Landslide: The Rumble and Rubble of My Dad’s Death.
I feel such tender appreciation for the wisdom of my younger self. I’m amazed at how well she handled painful emotions, survived difficult circumstances, protected herself.
I’ve been diving deep into a voyage of healing over the last year, navigating through my coping strategies and people-pleasing ways of making myself more likable and needed. I recognized that these ways of being, borne from self-preservation, were motivated by obligation and expectation rather than authentic relating with others, which left me depleted.
I want meaningful connections, reciprocal relationships and heartfelt communication, as well as big laughs, wild dancing, and comforting embraces. It’s been an illuminating process to discover who I really am when I’m not offering a service that makes you like and need me.
The early part of that process is what took me to counselling for the first time in 2002, aged 20, around 18 months after Dad’s death by suicide.
If being my Dad and having the chance to see me graduate, perhaps get married, go travelling, build a career, maybe have children, write a book one day, become an Auntie and so on wasn’t enough to keep my own Father alive, then why would anyone want to be my friend or boyfriend or spend time with me at all? When I’ve been at my lowest, it feels like the ultimate slap in the face.
My confidence took a real battering in the first months and years after his death. My confidence can still be a flimsy front, wearing a mask of humor and smiles to hide my pain and self-doubt. I gather up my broken pieces in the safety of the counselling relationship.
I move my body, such deep wisdom and healing in moving my body. Ballet dancing when I was younger, yoga for the last 10 years, and Shamanic Trance Dance and breathwork most recently.
I can’t recall feeling angry with Dad for his death, perhaps that is still to come. I have felt angry that I’ve had to deal with any of it at all. That I was born into danger and abuse, and that my ability to be vulnerable, experience freedom, or enjoy intimacy in relationships has been hindered by those early experiences.
Again, the work I do in therapy, in my yoga practice, and through other healing rituals dismantles these blocks and barriers.
I’ve always sort of understood why Dad did what he did, why he wanted to end the misery that I could see and sense in him. I can only imagine how much worse it must have felt deep down inside, known only by him. Presumably that’s why Dad drank and became addicted to whatever alcohol did for him: soothed his pain, numbed his memories, gave him false or temporary self-confidence.
What I don’t know, and probably never will, is why he drank. What his own trauma was, the reason for his self-loathing and lack of self-compassion. The root cause of what led to his death when he was so desperate to override every natural impulse in his body, to ignore every felt sense designed to keep him alive.
When I’ve contemplated my own capacity for suicide, it has made me appreciate the extent of Dad’s desperation and the courage needed to do what he did. From what I know of Dad’s death, it seems that he was determined to die, that it was planned and organized, which brings me some comfort that it wasn’t a spur of the moment impulse.
I will always wonder if it was his entire being that he wanted to end, or if it was specific behaviors, experience or trauma that could’ve been healed through acceptance and forgiveness. Why was it that total annihilation seemed a better option than facing the demons that lived inside of him?
I want to be careful with the words I use to express my belief about death by suicide. How to say that I acknowledge it is an option for each of us without it sounding as though I advocate that choice. To accept that choice, yet strongly believe in the possibility of healing, well-being and peace.
For Dad, it was a long and winding road before he made that ultimate choice, and that is where I think the efforts of our compassion and education in mental well-being and resilience should be focused. Empowering people to ask for help, and making that help easily accessible, at much earlier intervention points than having reached crisis.
I believe that my Dad felt things deeply, and I don’t think there was anywhere for him to easily share his worries, no safe place for his pain to be witnessed. I’m not sure that he would have known how to make the best use of that opportunity had it been available. Which is the real tragedy for me, not his death in and of itself.
Dad grew up with four brothers and worked in the oil and gas industry of Aberdeen in Scotland, he played football and drank in the local pub — his world was very male-dominated at a time and in an industry and lifestyle where emotional relating was uncommon.
We can tell from statistics and news stories that we need to continue making it okay for everyone to recover from whatever life has thrown at them. Regardless of their gender, their occupation, how their family, friends and colleagues do or don’t talk openly about their emotions.
It appears that we’re making the very necessary progress in de-stigmatizing mental health issues, and I’ve been wondering if softening what feels like the shame and condemnation of suicide is the next logical step in that evolution. Suicide seems categorized as a tragic failure in the game of life, and I wonder about the guilt and judgment that is added to the situation because of that.
I worry that focusing on suicide prevention is too narrow a strategy for a subject of such depth and breadth. Encouraging us to live a meaningful life, one that we don’t want to end, feels like a better use of time and resources, rather than prevention as a goal in itself. Perhaps suicide would become less of an option by virtue of that — empowering people in their decision to live rather than choosing not to die.
The poet Rumi wrote that, “your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I don’t think that it gets any more real than considering if the life we are living is worth continuing or not, and how serious we are about taking action if it feels unbearable.
I would love for us to individually and collectively focus on compassion, connection and community, and for it to be a vibrant endeavor of music, color, nature and the entire spectrum of the human experience.
So to take us out singing at the top of our voices, something that my Dad who loved music, had a brilliant sense of humor and told hilarious stories would approve of, “Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?” (Landslide, The Dance ~ Fleetwood Mac)
My experience of a healing journey on the path of self-discovery isn’t always pretty or easy, yet I’m not afraid of the dark. I live a magnificent life.
My Dad died by suicide in October 2000, I hope he rests in gentle peace.
Paula Pratt grew up in the Granite City of Aberdeen in Scotland, has spent six months working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, several winters on the beaches of South Goa in India, taught English (with a Scottish accent!) in Barcelona, Spain and currently lives in Edinburgh, the City of Festivals. Her corporate career has been in the oil and gas industry, and she has trained in Yoga, Psychotherapy, Reiki, Tarot and Shamanic Trance Dance over the last eight years, filling up her evenings, weekends and annual leave. Paula works with counselling clients part-time, teaches morning and lunchtime yoga in the Boardroom of a FTSE 250 company and offers Movement and Magic workshops which encourage physical and intuitive exploration. She is currently bringing Shamanic Trance Dance to Scotland, transformative shamanic journeying through breathwork and movement. It’s all in the dance.