    1. Heather, you are one of my heart people, and you always will be. I've always appreciated your friendship and support, and I will always be there for you. Big hugs and love.

  4. Beautifully written. Love you. xoxo

  5. Beautiful Lisa. My thoughts are with you all. Especially you ,you incredibly strong , loving wonderful person that you are. xx

    1. I remember that you sent me a lovely poem when my dad died. I still have it in my files. Big hugs and love to you, Jo.

  6. You are very brave and honest and inspiring, Lisa. Thinking of you

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  8. While it may be cheesy to use a TV show as a point of reference for dealing with such a profound loss, your post reminded me of a conversation from the season finale of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." in which a character who was facing imminenet death said: "I like to think about the first law of thermodynamics, that no energy in the universe is created and none is destroyed. That means that every bit of energy inside us, every particle will go on to be a part of something else; maybe live as a dragonfish, a microbe, maybe burn in a supernova. And every part of us now was once a part of some other thing - a moon, a storm cloud, a mammoth, a monkey. Thousands and thousands of other beautiful things that were just as terrified to die as we are. We gave them new life - a good one, I hope." I found that statement incredibly comforting.

    Also, I was so happy (if "happy" is the right word) to see that you captioned the photo at the top of this post "My daddy loved me." I hope that you continue to hold onto that truth whenever you think about him, as his choice to leave this earth in no way negates how deeply he loved you.

    (Reposted to correct a typo because I am anal about such things.)

    1. I like to think about things that way. Thank you for sharing that with me. I am not terribly critical of good quote origins. I was just at a wedding this weekend where Orson Scott Card was quoted.

      Thank you very much for the kind words about my dad's love, Gabrielle. I really appreciate it. And I think it's charming that you deleted a post to correct a typo.

    2. And of course there's *still* a typo in the revised post (ah well, I guess I can reconcile myself to the idea of people thinking I don't know how to spell "imminent").

    3. Ah, but doesn't look like you don't know how to spell it - looks like your fingers were moving quickly on your keys!


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