My father’s name was David, and most people called him Dave. My Mum called him dear and when I was very young, I grew up thinking this was his name; though I never called him it, for me it was always Dad.
He ended his own life in 1991 - a few months after I had turned 8 years old, just over a month before Christmas and on the night before he was due to collect my sister and me to spend the weekend at his home. There are some who would think this is cruel and selfish and for a long time I did too but not anymore. It’s clear to me now he was obviously so desperate he simply could not go on or wait any longer, it was nothing but sheer and utter desperation, he wanted out of this life and wanted out quickly; no one could’ve prevented it. I once heard, when someone decides to take their own life and they have a plan and a date in which to do it, they can appear quite happy and calm simply because they know that their pain will soon be over.
On the 2nd of June this year I was 37 years old. This officially made me 4 and a half years older than my Dad. Some people, when I’ve told them this, don’t always understand it at first. As I tell them, I look them closely in the eyes. Confusion comes to their face, together with a frown, their eyes usually turn to the right and they gaze slightly up. Then their frown disappears, their eyebrows raise and their lips slowly part to make an O shape. All within a few seconds - confusion, revelation and then shock. Don’t be shocked though. I’m not, not anymore. The past 28 years since his death have very slowly and painfully sucked every bit of shock and awe out of me, knowing that I would one day be the same age as him and then, one day, be older than he would ever live to be. Had he lived, today he would be 63 years old.
The day, when I matched his age, finally crept up on me in 2016. It wasn’t a pleasant day but then neither was it a particularly unpleasant day, it was just sad, very, very sad and it left me confused. I was now the same age as my Dad when he had ended his life. After that day, I realised, I could no longer view him and his passing as an 8-year-old, like I always had. However, I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and continued life as normal, trying to ignore it - a self-protective trait which I had subconsciously learnt over the years since his suicide. It would be a further few years before I was fully ready to sift through the wreckage and attempt to heal the wounds of his death. This was when I heard about the Anchor Project. Attending this small group has been somewhat of a revelation for me. It’s encouraged me to find the determination to look back at things and recall memories I’ve long since forgotten, to drag them out of the shadows and revisit old wounds which have always been too painful to face. It’s helped me to see my Dad’s suicide from a different perspective – from the view of the 37-year-old man I am now and not the boy whose world ended when he was just 8 years old. When I now look at the few pictures I have of my Dad, I am able to see a young man struggling, performing a forced smile, the weight of the world clearly on his shoulders, he was broken, he was desperate, and he looks innocent, all things an 8 year old is blind to.
His suicide has shaped every part of my life and childhood, how I acted towards others, my relationships with others, my education, how I coped with stress, anger, fear and sadness, my confidence, self-esteem, my energy levels - every single part of me was effected and it shocked me to the very core of my being. When I look back on that very sad and difficult time, what little memories I have I see in black, white and slow motion. It’s almost like a thin grey film has been put over them and my memories have suffocated and tarnished as a result. I can just about remember my Dad being clever, funny and very good with his hands. Like my Grandfather, he could make almost anything, particularly from wood - a table, a bed, pogo-sticks to walk and play on or a go-cart to ride, which I briefly remember playing with as a child. To my young 8-year-old self he was tall, big and strong, he was wise and all knowing, he could be funny and make silly jokes and pull silly faces.
He had the answers to everything, any problem, any issue. He had the ability to make me happy and laugh or sad and cry. He was my teacher and he was without a shadow of a doubt, my hero. He had a Mexican style moustache, thick dark hair and he dressed like he was still in the 1980s, with his flared trousers, denim shirts and green flipflops.
I was asked recently am I angry because of what he did, but I didn’t want to answer at the time. No, is my reply, I’m not angry, I’m furious.
I’m furious because I haven’t had the chance to be a son. I would have been a good son, a loving and devoted son. And I never got the chance to tell him about all those little childhood secrets that children do and then keep to themselves and recall, when they’re older to their parents. Things like the first time I drank alcohol from a beer can which I found in the kitchen, during one of our family Christmas gatherings, and how I spat it out when I realised there was a cigarette in it. Or the time when I pretended to be asleep in my bed, having a nightmare and he came into my room and comforted me. I never got to talk about girls with him.
I never got to sit in a pub with him and allow him to buy me my first beer. I never got to show him the man I have become and for him to tell me he was proud of me. And I never got to tell him he was my hero and how I wanted to be as much like him as I could. Back then I didn’t know he was my hero he was just my Dad.
It deeply saddens me, not only has he physically gone but so has his past and all traces of him. Sometimes, it feels like he was never here at all, I find that heart wrenching. Sometimes, I find myself looking around trying to find him. I see his face in other people usually men that are older than me and would be double the age when he died or in the mirror at home in the bathroom. I sometimes waste an hour or so googling or searching for his name on the internet, but no results come back for him. Other people with the same name, I find but it’s never him. I often wonder if he’d recognise me now, he certainly wouldn’t recognise this world as it is. What would he say to me and me to him? I often flirt with these thoughts despite knowing it’s not possible, but unable to stop myself.
I think one of the biggest things which could have helped me when I was a child, would have been to know that I wasn’t alone. To have been in the presence of others that had experienced pain like mine and to know I wasn’t the only person to have lost someone in such a truly unimaginable and horrific way; so as not to feel an outcast.
Over the years I have had various forms of support and help, including numerous types of long and short-term counselling and psychotherapy both through statutory and non-statutory mental health services, but none of these have given me the insights I have gained through the Anchor Group. Perhaps one of the main factors for this is because of seeing and hearing others, where we all have that one key thing in common, a bereavement by suicide.
Don’t be mistaken in thinking that I’m healed because of attending an 8-week support group though. I’m far from healed and, I probably never will be, some wounds are just far too deep but this new perspective and inner strength I have gained from the Anchor Project, has helped me to lay a new foundation in which to start rebuilding a part of my life which has been left broken for far too long.
- Stuart Warren