I remember the day he killed himself clearly. Let me set the scene.
I was walking on campus on a crisp, mostly sunny morning and felt light as a feather. I had been going to counseling for about five weeks at that point and was turning the corner on my eating disorder, I was in a new relationship with a man with great values who truly cared for me, I was doing well in school, and had found the balance I sought. I thought to myself, “I have finally figured it out. My life is great.” I walked into my late afternoon class feeling great about the world.
I was just about to ask my professor a question about defining variables for social science research when a campus police officer poked his head in to ask for a “Keegan Avery” to which I replied automatically “Teigan.” He told me to gather my belongings and join him in the hallway when I was ready.
I immediately started racking my brain trying to figure out what I had done, what crime I possibly could have committed. My professor walked out to chat with the officer while I fumbled with my belongings. When I finally had my items in order, I walked out to my professor, the officer, and my golf coach. My professor told me to, “Get in touch for anything if you need it.”
The officer, my coach, and I walked out of the building straight into the cop car parked outside, which was strange because the building is usually only accessible by pedestrians. We cruised down the sidewalks back to the street and started driving towards my apartment, me in the passenger seat, my coach in the back, and the cop driving. We chit-chatted about his military service, all the while I was still trying to figure out what the problem was.
By that point I knew I hadn’t committed a crime, so my mind turned towards my roommates. I was convinced one of my roommates had been raped. They had been raped and the officer was bringing me to them. When we pulled up to my apartment complex one of my roommates was outside so I knew she was safe. So then as we walked up the stairs my mind was only on my other roommate, certain she had been assaulted. But when we opened the door, she was napping on the couch, stunned to be awoken by me, my roommate, my coach, and a campus police officer.
The officer had us sit down on the couch, me in the middle, and finally told us what the big deal was. He looked at me and said, “Your father is dead.”
November 18th was a day that had started so well for me. Now it is the day that marks the end of life as I knew it. My dad was a high school guidance counselor and was my guidance counselor. He was the reason I was in college, on the golf team, and in healthy relationships. He never got to see what that amounted to. He never got to see me graduate, watch me play golf again, grow my relationships. He never got to see my teenage brother run track, go to prom, choose a college. But these things didn’t stop happening. Just because my dad’s life ended didn’t mean that mine did.
I crave more than anything, more than water on a hot July day, the chance to see my dad one last time. But that is never going to happen, so I have moved forward. I have not moved on from my dad, but I have not let his death dictate my life. His choice to die was his choice alone and has not kept me from choosing to live.
For my dad to have chosen suicide, he had to have been hurting, hurting a lot. Instead of acknowledging his hurt, he kept it to himself until he could no longer bear the pain, in doing so burdening his family with a grief that cannot compare to whatever pain he was feeling in life. I will never know exactly what his pain was, but there is nothing my dad could have shared with me that would be more difficult for me to handle than his suicide, no problem that was too intractable to warrant his death rather than share the load.
My dad chose death November 19th; I chose life. I chose to lean on my mom and brother, on my partner, on my friends, and on my community. I chose to share my struggles and to share my grief and found rest in my community. I chose to be strong and ask for help. My life changed after my dad’s death, but my life did not end. I have lived, loved, cried, laughed, despaired, and gloried since his death because I chose life. When tough times come around for me, as they are bound to do, I remain patient knowing I have made it through all of the other tough times and welcome another opportunity to choose life.