05 March 2019

OPEN LETTER TO MY DAD

This is, frankly, a world I wish I never knew anything about, but it has become so bittersweet and such an integral part of who I am. There is a part of me that would love to be one of the naive; one of the people totally unaffected by suicide and completely unaware of it as a subject, a concept and a very conscious part of some of us. I’ve told my story a number of times – I try to share it and truly believe that if people hear the word ‘suicide’ enough, it will become common and accepted. Lots of us know someone, or some people, who have taken their own life; we know someone who might take their own life, or we work in an industry where suicide is a common occurrence.

I’m sorry if what I say upsets anyone – it isn’t meant to do that. This comes from the heart and is my experience of life without someone who decided to remove themselves from my future. I never find any comfort in talking about my dad’s suicide. I find it neither entertaining nor cathartic. Every time I talk about it, it tears at my heart and makes me want to cry. It makes me hurt just as much, each and every time I talk about it, because it all revolves around things I don’t want to remember. If someone listens to me and changes the way they think, and it has even the smallest effect on someone to change their opinion on suicide, then that heartache can be repeated a thousand times over. The best way, I felt, was to write my dad a letter and share it with you.

Dear Dad,

When I was younger, I made you a lot of promises and told you I would do a lot of wonderful things. I told you that I would run a marathon. I told you that I would be a part of the Olympic Games. I told you that I would leave our town, go to university and get a job with a salary and a pension – a safe job! I told you that I would get married, buy a house and be very happy. I told you that I would stand up and be counted and lead people – that I would make a difference and that I would make you proud of me. I have achieved each of these things, just like I promised. But you won’t know that, because you chose not to be here.

You also chose not to be here for your daughter’s wedding. I had both the honour and the dread of walking down the aisle with her. I couldn’t help but feel I shouldn’t have been there. She has two kids now – you’d love them to pieces if you’d decided not to leave us. They couldn’t not bring a smile to your face.

We had tough times growing up. Looking back, I don’t think I realised back then just how tough things were. Despite the shit that was thrown at you and mum, you deflected every single bit of it past us. Not once did I feel vulnerable – you and mum bailed out our boat over and over and worked to give us the good memories I have that far override the bad times. Mostly.

That first time you tried to kill yourself was one of the worst days of my life. It was probably worse than the day you died. The shock and horror of it all was overpowering and hit me like a truck. Thank God you failed. Thank God our family and my closest friends rallied around me. Despite my school knowing about it, despite our GP knowing about it, nobody came to help – to check on us. We lost in that lottery, because they buried their heads in the sand through not knowing how to approach the issue, or because they felt it wasn’t their job to help me at my most vulnerable time. I want that to change. I even asked for help, once. My teacher said I should go and talk to our head of year who, in turn, told me she didn’t have the time to have a one to one meeting because she was snowed under with marking exams. I don’t want that to be the case for other young people.

The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth times you tried to kill yourself were obviously really bad. But I thought every time was inevitable. That’s a hard feeling to deal with.

I’m sorry for the relief I felt on the seventh and final time that you tried and succeeded in killing yourself. I couldn’t help it. Every time my phone rang my heart sank. When I was told, I realised I would never hear those words again. I’m sorry that I didn’t cry straight away. I was sad, honestly I was. But the feeling of relief that I would never hear those words again was overriding. On the train journey home that evening, I remembered the time that you voluntarily sectioned yourself and spent 24 hours in a secure hospital. I remembered that you decided you weren’t as crazy as the other people in the unit and as such discharged yourself. I remember you walked 17 miles home in your pyjamas and slippers with your worldly belongings in your pockets. Yeah, not crazy at all. I still can’t believe that nobody followed up on that, and that not a single person from the health services thought it might be courteous to see if you were all right and ask whether you might want any help. I feel the health services wouldn’t withhold treatment from a terminally ill patient, and they’d chase them up if they missed life-saving appointments. I can’t help but believe you were terminally ill and left to just get on with it.

When I got home on the night you died, I went and picked up my brother.. He was 15 at the time. I tried not to cry when I held him and promised him that we’d be OK: pretending that I was OK! “Do you think dad was thinking of us as he died”, he asked me. I hope you were. And I hope you had one last smile in you, as a result.

