Today marks the day that 11 years ago, my dear, sweet friend and Ruby’s father left this earth. This year, like every year in the past, I ponder what life would have been like if Cliff was still with us and I feel immense sadness over all of the unanswered questions I still have for him.
In the early stages of my grief, I was angry at him for what felt like abandonment of Ruby and me, but as time has gone on and I’ve learned more about suicide, I know that Cliff felt like he had no other choice. Depression had taken such a firm hold on him that he couldn’t see beyond the sadness to the better days that would surely lie ahead if he kept going. He was walking down a dark tunnel and the only light he could see was at the end of his own precious life.
Even just a few years ago, when people asked me how Cliff died and I shared that it was by suicide, they often gasped out of pure shock. Today, the reaction is always one of sadness, but the shock seems to be less. I can only hope that this is not because suicide has become more commonplace, but because we are talking about it more openly and honestly than ever before. As we share our stories of pain and suffering over the suicide of a loved one, my deepest hope is that it will inspire someone who is standing on the edge to think twice before jumping.
Still, the question that haunts me most is how to talk about Cliff’s death with Ruby. As her understanding of the world increases, she sometimes asks me about dads. Surely, she cannot comprehend death (much less suicide) the way a typical 10-year-old can, so I have to be very careful in how I respond. I have told her that her dad’s name is Cliff and he’s in heaven watching over her, just like my parent’s dog Sophie and her great-great aunt, Bessie. I’ve shown her pictures and talked about some of my favorite memories of him. She seems to comprehend this information on a basic level, but it’s not enough — it will never be enough.
It makes my heart ache to know that she has this gaping hole in her life that I simply cannot fill on my own.
The same gaping hole in my heart that will never be filled.