Emily, whose dad died by suicide when she was nine years old, shares how she learnt to cope with her grief, how she manages Father’s Day and what she does to remember her dad.
My dad was a huge presence in my life. My mum worked full time so it was my dad who picked me up from school every day, made me dinner, took me to swimming lessons…
He had loads of nicknames for me, but my favourite was Poppet. Sometimes when he called me Poppet it meant that he had bought me my favourite minty chocolate sweets (they were called Poppets) and was hiding them behind his back.
He loved watching sports like golf and darts on the TV, and would fall asleep in front of them without fail, a can of beer wobbling in his hand. He loved cooking curry and playing ridiculously loud rock music on a Friday night, which would shake my bedroom floor.
My dad died when I was nine years old.
One Sunday morning I went over to my best friend’s house – we would play at my house one week and hers the next. My mum came to pick me up later than usual, and when we got home she took me and my little brother into the living room to sit on the sofa, right where my dad would fall asleep with his beer. She gently told us that she had some bad news, and it was only then I noticed that she had been crying, tears sticking her eyelashes together.
My dad had killed himself on Saturday night. Just like that he was gone.
Learning to cope with my grief
Life was a blur for a long time after that, filled with grief. The weekend camp for children bereaved by suicide, run by Winston’s Wish, was one of the most important experiences of my life. I met other children who had all been through what I had been through, and I started to understand my emotions.
I coped in many different ways. We made memory boxes that we kept special things in – we used to go through them and talk about all the memories. Sometimes I would write letters to him and then rip them up. We had special green candles (his favourite colour) and we would burn them for five minutes at a time while we remembered or spoke about him.
One of the ways I read about how to think about grief is as if it’s a rucksack full of rocks that you have to carry around with you. It feels really heavy at first, but some things can make it feel lighter, like sharing the weight by talking to someone you love about the person who died and your feelings about them. As time has gone on, carrying the rocks has felt easier and easier. Now that I am an adult, most of the time the rock is so light it fits in my pocket.
Father’s Day without my dad
Every year, on my dad’s birthday, my mum, my brother and I would cook a curry to remind us of my dad. Now that I’m old enough, I drink a beer on his birthday and on Father’s Day and use it as a tribute to his memory. Sometimes I’ll watch a film that reminds me of him, or go for a walk over the golf course where we scattered his ashes.
My number one piece of advice for anyone going through grief and bereavement would be to never stop talking about the person who died. It can be good stuff, bad stuff, anything. But talking really helps.
And know that all of your feelings are normal. It’s ok to be angry at the person who died – I was, for a long time. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them and miss them as well. It’s okay to feel guilty, sad, it’s okay to feel nothing and numb. It’s okay to laugh and be happy too!
My other piece of advice is that it can be a good idea to avoid social media on Father’s Day. I still struggle with seeing Father’s Day posts with everyone looking happy and cheerful all over social media, even now years and years after he died, so if you can avoid seeing them, it helps – although I know many people like to post a tribute, so if that works for you then go for it! Lastly, remember that you don’t have to deal with this alone. If you’re ever struggling, please reach out.