TRIGGER WARNING: suicide
I set out to write this post yesterday with the intention to honour the 30th anniversary of my father’s suicide. What happened instead was divine intervention, again. That’s why it took me till today, the day after the 30th anniversary of his suicide to finish it.
This divine intervention occurs every time I write a blog post. Most of the time I can just barrel through and get the post out; but every once in a while, when the posts are more personal, I get stopped in my tracks. My body screams of the conflict it is holding between my desire to help others by sharing my story and an awareness that I haven’t yet fully processed what my story is about.
Here’s how this post started out.
Papa, 10,957 days ago depression told you lies. Depression convinced you, the most optimistic person that I knew, that you were going to be in the darkness of infinite sadness forever. “This is who you are” it said to you. It taunted you with that distorted truth and told you there was only one solution. Your suffering was excruciating and so, you believed it.
Then I moved to recounting the moments leading up to and after I learned of my father’s suicide. This is what I remember:
Dec 19, 1988 I’m lying in my bed, it is 8:30am. I’m deeply exhausted for two reasons. Firstly because I am in my first trimester of pregnancy and secondly, because I have been tossing and turning all night, worried about my father’s condition.
My husband and I had been at my parents’ house for dinner the night before. My father was released from the hospital because it was Christmas; they were short staffed and they deemed him suitable for an extended release. But to me, his depression seemed worse.
As I lie there looking at the alarm clock, I decide that in 15 minutes (8:45) I will call my little brother and get the phone number to my father’s psychiatrist so I can make an appointment to see him and inquire about my father’s worsening condition. But instead, at 8:40am, the phone rings. It’s my little brother. He says “Enza, dad shot himself”. I remember hearing these words and my mind simultaneously overriding them with the words “dad tried to shoot himself ”. I answer my mind’s overriding words in my head “when I see dad, I’m gonna kill him”. I do not consider that the shot is fatal.
Then my brother asks, “is Alf (my husband) home? Then he says “Oh my God I should have asked you that before I told you”.
I don’t remember much after that except that I asked my brother if he was alone and if he was ok. Then I got on the phone to reach my husband who was in the middle of having a cavity filled.
There were no cell phones in 1988. The line is busy and I am unable to get through. I call the operator, explain that it’s an emergency, they interrupt the line and I say to the secretary “Sally, it’s Vincenza, please let me speak with my husband. I’m panicked and frantic as I tell him that my father shot himself. My husband says “it will be alright, I’m on my way”.
My husband arrives home and we drive to my parents’ house. I remember the car ride, rocking in my seat and saying “dear God, dear God, dear God. It’s innate. The mother, in me, knows that she needs to soothe herself and the 3 month old baby in my belly and stay calm. As we turn into the street I can see it in the distance, the car that has only one purpose and that no one ever wants to see. A shiny black hearse validates only one thing. Someone is dead. The police are there. They won’t let us into my parents’ house. I have no recollection of the conversation with the police or what transpired after that. How did we end up at my neighbour’s house; the home of my childhood friend? When did we see my brother? Where was my father’s cousin and his wife who lived in my parents’ basement? Was my mother already at my neighbour’s house when we got there? All I remember is my best friend telling me that she went with the police up the street to my mother’s workplace, so that she could be the one to tell her rather than having her hear it from a policeman .
Being the diligent story teller that I am, I thought maybe my brother or sister could help me fill in the details. That’s when the lightbulb went off.
And then I wondered if even they would know?
Other than the two 1-hour sessions with Suicide Survivor Group, a not-for-profit who offered support services to my family a year after my father’s suicide, we’ve never talked about that day with each other.
What I know now, is that this is fertile ground for trauma bonds to strengthen. These bonds keep the people affected by trauma bonded to it and each individual’s psychological health affects the whole.
And then my mind races to: I need to ask my brother, mom and sister if they would consider family counselling sessions for us to talk about it...all of it. This fires me up. Because I know that the trauma of this experience is in all of our bodies, stuck and holding us all back from completing the processing of it and relieving us of the weight of unresolved trauma living in every waking moment.
And then I catch myself. I’m jumping into the rescuer role, again.
And then the irony hit me.
Here I am an advocate for the role of unresolved trauma in mental illness; with a promise to do something so that others would not have to go through what my family did. And I can’t help my own family because they are still bonded together in this trauma.
While I can so emphatically say that the purpose of mental illness is a transformational process, not an affliction because through my journey with mental illness, I found my way out of this trauma bond, they are stuck in the affliction. I’ve moved into the transformation and they are stuck by the trauma.
And then I remember that because of how trauma bonds operate, I am helping them. The healing and transformational work I am doing for myself impacts my family’s intergenerational trauma.
Now back to my father, and the gift he has given me on the very day that I set out to honour him.
I am he. And he is me. His trauma, left unprocessed, unresolved and misunderstood now lives in me. More of it lives in my body than I have ever known. It’s purpose? The ancestral trauma has been passed down so that each generation can participate in the processing and resolving of our trauma.
At this moment, 30 years into my journey, I am fully standing in that knowing. I know that’s what I’m here to do, not only for my family but also to show you how to do it for yours too.
Divine intervention indeed.
If any of this resonates or nudges at you, I invite you to ponder the question: What ancestral healing from my lineage is calling out for me to work on in my lifetime?