How losing my father to suicide shaped my life

My father was one in a million. I know everybody thinks that about their fathers, and I am no different.

He was hilarious, eccentric, creative, witty and devastatingly handsome. He could command an audience in the classroom (he was a teacher) or in the pub.

He had a wonderful voice and sang to my children down the phone when they were babies. We had a very special relationship, and I was always proud to have such a cool dad.

Things started to change when his wife developed breast cancer. He was completely shattered by it, and it was awful seeing him struggle to be strong for her. As usual, he used humour to try and get her through the dark times, and after chemotherapy, (gruelling and frightening) she was told her cancer was at bay.

Joy all around, and order was restored. Things went on as usual, and everyone was grateful for the miraculous second chance.

I was devastated to find out that second chance had been short-lived.

I’ll never forget the phone call to say that she had found lumps in her neck and the doctors were doing tests. My dad sounded different. Diminished somehow. He weakly tried to crack jokes whenever we spoke, but I just knew he was completely and utterly terrified. He would change the subject whenever we tried to gently ask about prognosis or outlook.

It became a no-go area, and made it very difficult to properly feel we were supporting him. His wife became more and more poorly, and he withdrew. It was heartbreaking.

Trying to help a broken person when they are being so brave is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She lost her fight on a spring day in April and myself and one other family member, my aunt, were asked to attend her funeral.

My dad lived overseas at this point, so having us near meant a lot to him, so far away from his home. It was a very surreal and upsetting day, but I was so glad to be there for my father in his hour of need.

When we came home I begged him to come with me, but he refused point-blank and told me firmly that he was staying put. I worried myself stupid leaving him there and jumped every time the phone rang after getting home.

Then on one beautiful sunny day, my whole world came crashing down around me.

I┬áhad attended the christening of my best friend’s baby when I received the phone call late that night that would blow my world apart.

My beloved father had ended his own life barely a fortnight after losing his wife.

He had obtained a handgun licence during her final weeks and shot himself in his back yard, taking their little dog with him.

He phoned the police to report a dead body on his property and pulled the trigger right there and then after hanging up. I thought I would surely die myself with the overwhelming shock and horror of it all.

How could this be happening to us?

Those first few weeks and months passed by in a blur of legalities (he died abroad without a will) and disbelief.

I remember praying my children wouldn’t find out how he had died, as they were 4 and 8 at the time. I told them that he had had a heart attack to spare them the horror.

I’m writing this, I think, to let anyone who has ever been through the pain of suicide know that they are not alone.

Even though in my darkest moments, I worried that my father might have passed the ‘suicide gene’ to me and I feared that I might do the same thing to myself one day, I’ve now reached acceptance.

The guilt was suffocating for a very long time and I tortured myself with what ifs and why nots, but these days, I fully believe that no one could have stopped him.

I now feel thankful that he was my dad for 31 wonderful years, and that’s something nobody can ever take away.

I feel richer for surviving such a trauma, and my strength is my legacy to a truly great man.

Words by Lucy Norrish

3 thoughts

  1. I am the aunt mentioned & am proud of my niece for writing this. Her father would not have hurt her for the world. In the dark world he came to inhabit he didn’t realize how much he would be missed. He simply couldn’t stay alive. How we wished he could have talked about it.

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  2. Dearest Lucy
    I was a co-worker (I taught 5th and he taught 4th grade) of your awesome father We would laugh, teach, and bounce classroom ideas. I was an old new teacher. James was always there with a cool inventive way to present something boring and the students loved him.

    We would co-teach and our student gleaned the best out of both of us. I was amazed that this superior teacher was so willing to share his vast teaching knowledge and my classroom became a true learning environment because of your dad.

    I also shared another dimension of life with James and Lisa. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. James and I became friends who could bounce macabre thoughts on the the cancer I had and Lisa did too. The types of off colored remarks two soldiers meeting at the pub would share.

    James was my best working friend. Then our lives intersected again I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and Lisa was battling her metaticsis of her breast cancer. It was uncanny. Your father would shut himself in his classroom lock the door and keep the world at bay. I would keep knocking until he let me in. Being a Yank I didn’t understand the British stoic way at working things out in that no-go approach

    He being ten years my senior: an issue I teased him about constantly: I just wouldn’t let him tell me no. There is so much more I would loved to share with you. Aunt Mims knows how to get ahold of me. You are correct; there was nothing any of us could of done to stop what James had planned. He was an amazing force and left a positive impression on our future though his students.

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    1. Thank you Kim for sharing your memories. I love what you say about knocking on his door because I know you did that right up until the end. I think you got through to him more than anyone else. You were and are lovely. xxx

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