My father wore a mask in his final weeks on earth. He let us see much of his pain & torment. Depression & anxiety took hold and tag teamed him in every manner of cruelty. But he compartmentalized and he did not reveal to us the truest and deepest depths of his suffering. We all got pieces of the puzzle but in the end, without the full truth we could not/did not put it together.
He saw his illness of the mind as a personal fault and his inability to simply will himself out of the darkness, a failure. I don’t know, I’ll never know what was that final straw, the moment that his descension into the darkness led him to believe that death was the only way to end his pain. That part of the puzzle will always remain incomplete. Believe me when I say, the question of “why” haunts me, though not with the same fervor it did in the earliest days/weeks/months of his suicide. I believe that unanswerable question and the regret of all I didn’t know or see, will reside within me forever, but the edges have and will soften over time.
Still, I wish he had taken off the mask. I wish he had revealed all of his truth, including those about ending his own life. If he had given me his full truth I would’ve held him and all that he felt with love, compassion and hope enough for the both of us. I would’ve reminded him again that he was still deeply loved even in his most broken state, feeling vulnerable & lost. I would’ve helped him to find every tool that he needed to fight back against his illness. I would have liked the chance to help him to live, to heal and to find hope once again. I could not and didn’t promise that it would be easy. I never offered empty promises. I knew better. I loved him with all I had, and listened with an open heart.
I was only a few weeks away from visiting him & my mom. And he kept telling me how much he was looking forward to my coming, to time together to talk, really talk and simply be with one another. And I wanted to just hug him with every ounce of strength I had, to meet his pain head on, not across the telephone line. But that never happened. I never got that time, that hug, that chance…
My father wore a mask. We all do. But when that mask hides the parts of us that most need to be shared, exposed, honored and loved… the light within us begins to dim. And if we hide the truth of deep suffering, the darkness can envelop us.
I can only pray that in sharing my truth, I’ve allowed others to feel safe taking off their masks, sharing their illness of the mind and seeking help for their pain & struggles. I can only hope that my words chip away ever so slowly at the added burden of shame & stigma that compound their hurting souls & cause them to hold ever tighter to those masks.
If I can do that, I bring meaning to his death and to my sorrow. Because my father had an illness, no less true than a physical diagnosis. But it didn’t have to be fatal. If only he’d taken off the mask, he might still be here today.