The following blog post was originally written for and posted on WriteOnMyMind.com.
The holidays are a time for gathering with loved ones and recognizing the blessings in our lives, but for those who’ve been impacted by suicide the holidays can be a reminder of all that’s been lost.
When I reflect on what Christmas first felt like for me after my dad died, I remember feeling overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions. I felt intense sadness because of the realization that I’d never have another Christmas with him. I felt angry and frustrated because I didn’t know how to interact with my mom and siblings. I felt guilty for having not realized how sick he had been, guilty for wanting to enjoy the day, and guilty for feeling as though my sadness was robbing the joy from others.
Losing my dad to suicide left me feeling as though I would never be whole again, and yet 18 years later I can tell you that it’s sometimes hard for me to remember what that pain felt like. As I prepared to write this, I found myself questioning when it was that my pain shifted from a gaping hole in my heart to a mending wound and I realized that much of my healing came after having children.
It wasn’t having children that healed me. It was my desire to be healthy for them that really pushed me to focus on being the best version of me. How could I be that if I was walking around with a gaping hole in my heart? I will admit that I often felt like I had to fake my enthusiasm and happiness in various situations. As I look back, I’ve realized that by faking it for my children I was actually relearning how to feel happiness. At some point it no longer felt forced or fake. It just felt natural to laugh again.
It’s important to understand that time doesn’t heal all wounds … it’s what we do with that time that determines our healing. My grief didn’t subside just because a few years had passed. My healing was the result of my desire to heal and my willingness to participate in various means of therapy, many of which often felt challenging and difficult because they were forcing me to fully process my loss and my grief.
First and foremost, I had to fully know and believe that no one chooses to be depressed and no one chooses to die by suicide. Suicide is the result of an illness. For some people that illness is long and drawn out. For others it’s sudden and unexpected. Once I understood that, I had to release myself and others from taking the blame for my dad’s death.
Regardless of the situation, it’s important that we understand that healthy people do not die by suicide.
Another key element to my healing was making the choice to find something good from my dad’s death. After he died, I finished my degree in Psychology and then became a crisis counselor and public educator on suicide prevention and awareness. In January of 2017 I started a nonprofit focused on changing the way we speak and think about depression and suicide. My hope is that my dad’s death will contribute to the change that’s needed to help save others.
I wouldn’t be where I am today and doing the work I’m doing if it weren’t for the people in my life. Some have come and gone, but I’ve learned to always surround myself with people who will push me past my comfort zone in a healthy way, encourage me during times of self-doubt, and love me even when I feel unlovable.
I believe love is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and to others. I’ve learned that acts of love can heal our hearts faster and better than any amount of talk therapy. Volunteer at a shelter, compliment a stranger, help a person in need, share your story … If your words and actions are coming from a place of love, then there is a good chance you and the person you’re interacting with will both benefit.
Remember the person you lost for who they were to you. Honor their memory through sharing stories … good and bad, funny and sad. Don’t lose them again out of fear of talking about them.
My dad is with me every day. My tears aren’t from the pain I once felt, but from the love I feel when I talk about him. After my dad died I felt as though my heart might literally explode from the torment and sadness that was consuming me. Now I feel as though it might burst from all the love he pours into me.
My dad’s death and having children have given me the gift of realizing that I must make choices that make me proud, which provide me with a tremendous sense of joy and peace. It’s my hope that through sharing my own experiences with you that you will be encouraged and know that it is possible to fully live, laugh, and love through the holidays once again.
Blessed │ Wife │ Mom │ Friend │ Founder of GOOD │ Author │ Public Speaker │ Golf Fanatic
It took me years to find my voice and even longer to learn how to use it so that I’m creating GOOD rather than just fighting the bad. Now I use my voice to heal myself and hopefully others along the way.
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Sending love to all those who struggle with mental health and/or have lost a loved one to suicide.
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