In 2020, 5224 people took their own lives and of that figure 3925 were men. At the time of publishing these were the latest official ONS figures available. Suicide is the second biggest killer of men under fifty. Roughly 75 men in the UK take their own lives every week. That’s 75 fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, nephews, and friends. This is a shocking statistic, that needs to change. Hence this letter to a dad contemplating suicide.
When I was 20 years old, I lost my dad to suicide. My dad was a rock – strong, funny, caring, intelligent and charismatic. He was the protector in our family. The hardest working man I ever knew. Then one day, he was gone. This was even harder for me to come to terms with because I’d spent some months having no contact with my dad.
We’d had a great relationship when I was younger, I was a real daddy’s girl! But as I got older our relationship strained – truth be told we were too similar and argued over lots of things. Then at 18 dad left us. It was a huge change and despite being an adult I massively struggled with his choices. This led to us arguing more, and in the year before his death I spent months having no contact with him at all.
There were no warnings, no signs he was a dad contemplating suicide, no chance to save him. The decision that he made on that day changed my life irrevocably. It broke my heart and caused pain I never thought possible.
Today, I share that story with you because I want any father going through a dark time to hopefully see this. To read it and understand they are needed. They need to hold on.
The day it happened
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I’d had a good day with friends and my baby daughter, I’d laughed a lot. I went to bed feeling good.
My mum woke me in the early hours of the morning. She gently shook me and told me to get up. Confusion struck, my baby was still asleep! All mum would say was I must, it was important.
Mum led me downstairs, gripping my hand tightly and as I descended I saw my brothers – only one of whom lived with us so this added to my confusion. I stopped – demanding to know what had happened. The next sentence would change my life forever.
“Emma, it’s daddy. He’s dead.”
The shock set in.
The phrase echoed in my head and my legs buckled beneath me. My eyes filled with tears and there was a loud noise in my head – like a ringing as my thoughts raced to make sense of what was said. They led me to the sofa and sat me down. I asked what happened.
“He took his own life.”
My dad, my rock, this strong capable man. It couldn’t be true. The tears stopped as quickly as they’d started as they told me what had happened.
I grabbed my phone and dialled dad. His recorded voicemail message started. It was the last time I’d ever hear his voice and I longed for this even more than most because of the time I’d wasted refusing any contact with him at all.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I tried to call that night. I left voice messages that would never be returned. Argued against my family – it wasn’t true. He wouldn’t do that. We didn’t even have a dad contemplating suicide let alone one who’d actually going through with it. Mistaken identity happens all the time, doesn’t it? Obviously his phone was turned off – it was stupid o’clock! My denial was stronger than any other emotion at that point. I couldn’t accept the new reality I found myself in. So although I cried – I believed it would all be ok.
By the time the police notified us, almost a day had passed. That day tore me up inside. The guilt I felt at having been laughing and smiling all day, while dad was in a hospital morgue overtook me. It didn’t matter that there was no way I could have known. I should have known, I should have felt it, I shouldn’t have been having fun.
The process of identifying the next of kin took some time. There were added complications because we lived in different counties and two police forces had to coordinate to find us. It was almost 20 hours before we found out. Those hours still haunt me to this day.
Because of the nature of his death, we had to formally identify his body. As next of kin, that fell to my big brother. We went to the hospital and were met by the coroner.
We sat in silence as the coroner explained the process. He tried to prepare us for what we would see. I looked at this man, and said “It’s not my dad. We will go in and see it’s not him so you don’t need to tell us this”. How I still wish that was true.
Big brother went in with mum first, younger brother and I sat together in the waiting area. All I heard was an animalistic painful noise. Then the words:
Why was my dad contemplating suicide?
The next few weeks are still a blur to me. The pain of losing someone is never easy, but (as I’ve learnt now) when losing someone to suicide there are added levels of complexity to the grief.
There is a longing for understanding why. We had letters left to us by my dad, not something everyone gets and in some way it was a small blessing. But it also raised more questions; and even now, I still can’t read the letter without feeling my heart break again.
One of the reasons he gave was that we didn’t need him anymore. But the truth is, no matter how old I get I always need my dad. Reading that was how he felt was devastating. Had I added to that in the time I’d spent not talking to him? Yes we’d had a difficult relationship but I loved him, he knew that – didn’t he?
