I always loved the holidays. But these past few years have been more difficult for me. You see, four years ago, I lost my father to suicide just two weeks before Christmas. Now, when the holidays come around, I often find myself thinking about his death. I think about what was going on at the time, how busy I was getting ready for the holidays, and then, I start to think about my dad's pain. It was his pain then that causes my pain now. But, how could he have been in so much pain and I not realize it? And here comes the guilt.
It's a common pattern with survivors of those lost to suicide. We often "know" we could have or should have done something. We think "what if" because we mistakenly believe we have that much power and control. I am no different. I still ruminate. "What if..."
What if.....I had talked to him more that week, then I would have known!
What if.....I had realized what was going on, then, I would have gotten him help!
What if.....I had paid more attention, then I would have saved him!
As I thought about my "what ifs," I began to see how my dad's pain not only took his life, but threatens to take my joy. The memory of his death overshadows the fun of his life and the fun we had together. And I realize the truth. We have far less power and control than we think. Experiences, good or bad, happen to us whether we like it or not.
Although we cannot always control what happens, we can control what we do about it. Maybe I could have made a difference with my dad, maybe not. Either way, his death can bring death or life. Ultimately, my dad made a choice and now I have a choice. So, I choose life!
Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and I am thankful for so many things. Christmas is about sharing, being with loved ones, and giving to others. With that, I now have a new "what if" list.
What if.....I find joy in the middle of suffering?
What if.....I share my pain and we laugh together?
What if.....I know my dad is at peace?
My holiday memories will always be laced with joy and pain, that will never change. But it is okay. Because if everything we experienced was good, how would we know? It is through the experiences of pain and suffering that we come out stronger and tougher, and able to recognize the experiences of happiness and joy. This is where I pull from my faith and am reminded that in our weakness, we are made strong!
I love you dad and miss you very much! Happy holidays!