I’m about to turn 63 this week, 13 years older than you when decided to end it all by blowing your brains out. It was 1968 when you made this choice, and the world is very different now. Now alcohol and drug rehab programs are rampant; people talk about “dysfunctional families”—for which there was no word, let alone help, when I was growing up; there are “family services” and “support groups” and it’s understood that bad things happen to good people.
I understand that you were in so much pain that you felt that you couldn’t stand another minute of it. I understand that the pain and depression or desperation or whatever was driving you nuts overwhelmed you. I understand that you were probably diagnosably mentally ill as well as addicted to drugs and alcohol, although you never sought such a diagnosis or any kind of help. I understand that mental illness is an illness and your brain was not working right.
However, I am your daughter—one of the four children you decided to leave alone in the world. And I also understand that because you made that decision to pull the trigger, you made a judgment—that your pain and suffering and inability to tolerate it were more important than we were. That you did not have the bottomless love for us that parents are assumed to have for their children. That protecting us and helping us grow up were not your top priority. That you probably were not very curious about what we felt or what we would become. Honestly, I’ve only come to this understanding in the last decade.
For the first three decades after you died, I didn’t think about you, and if I did, I figured maybe you did the right thing—that in some twisted way you did it for us, because had you not killed yourself, you likely would have killed all of us in one of your rages. So it was cool; you saved our lives by ending your own.
It took many years and a lot of help before I realized you actually didn’t do this for us. You did it to extinguish life—a life that happened to include not only the pain, but four children. And it took even longer for me to feel the pain of the truth of your rejection. When it came, late in my fourth decade, it was like a knife in my heart, slicing down to my gut releasing a kind of nausea—along with a love—I don’t know how to describe. It was the shock of “how can this be?” How can I love and need somebody so much and he doesn’t care about me? How? How? Why?
This kind of pain never really goes away. It just becomes something else, informing what I understand and, I hope, making me more truthfully compassionate.
Here’s some truth that I now understand: I loved you even though you scared me. I believe you loved me even though you couldn’t express or even feel it. I believe you were sick. I believe you did what you felt you had to do and that you made a choice. I love you. I forgive you. I believe that whatever happens has a certain rightness to it that we can’t always understand and I accept there was no mistake. And I still hurt—that is your legacy. It’s not complicated or mysterious. That was simply your choice.