Today my Dad would have been 67 years old, tomorrow he will have been gone for 25 years. It’s hard for me to believe that so much time has gone by so fast since he passed and how complicated my sense of loss still remains. Those close to me know that I recently got engaged to a beautiful and amazing girl who I love deeply and am very excited to begin a new chapter with. That my Dad is not here to be a part of this special milestone fills a little part of my heart with a deep sadness even during this happy and exciting time with all the love and support that I am surrounded by.
I had a dream about him last week, and it was so nice to see him and hear him again (it’s been a while). In this dream, I was the age I am today but he had not aged at all. It was a picnic, or family reunion of sorts, and we were talking and I said something like “where have you been all this time, we thought you died?” He said that he just had to go away for a while, but that it was good to see me. We talked and laughed and put our arms around each other and he looked and sounded exactly as I remember him before he died: smiling, handsome, bigger than life. We talked for a while longer until he said that he had to get going again. I said something like “you must have to travel pretty far” and he said that it wasn’t bad, just a few hours north.
I walked over to a pavilion and I came upon a notebook sitting on a picnic table. I opened it up and it had a list of names with dollar amounts next to them. I looked up and my aunt was there and I asked “what is all of this?”. She told me that it was a list of people that my Dad wanted to give money too and that he asked her to take care of it. I said “all of these names, but my brother and I aren’t here?”. She said not to worry, that Dad was taking care of us and to read on. I looked further into the notebook and there were all these journal entries, random thoughts, sketches and song lyrics – many of which looked almost identical to the notes and thoughts in my own journals over the years and the songs that have helped me along the way. When I got to the end, the last page had the lyrics to “Alive” by Pearl Jam scrawled on it, and I broke down in tears. I felt connected to him in a way I never imagined possible. And I felt truly and completely understood, for maybe the very first time in my life. In this moment, in this dream, I knew that he must have struggled with the same darkness and fears and insecurities that I still struggle with to this day.
The biggest challenge remains feeling connected in a meaningful and authentic way with people, but I struggle also with depression and anxiety and an internal voice that is constantly telling me to just give up. This is an uphill battle, and a daily fight. I practice all of the things that I preach (exercise, meditation, yoga, journaling, therapy, music, etc.) and doing all of these things on a consistent basis makes a huge difference. Some days are better than others, but it’s a very conscious fight for me to remain positive and connected and moving forward. I feel better than I did 9 years ago when I began this journey, but it’s not easy, it doesn’t come naturally, and I know I still have a long way to go. I am working at it, and I am committed to continuing to do so.
Those who know me best know that I can be a difficult person to love. I can be judgmental, cynical, negative and selfish. I have high expectations of others, but I have even higher expectations of myself. I get overwhelmed and paralyzed by perfectionism. I often hide behind humor or bravado when I am feeling disconnected, overwhelmed, riddled with anxiety, or depressed. When I am faced with significant challenges or conflict, my first instinct is to run away. These are my default responses when life gets difficult because I’ve known and lived with them for so long and because at one time they served a very real purpose: protecting me from ever being hurt. But life is about love and loss and everything in between and you can’t feel any of that when you’re constantly (unconsciously) pushing people away. The goal is to be able to recognize triggers while they’re happening and cut them off at the pass until that becomes the new default. To learn how to love and be loved (and love yourself), and forgive, and grow, and move forward. It’s hard work. And the longer you wait to face it all, the longer it takes to try and correct it.
I was a 14 year old boy when my Dad died suddenly, violently and by his own hand, and I vividly remember feeling like that was the day the world turned dark and my childhood was over. Nothing in life felt safe or happy, and so went on many years of anger, sadness, apathy, shame, and self-destructive behavior. I remained stuck at 14 years old until I was into my 30’s. When I started this organization in 2007, I wanted to do something meaningful and positive with my life, and make a difference in the lives of others, but I also wanted to get better. I wanted to feel happy (or at least normal) again. It’s been an incredible, rewarding, and at times very difficult journey so far and I have a long list of people to thank for helping me along the way. I hope that someday I’ll be able to return their love and kindness and support.
The point of all this is that I still miss my Dad, and that this still hurts. Not everyday, and not in a way that is all-consuming. But in a way that reminds me from time to time that there is still a hole. That time does heal, but the scar remains. You often hear about a death by suicide leaving survivors with “complicated grief”, and that is a very real thing that those who have never lost someone to suicide will ever understand. I tell students at the presentations that a loss like this, at an age like that, you don’t really “get over”. You are never the same. You carry this for the rest of your life, but you do get through it, and with some help there is hope, healing, and even joy to be found along the way.
Happy Birthday Dad, I miss you still, I love you always.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for your support.