My favorite TV shows and movies bothered me after Daddy died. High suspense stories didn’t interest me anymore. Comedies weren’t funny. Sad movies broke my heart too much. That visual art medium intensely triggered my feelings in the beginning. My heart pounding, I would rush to the bathroom wishing to vomit out the stirred memories. Mostly, I just stared at the clear water in the toilet. Later I simply disconnected my attention from TV shows or from a movie. I usually drifted into thought, or maybe went to the kitchen during some action packed scene. Dullness served its purpose for a while. I wasn’t feeling anything.
Then the determined anger came. I felt it toward my father and with myself, too, that I couldn’t even get lost in a story. So I set about the task of desensitizing, watching my favorites over and over again till I wore a callous over the ultra-sensitive nubs of my mind. Hardening myself, I purposely watched even the hardest parts of murder and mayhem. But the suicide themes, they were definitely off the list. Some things can be taken too far.
My ever-protecting husband many times tried to change the channel—for me. I got angry at him, too. I took back the remote control and flicked the channel with my single intention. I didn’t want suicide to ruin everything fun in my life. I would watch what I wanted, damn it.
Anger is an emotion of enormous power. Filled with robust, bursting energy, it’s the spark that sets the flame. Just as the mind mercifully shuts down in self- defense, anger can push it back right into reality.
I didn’t realize the streams of dark liquid were blood. Maybe it was because Daddy was in a shadowy area in his garage, or maybe it was because my mind had begun already to mercifully stop processing reality. My thoughts had reduced to a crawl. I didn’t see the gun hidden in a sock laying a yard or two away from his body. It must have jumped from his hand when he shot himself. There was no exit wound from his head because he had used such a small bullet. Thinking he had perhaps had a massive stroke or heart attack, I didn’t know he had shot himself. I saw the dark streams as motor oil. Slowly, looking at his body, I wondered what he had been working on before he died.
It bothered me that I hadn’t recognized something as vital as his blood. That first night at home in bed, I tried to explain to my husband how guilty I felt that I didn’t know it was his blood. The words howled out in such rushed anguish that the bedcovers twisted around my body. I had seen my father’s blood rolling away in rivulets and didn’t know it. If only I had of known, I could have tried to scoop it up. Surely, I could have done something!
Afterwards, if I saw where someone had poured out liquid on to concrete, I felt queasy, a sick pounding just under my heart. My ribcage would widen-out in fright. I worked, then, at an automotive dealership. Seeing oil or some other dark liquid on the concrete was an everyday occurrence. I felt I couldn’t get away from the sight. Even the habit of tossing out the last few swallows of coffee from my cup when I got out of the car took my mind right back to that moment.
I had developed a phobia of dark liquid. I felt no one would understand, so I only spoke of it once in a support group. I cried so hard that I lost my breath. I didn’t speak of it again for nearly a year. I wrote my thoughts and fears in a journal where I felt comfortable crying in private. Thankfully, that intense fear of liquid being dashed out on the ground subsided. I’ve since learned that no matter how much I think to the contrary my mind can’t hold itself in an extreme state of fear forever.
The thing about fears is that they always seem to have a source of origin. The truth is fears are wider and taller in the shadows than they are in the light. Put them in the light.
At its best our mother/daughter relationship was an intense flip-flop thing. One moment we bathed in each other’s love and attention, sharing laugher and friendly conversations. Then—flip, one of us penetrated the other’s skin-thin edges and we got mad, or hurt, or both. Sharp words crystallized into sudden swords stabbing. Then—flop—we would start a conversation about Daddy or gardening or birds, the whole time smiling those there-you-go-again grins. It had always been like that for us. We were close.
My mother and I shared the brunt of finding my father’s body. The first year after Daddy’s suicide, we reminded each other of that day just by eye contact. Traumatic shock affected our relationship.
I felt angry and guilty toward her. I didn’t want to talk to her about my father after his death, good or bad. She had trust-issues and leaned on me for too much emotional fuel. I erected reinforced wall-boundaries. When she crawled over them, I felt angry that she wouldn’t seek support from anyone else. Sometimes I even hated being around her. Then I felt guilty—thought myself uncaring. To keep from hurting her with these feelings, I kept an emotional distance. And truth be known, I think she felt the same way around me.
I wished that our relationship would snap back to its original innocence and felt a spinning anger at my father that his action had set Mom and me haywire. At least we still had gardens and birds to talk about.
Some things shouldn’t be measured in terms of good or bad. They are as they are. Suicide takes its toll in relationships and each person is responsible for their own grief. When the well is empty, does it apologize to the dropped bucket?