Today, I woke up feeling shame that I always dread Easter. This year that dread seems to be at a higher level than usual. It will be fourteen years since my father’s suicide, the Friday after Easter, and I still feel weighted down. And even that feels shameful.
I don’t talk much to my church friends or pastor about the reason I tend to disappear during Easter. In a nutshell, I’ve got Daddy, Jesus, and death rolled up in a pretty tightly knitted ball. I feel pain, so I retreat.
This morning I thought maybe a gratitude list of what is going on in my life right now might help me out of my funk. Here it is:
· I am grateful that my Higher Power loves me and allows me moments of doubt as well as moments of clarity.
· I am grateful for my marriage.
· I am grateful that my mother is still alive and seems to be doing so well.
· I am grateful for my decision to write even though I struggle for ideas and scenes.
· I am grateful for the Spring season coming. I saw buttercups sprouting this morning.
· I am grateful for my Codependence Anonymous support groups that I attend on a regular basis.
· I am grateful for the friendship of my dog.
· I am grateful for grocery stores.
· I am grateful for new friendships.
· I am grateful for the realization that I grieve today.
My feelings swung from one extreme to the other for a long time after Daddy’s death. Numbly, I reasoned that I must be doing fine. I would feel guilty that I didn’t feel anything about Daddy’s suicide. Then I judged there must be something terrible about me and doubted my ability to love. The next day, or maybe even the next minute, something would trigger a flashback. It could be anything, the food I ate that day before I found him, a movie scene with gunshot sounds, or a sudden sound of silence. And I became a trembling volcano of feelings and memories that I couldn’t turn off. I felt like someone stripped me of my skin and dragged me through salt.
My soul burned from those flashbacks. I felt embarrassed by them if they happened to me in public. I felt afraid of them if they came while I was alone.
Those experiences led me to believe that I would never get over my father’s death. I felt I was either a rudderless vessel carried or tossed by raging currents or sitting flat on a dead sea. Then the anger came, and I vowed that I wouldn’t let my father’s choice affect the rest of my life. None of those ways of thinking predicted the truth of my future.
The actual relief of my experience came when I realized time had gradually slowed those swinging emotions and memories to something less extreme. Little by little, I stopped reliving the pain. Recalls became bittersweet and controllable. That adage about time healing wounds became my truth.
Suicide is like a razor slashing at the souls of those left behind. The cuts are deep and serious. No matter how much you want this to be over, keep talking, keep breathing. It takes time to heal.
I was stingy for his love after he died; he was, after all, my father. But memories of his attention seemed always to be for someone else.
Reacting with sibling competition, I envied that Daddy had once apologized to my older sister. When she was a child, he had mistreated her. I guessed the reason was because she had taken all of Mom’s attention. But I had been his little buddy. Perhaps he felt there was no reason to apologize for his behavior toward me. After his death, the thought of his need for my sister’s forgiveness angered me as if lightening had struck white heat through my heart.
Jealousy of Daddy’s love for Mom overpowered me, too. I felt he loved Mom as if she were the only person in his world. “Don’t you think your moma has such a good way about her?” he would ask me, grinning, always telling me how pretty she was. I remembered the times he held my hands out to the light, turning them this way and that, and then with a smile declaring them “just like your moma’s.”
Even the affection he felt toward his dog tore at me. The sound of Dad’s gentle talk to that dog echoed in my ears after his death. Every day for years, he had taken it for a walk in the woods on the hunt. “We scout ‘em squirrels out together,” he bragged. On my visits home, those squirrel hunts were his funny stories.
My family relationships suffered from the resentment that wiggled in and out of me like worms. But, it seemed that as grief ever-so-slowly abated, my feelings evolved into something more respectful. I became grateful that Daddy had given my sister a chance to forgive him. I became thankful that his life was filled with a love that many never find. And I was glad that he taught me how to be an honest and forthright individual. That was his attention to me; he was, after all, my father.
Grief turns on the basic emotions like switching on all the lights in the house. Jealousy is one. Listen to it. It is saying you have every right to hurt. Talk to someone who can help you find a healthy release.