Remembering the day you chose to die
Forgive the rambling. This isn’t proofed and it’s certainly not edited.
Anniversaries bring about a whole world of emotion for people. Our immediate thought, of course, is that it shows how long a couple have been married, or simply in their relationship. An anniversary is a commemorative date for anything that anybody might see as a substantial milestone or event in their life.
For me, tomorrow is an anniversary. It’s 11 years to the day that my dad killed himself. It’s not as cut and dry as that, though. Because today is an anniversary too. And it’s one that I struggle to deal with much more than I do with the date that he died. Today is the day that, as far as I’m aware, my dad decided to die. Today’s the day that he gave up on life, decided that he believed the world would be better without him; that is, he went against human instinct to survive and instead thought it better to leave us be.
I’ve spent just under eleven years coming to terms with two different aspects of his death. The first is the fact that he died and would never ever be with us again. The second is that it was suicide – probably the most misunderstood and stigmatised way to die in the country, if not the world. Time has made it easier to understand that I will never have answers. It’s like an itch that fades over time, but never truly goes and often flares up. My dad’s suicide is my mental eczema! I can now go longer than ever before without having horrible thoughts about my dad’s situation on the day he died and in the run up to it. I’ve sat for hour after hour in my life considering what might have gone through his head, how he would have been, what he thought about and how he rationalised it. It was a brave but stupid decision.
Yes, I wrote that – it was brave. I have been asked a great many times whether I blamed, disliked or even hated by dad for what he did. No has always been my answer. I have to respect his decision and I believe it is brave. The trouble is that people see that I use the words respect and brave and they therefore assume I support his suicide and believe he did the right thing. That’s absolutely not the case. I think he made the biggest mistake of his life (and the biggest mistake of his death, too)! A soldier who goes to war is brave, as is someone who decided to do a parachute jump. Cooking chicken on a BBQ is brave, too. I don’t agree with any of those, either. But there’s no doubt that anyone who does them is brave. I’m not attempting to trivialise anything, but instead put across my reasoning for why somebody who makes an ultimate decision – one where there is absolutely no going back – is a brave soul.
When I was growing up, my dad was the strongest, bravest and most heroic person I knew. He once fell down some steps at my school and dislocated his finger. I remember watching him drive home with it pointing in the opposite direction, laughing about it. I watched him relocate it and was in awe that he didn’t cry. He was so strong and like iron when we play fought and apart from the odd kick in the nuts, I could hit him as hard as I liked and he wouldn’t ever be hurt. I wanted to be brave and strong like him. Problem is, they were physical. On the night that he chose to die I can only hope that he stayed strong, held his head high and used the last of his bravery to remain true to himself and his family.
My dad made the ultimate decision to die – the most wrong thing anyone could ever, ever do. But hating him won’t change that. Blaming him won’t bring him back. Calling him a coward would be a downright lie. I don’t believe he didn’t love us because he chose to lie, I think he mistakenly thought it was a way out and there was no other option. If only he had access to some of the incredible support services that are around now. There’s not enough, but I’ve seen the tides change in the last few years and I can see it becoming so much more acceptable to talk about mental health and hopefully, as a result, suicide.
There’s a long way to go before that change will happen. Despite my campaigning and talking, this week I made the gut wrenching decision to decline an invitation to make a documentary with the BBC. I found it hard to comprehend talking on television and sharing my experiences, face to face, with the world. Whilst I am not personally affected by what I talk about, I have to be completely aware that judgement can be passed on my family, that they may struggle where I thrive and that we all have different coping mechanisms. I won’t stop talking, but I have to do it in the correct forums where my family are comfortable and where I know I am looking after them. I’m sure I’ve made the right decision – it was for our good and sometimes in life you have to be selfish enough to say ‘I can’t do that because I’m not ready and I’m not comfortable with it’.
We need to ensure that people understand that it is ok to talk about suicide, but it is not ok to die by suicide. It’s very hard to balance a socially acceptable dialogue whilst ensuring everybody knows that suicide is not a way out of your troubles. There are theories out there that if the word suicide is used more, that it is talked about, then people will think it’s ok. Statistics show that when somebody significant (a celebrity, dare I say) kills themselves, there are spikes nationally in rates of people deciding to die.
I have a tradition that just sort of happened. Every anniversary of dad’s death, I’ve gone out and I’ve run 10km as hard as I possibly can. For the last 8 years, each of those 10km runs has been under 40 minutes – a really ball buster. I can’t do that tomorrow because I’ve damaged the ligaments on my knee. I half heartedly tweeted to see if anyone would do it for me. Many offers came in. From people who can’t run very fast but who ‘would try’ and from people who said they understand why such a silly little run is important to me. One guy, Rich, has stood up and said he will run his guts out to keep my tradition alive. It’s a lovely gesture from a lovely guy. I don’t think he realises how much it means to me because I’ve played it down. But I’ll be there tomorrow, watching him run, and for the first time ever I’ll be telling my son why someone is running a fast 10k on the anniversary of his grandad’s death. It’s become my coping mechanism and it’ll live on, just in an evolved state.
I finish this blog at 8.30pm on 17th October. At roughly this time exactly 11 years ago, I was meant to call my dad for a catch up. Instead, I text him and I said ‘Dad, I’m off to meet my mate Rob for a beer. I’ll give you a ring tomorrow’. I never got the chance to ring him because he decided to die. Please call someone and tell them you love them. It’s the simplest and best gesture anyone can ever make.
With love to all – give life as many chances as it needs to thrive.
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