One Daughter’s Wish After Losing Her Father To Suicide

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Heartbreak

The National Institute of Mental Health identifies suicide as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 47,500 lives in 2019 alone.

As a country, we are experiencing a mental health crisis that leaves far too many of our children, parents, spouses, and friends with feelings of hopelessness and the loss of loved ones.

Nearly half of all people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition

Although we can’t prevent all deaths by suicide, families can work together to try and prevent it whenever possible. 

RELATED: How I Saved Myself From Suicide

This cause is near and dear to my heart because I am included as those personally affected by suicide — I lost my estranged father to suicide when I was 21 years old.

Our relationship was complicated. My parents divorced when I was five largely due to my father’s struggles with mental health and drug addiction.

He was in and out of our lives and gave my mother no support — emotional, physical, or financial.

A few months after I graduated from college, I rented the movie "Titanic" and fell asleep before it ended. A phone call from my mother woke me from a peaceful slumber to inform me that my father had taken his life.

The last time I saw my father before that was when I was 13 years old. 

After his death, we learned about a visit he had with a cousin who was in touch with our family. During the visit, he mentioned to my dad that he kept in touch with my sister and me.

A few days after my father’s death, my cousin forwarded an email that he received from my dad the morning of his suicide. He mentioned my sister and asked our cousin to give her his best.

My sister and I were not in contact with our father at the time and we didn’t even know his email address as the internet and email were relatively new concepts.

As a psychologist now, what I observe is a lonely father who missed his children but did not know how to connect with them.

I am sad that my father felt so isolated and unwanted and was scared to contact his children directly.

I wonder if the isolation from his kids (his choice, in my opinion) on top of his struggles, were the icing on the cake that prevented him from seeing any hope for the future.

RELATED: What My Father's Suicide Taught Me About Being The 'I' When Saying 'I Love You'

Divorce can be one of life’s most stressful events.

Tension, high conflict, and rapid change all have the power to send men and women on a downward spiral of declining wellness.

Divorce can cut people off from relational support networks and sever familial-oriented "norms," while emphasizing societal pressures of a successful marriage and family versus "failure." 

In the United States, the rate of suicide among separated or divorced people is about 2.4 times greater than the suicide rate for married individuals. 

While living in two homes may provide a more stable environment for the children, living separately from your children can be difficult for a long list of reasons.

Alienation from your children and the cutoff from familial support can change the way a person views him or herself.

Although my story Is filled with loss and sorrow, this tragic experience spurs me on to help other families. I know first-hand that divorce is not a failure.

In many cases, it can be the best option, even a success, for many couples and families.

Families do not cease to exist because they function in more than one home. Children need all of the support from adult family members that they can possibly get — and families come in a variety of forms!

In addition to the primary victim, suicide affects everyone involved: children, ex-spouses, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances who may all proceed with lifelong guilt and consequentially develop their own mental health struggles.

At the core of our work, we strive to see families strengthened.

Whether a couple is experiencing separation, going through divorce, or has already divorced and is carefully navigating the waters of co-parenting, we truly want the best outcomes for all parties involved.

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That motivation to see children and families succeed, combined with our deeply intimate personal stories of survival, prompts us to share this message as part of National Suicide Prevention Month.

Please remember that suicidal behavior is a psychiatric emergency and to look out for these signs:

Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon.

Giving away possessions.

Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts.

Saying goodbye to friends and family.

If you or a loved one takes any of these steps, please seek immediate help from The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.

As a surviving daughter, I wish my father had felt these resources were available to him. Let’s work together to navigate change for people from all walks of life.

Stay healthy, well, and never hesitate to ask for support.

RELATED: Dealing With Suicidal Thoughts? Here Are 4 Reasons Not To Kill Yourself

Roberta Eisen, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a master practitioner in coaching, mediation, counseling, and consulting services for families. Over the past three decades, her expertise has assisted parents and children through the transitions of divorce and beyond. Through telling her own story as a daughter of suicide, Carly hopes to show others warning signs and avenues for help.

This article was originally published at Eisen Blackstone Group Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.