*Warning: This letter mentions difficult subjects, including suicide. If you need support please visit our Get Support page.
Dear Hebe (13 years old),
It’s 20th March 2018. Tomorrow, your careless comfortable bubble of safety will burst. Indescribable pain will circulate, as your childhood pauses in an instant.
Tomorrow at 8pm there’ll be a knock at the door from two policemen. These strangers will tell you your dad has died, you’ll never see him again. You’ll sit there for a few seconds emotionless, in a state of unbelievable shock. You hollowly watch your brother and mum overcome with a pain you’ve never witnessed. Sitting on the edge on the family sofa, you’ll feel abandoned and empty. A million emotions whirl round your youthful mind as it shatters and shudders in disbelief.
Once the police have tended to your mum and brother, you muster the ability to say one word. “How?” He says “suicide”.
Stinging tears will stream down your broken face as you feebly climb the stairs. “How could he leave me?” “I wasn’t good enough for him to stay.” “I should’ve been better.” “Why?” These self-centred questions circulate repetitively but then comes the worst thought of all. The pain I feel is tiny in comparison to the pain that drives suicide.
This heart-breaking recurring realisation continues to agonise your aching mind for years to come. You’ll never be able to fully understand how your dad suffered but, hardest of all, you’ll know that his tormenting pain and anguish is now frozen in time – a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Suicide is a silent killer.
The following weeks will be incredibly challenging. Each day you’ll wake up forgetting the emptiness of grief only to be plagued with it a few seconds later. You’ll feel the reduced parental support and more exposure to the ‘real world’. That’s not to say you don’t have a laugh. You try to be positive and ‘move on’. Only coming to the realisation that death isn’t a thing you ‘get over’ but rather learn to live with through the patience of time. But please don’t lock it up like your dad did.
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Ironically, all you crave is a giant hug from him to make the tormenting wound of grief go away. In lockdown, grief overcomes you again. You begin to run longer and longer distances, listening to dad’s 70s playlist on repeat. Running with your eyes closed, it feels as though he’s still jogging alongside you. This helps get your emotions out and feel close to him.
Some days each year you’ll find challenging. On the first anniversary of his death, you don’t understand what scattering his ashes entails or even prepare yourself for what you are going to do. Reaching your brave trembling hand into the ashes, you attempt to scatter them as the relentless bitter wind throws them straight back into your face. Clutching more, you walk off to be alone, sitting down on a scenic hill with your feet dangling below. You watch as the ashes trail through your dusty fingers, sharp shards paper cut your hand like emotional stabbing swords.
Uncomfortably, it sticks in-between your fingers and under your nails and you begin to realise what this ash actually is. They were wrong. It didn’t feel like a relief scattering his ashes but more like throwing away the burnt remnants of the most precious thing to you. You’ll feel lonely in the unvoiced belief that ‘chucking’ him away is disrespectful, it makes you feel like a disloyal traitor simply throwing his ashes away like they’re nothing. This feeling doesn’t diminish but you understand it’s ‘what he wanted’ and no ‘other way’ would’ve felt any easier.
Hours later, you assemble the unlikely courage of washing your ash-stained hands, feeling as though you’re just washing your dad away… It’s the little things you’d never thought of that are the hardest.
Next you drive to where he died by suicide, you’ve never been there before. The image of your dad here and his death becomes stained in your wandering mind, polluting and diseasing your nightmares as you tragically imagine.
You then read his last letter. It feels like it’s the closest thing you’ve got – his words. Dad reminds you to ‘be brave’, ‘kind’, ‘positive’, to continue ‘helping others’, to stand up for what is right and to not forget you’re loved. This love is sometimes hard to believe when feeling as though you weren’t good enough for him to stay. You know the idea of not being ‘good enough’ isn’t true but it sometimes creeps up to haunt you, knocking your confidence.
Another tough day is each birthday. You wish that he was singing too and it takes three years to accept you can’t refuse a birthday cake because you wanted your last one to be from your dad. Little things will be tough, like laying the table for three instead of four.
You’ll miss: blasting 70s music, endless rugby on the beach, his wise insightful words of advice and consuming bear-like cuddles. He’ll miss celebrating your GCSE results, walking you down the aisle and seeing you become the woman you want to be. He won’t see your achievements or be proud of who you’ve become. But most of all you’ll both miss out on the chance of living life together.
I’m proud that you’re yet to feel anger towards him like everyone else did. Anger solves nothing, especially for someone who felt they couldn’t bear to live another day. I am here to say you will find strength you didn’t know you had. While you won’t believe it now, you will get through this and you’ll be more grateful than you’d ever been before.
You’ll feel lucky to be given the opportunity to learn and grow in a way only possible through the experience of grief. You’ll learn the true importance of not letting each day slip away. And what it really means to be independent when your only parent is consumed by the tsunami of grief.
You’ll do things children should never have to do like: meeting coroners, collecting death certificates, speaking your eulogy, scattering the ashes of your dad’s cremated body, coming to terms with the heartbreak of a death by suicide and, hardest of all, learning to live without him.
While this all sounds rather bleak, the majority of the next few years are filled with joy and happiness. You implement your dad’s last words by working really hard at school and doing community work to help as many people as possible. You share your story to help more people who’ve experienced the emotional earthquake after a suicide or ache of grief. Please be grateful for your experience because it has shaped you and allowed you to realise that helping others is your biggest joy.
This is a letter to say, however you feel is right. Your dad has left an impressionable mark that’s peppered throughout you. Continue being kind, empathetic and bubbly. Channel this inner strength and embrace your faults. And never forget what your dad has given you.
Dad, I would’ve loved more years, more time, but what I’ve had I’m grateful for. I will miss your smile, endless empathy and unconditional love. I will miss your reliability, support and words of confidence. I love you so much more than words can say, but thank you.
Hebe (17 years old)