I was a bit taken aback when an old friend saw me in the street a couple of days after and crossed the road and ran into a shop. It had never crossed my mind, but suicide appeared to be a dirty way to die. Luckily, my family and I just saw it as a way to die – we held our heads up high as a matter of fact, not because we were making a stand. I did have one distinct wobble, though.

A friend saw I was upset the night before your funeral and said “let’s make the funeral a celebration of his life. Not a sad and miserable day”. I’m sorry, dad. I couldn’t do that. The only time I will ever celebrate somebody’s life is when that somebody chooses life. Not when they choose to end it. It’s a day that haunts me and carrying your coffin was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.

When I sought help from my tutor at uni, he said I could hand my assignments in late, if I needed, and sent me on my way. That didn’t feel enough for me – I wanted more help. After that meeting, nobody ever mentioned it to me again. You’ll like this – I went and saw a hypnotherapist to see if that would help. I had a session with him and felt obliged to pretend to be under his spell because I didn’t want to offend him. It did help, though. Because for most of the session I sat trying not to laugh at what you’d say to me if you were there, too.

I started jogging, and it turned into a bit of an obsession. I realised it was often my only opportunity to be on my own with my thoughts. I realised that if I thought a lot when I ran, and I cried because I was sad about you not being here anymore, it didn’t matter because nobody would notice. When I ran, I realised that as a result of you not being here, I had more resilience than anyone else. I was more determined than anyone I knew and I had no fear: If I could deal with you deciding you didn’t want to be here anymore, I could deal with almost anything. When I did my first marathon and my body told me it wanted to stop after 18 miles, I refused to stop. My mind is so much stronger than the rest of me.

I never felt pain like that marathon, dad. I cried afterwards. I cried on my own, for ages. Absolutely spent, doubled over in pain and deliriously uncomfortable. I now chase that pain. It makes me feel closer to you. It’s hard to explain why, but I think it’s because it’s the closest I can get myself to how I feel you were at your lowest. When I get to my lowest ebb in a race and feel like I can’t go on any more, I do go on. Because I’m not you. When everything tells me to stop, to give in and to say “no more”, I refuse to stop. I never want to feel like you did, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like to feel so alone and helpless despite having so many people there for you. It’s hard to understand why you couldn’t take a hold of one of the hands held out to help you. I’ll never understand why you felt so alone and I struggle to comprehend why you felt it necessary to take your own life. But I don’t dwell on it. What’s the point in thinking what might have been? I’ve been asked if I ever got angry at you. I’m not angry – I’m just disappointed! I’ve been asked if I ever felt you were selfish for doing it. I don’t. I’ve been asked if I regretted anything. There’s no point. I’ve also been asked how you did it, where you were found, if you left a suicide note and what that note said. Each of those people unreservedly told to stick their question up their arses. Like it matters! You’re dead – that’s it.

Anyway, dad, let me tell you about how the world has changed since you chose to die. I write blogs and I use social networking. People read what I write and ask me to speak about my life and more importantly, about you! There are these new things around called Facebook and Twitter, by the way. But I don’t think you’d understand them because a) you’re old and b) you’re dead.

It upset me that people would not talk about suicide in everyday life. People go a bit funny when they ask how you died and I say you killed yourself. They always say they’re sorry – but sorry for asking rather than for the fact that you’re dead. I get on my soap box and challenge people to talk about it. I’ve had a few people get in touch with me and tell me they need help and they’re considering suicide. They ask me to help them and I can’t – it scares me.

I won’t stop, you know. I will plough on until suicide rates drop, until those who want help know where to get it and until we stop burying our heads in the sand and being amongst the naive! I am everything I want to be in my life and that is down to you deciding you don’t want to be here anymore. I’m making more of my life now than I ever did before because the way I see it, you can’t go back and change yesterday, but you can use yesterday to change tomorrow. I can’t bring you back to life. But I can use your death to show others that there is hope, that together we can help people to celebrate the fact that they choose life. You don’t know how important you’ve been in making me the man I am because you’re not here. But then would I be this man if you were? In my childhood with you, you gave me strength to deal with your death and to see through the dark enough to realise I can help to instil hope in others. To use the loss of your life as a catalyst to encourage others to see that it’s not the way to go and that there are other roads to take.

I love you, dad. Don’t stop inspiring me, and I won’t stop remembering you.

Article Author: Kevin Betts