He wrote that he’d been a terrible father. I can’t begin to tell you how wrong that was. The choices he’d made in latter years were hard for me to swallow, but he’d never been a terrible father. He’d loved us, he’d protected us, he’d taught us the things we needed to know about the world. He was the best father he knew how to be, and the best father for me.
He’d had health issues and felt he was losing everything. He died before a final diagnosis could be made. The post-mortem didn’t give any clues so we will never know if he what he had was curable.
The Aftermath of a dad carrying out suicide
Guilt is a complex emotion at the best of times, but in this instance it swallowed me whole. He had felt unloved and unneeded by us, and I took on the weight of that responsibility. In my head, it was my fault. By battling against the choices he’d made. By spending time having no contact and refusing to speak with him. I’d led him to this dark place, and abandoned him there. I convinced myself that everyone in my family knew it was my fault, secretly blaming me for what had happened.
As I tried to navigate the all consuming grief, I became more depressed myself. I’d experienced some depression throughout my pregnancy but this was a whole other level. I became anxious about the people around me. Wanting to control everything going on, needing to know where everyone was and that they were safe. I felt a new responsibility to ensure everyone around me was ok. In doing that I neglected my own well-being.
I felt anger toward my dad for the decision he’d made. Which fed into more guilt – we shouldn’t think or speak ill of the dead. I had no right to be angry with him, did I? Yet I had a ball of red hot anger in my chest that I couldn’t shift. I wanted to scream at the universe.
Grief isn’t linear
They say there are seven stages of grief.
- Anger and Bargaining
However, grief isn’t linear, it’s a messy rollercoaster of these emotions. One day you may feel depressed, and be bargaining for one more day. The next you may be calm, go about your day with minimal emotional fallout – be reconstructing your life. You may think you’ve got to a better place with your loss. Then a new tsunami wave hits and you’re drowning in depression all over again.
I’m still dealing with it every day
It took me many years, several therapist, some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and some very difficult conversations with family to finally accept my loss. To learn to live with the void it left in me, to adjust to the feeling of emptiness I walked with everyday.
I undertook grief counselling with the NHS about a year after losing dad. I confided in my therapist about the responsibility I felt, the blame. She pushed me to confront that. When asked the question, my brothers simply replied “don’t be a d**k”! That guilt was lifted slightly, I could breath easier.
But the residual issues of losing a parent to suicide still live with me today. Some days, they control me – others I have them in hand. My need to know people are safe has never left me. If my family members are travelling I need to know every detail and I can’t rest unless I know they’re ok.
Birthdays, anniversary’s, Father’s Day and Christmas are not just celebratory dates in my calendar. They’re hard. I talk to dad a lot and I still hope if I listen hard enough he might just answer back.
I despise getting older, not just because of the greying hair, the lines appearing on my face and the way my back hurts for no reason whatsoever. But because dad was 47 when he died. Just 12 years older than I am now. I will never know what he would have been like as an older man, he’d have been in his 60’s now – what would he have looked like? Would his voice have sounded the same? What would he have been like as a grandfather? Questions I’ll never know the answer to and that haunt me everyday.
For those with men/fathers in their life
Suicidal ideation isn’t always easily spotted. Ask everyone you care for how they are, and ask it twice. Share this post with family and friends. It might help someone consider what they’d be doing to the people left behind. There is also another post on this website written by the Dadvengers community that touches upon why it is essential that men explore their mental health. It’s not written by professionals but by everyday parents like you and me. Listen to their stories, realise that many of us suffer with mental health issues and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
For men/fathers having a hard time mentally
For a dad contemplating suicide, there are so many great places that offer support to anyone suffering with ill-mental health. Please make use of them, reach out. I know it’s hard, I know it feels impossible, but look at the faces of your children and the people who love you. Because they do love you. Do it for them.
Things will always get better if you give it time. There is a light at the end of every tunnel. It might take time, hard work, and it might not be easy but you can get better. Please hold on, if not for you, for your children.
No matter how old they get, I promise you, they will always need their daddy.
Has this letter to a dad contemplating suicide affected you?
If you have been affected by the topic in this blog post there are organisations that can help. Below are a few places you can start.
Watch the Relevant Dad Chats Live Episode
If you’d like to watch and listen to our community talking more about this topic, you can check out the relevant Dad Chats Live. Our weekly parenting chat hosted on our Instagram Account.