As the school year begins anew again, many people are worried about many things. Will my classes be in person or remote? Will my child be able to develop socially if she’s not in class? How often can I get tested; will everyone wear masks? How will I afford tuition to Zoom University? Will teaching put me in danger? All of these worries and concerns are valid. The uncertainty is unfair and the frustration is shared by everyone.
But as I start my school year, my biggest worry is not quite the same. My biggest worry is how am I going to start a new school year without my dad?
My dad was a high school guidance counselor. School and my dad are as closely associated to me, as a priest is associated with the church—I can’t imagine one without the other. My dad would go over my schedule with me, talk over my commitments for the year, make sure I wasn’t spread too thin, and he would affirm that I was doing enough. He was the ultimate strategist and someone I leaned on for support, even into college, when it came to navigating my academics. As I was getting my school supplies this year, I found a binder of college information he put together when I was a senior in high school. When I needed help, I asked him. This is the first fall that I won’t have my go-to to lean on.
My dad committed suicide last November.
On a cloudy fall afternoon, he jumped from a bridge on the local bypass and was hit by a car. He left behind me, my brother who was supposed to try out for his freshman basketball squad two days later, and my mom. I still don’t understand why my dad committed suicide. For a man as logical and strategic as he was, it made no sense. He never expressed any suicidality, didn’t give away any possessions, had been talking about future plans just the day before. He didn’t express any of the suicide risk factors that are often shared, he didn’t seem weak or struggling in the least. His action took us all by surprise.
It’s been ten months since I lost my dad.
I’ve had many personal triumphs; I graduated college with two degrees and University Scholar distinction, got into a master’s program with a research job, won some golf tournaments, and other successes. My brother won the most prestigious junior golf tournament in the state and has continued to develop into a phenomenal athlete with recognition from elite colleges. Each of these joyful events has been tinged with sorrow. Every one of these accomplishments has come in large part from my dad’s nurturing. It is hard to do something that would make him proud, knowing that he’s not here to see it.
I had been going to counseling before my dad committed suicide for an eating disorder I developed because I avoided the counselor. I thought I was weak for having a problem, I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling and couldn’t solve my problems myself. I didn’t want to burden anyone else with the inner turmoil I felt. Now I see that I was weak for letting my pride get in the way of seeking help and that the burdens that weighed me down didn’t fall as heavy on anyone when I shared them with others. Seeing a counselor was a game-changer for me. I thank God every day I had an established relationship with Kelli before my dad died. Going to counseling got my head in order before my dad’s death and has given me the tools to cope with my grief. Counseling has been very effective for me as I continue to work through the repercussions of my dad’s last act.
My brother doesn’t find counseling as helpful. He saw a counselor for a couple months but didn’t get much out of it. And that’s okay. Coping methods are different for different people and what works for one person may not work for another. He has found more solace in athletics, almost as a form of physical therapy. The point is he found a way to adapt to his grief in the most healthful and helpful for him. Counseling wasn’t the answer for him, but he didn’t give up on finding a form of therapy and has found solace in sport.
The hardest part of the grieving process has been coping with the fact that my dad committed suicide—that he chose to die.
Tyler and I miss our dad and are mad at our dad and love our dad all at the same time. The man who was so logical did without warning the most senseless thing that day in November, leaving us to deal with the consequences of that action. In the months that have passed, it has reaffirmed to me that strong people reach out for help. Strong people admit they have a problem they can’t solve themselves and get help from others. It breaks my heart to think of how many people have suffered in silence and chosen to harm themselves rather than sharing their suffering. It is not a burden on others to share your own burden. I would 100% rather that my dad shared his suicidality with me or told me how much he was hurting than him to kill himself. His death has been heavier than any problem he could have shared with me.
As Tyler and I start this new school year we are both without the go-to guy. We are both confronting the uncertainties of this fall without the man who would find the opportunity-maximizing strategy out of all of this craziness. If anyone could have navigated Coronavirus and come out ahead, it would’ve been him. But our dad is within us. We’re his kids, his voice is within us, we’ll be alright. But we would be a whole lot better with him here.
We’d like to thank Teigan for her brave and eloquent words. If you’d like to share kind words with her, we will pass them on to her via firstname.lastname@example.org