I had spent the last four weeks of my pregnancy in the hospital, and, during that time, my loving dad had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was gone, and I had three children to love. Although I had complete bed rest throughout my pregnancy, I irrationally felt guilty after his death because I had focused on my condition and not seen the suicidal warning signs. Suicide is a complex issue and so is grief. As I yearned for him, I felt rejected by him. I was also worried about my mother, who was struggling with her own grief while helping me care for the babies.
In that first year after my father’s suicide, I experienced so much joy with the triplets and so much pain. It was then that I developed an awareness of my grief reactions. About a month after his death and only a week since I had brought the triplets home, I was sitting in the kitchen painting a watercolor picture. Almost finished, a glass of water spilled on the canvas. This caused colors to mix into one another. The flowers I created became a blend of various hues. I looked at the painting and realized my grief reactions were similar to a blending of several colors: a Palette of Grief®. Metaphorically, the palette becomes that which holds and blends my grief—emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and reactions (both physical and spiritual).
Some of my emotional colors of loss during the first month included anger at my father’s doctor for not managing his pain, annoyance at insensitive questions about my father’s reasons for ending his life, and shock when others asked why he did not wait until after the babies were born. I don’t think my father wanted to die. I don’t think he did not want to see his grandsons. I think he just wanted to end his pain.
When the triplets were two months old, family and friends inquired about a party to celebrate their birth. It was difficult to think about a celebration so soon after my father’s suicide. I kept wondering: What were his last words to me? What was his state of mind right before he died? I tried to recreate our last visit together and make sense of it. Thoughts ranged from speculating about what should have been done differently to disbelief he was actually dead. How could he be gone? I never saw his body. I never attended his funeral. I was in a hospital bed awaiting the birth of my sons. On the day of the party, I missed my father the most, especially when pictures were taken and he was not in any of them. Dad, I wish you could have been there . . .
Six months later, I noticed certain behaviors in myself. Although I knew my father was not alive, I scanned my surroundings, actually searching for him. I found myself sighing frequently. I often looked at photos of him. I treasured items that belonged to him. I built an altar in his memory and placed a candle next to his picture. It was a place to put my love. One morning, as I was standing in front of the photo, I heard the babies begin to giggle, and I actually felt my dad’s presence. Laughter and humor thrust aside tears and sorrow. I felt joyful.
By the ninth month after my father’s death, I was physically exhausted. I felt pain in my neck, which was where my stress decided to express itself. I cannot say if it was due to taking care of three babies or my grief.
Throughout that first year, I felt my father’s presence and that helped me to cope with high levels of distress and anxiety over his sudden death. I continued the spiritual bond with him and felt hopeful that he was watching over his grandsons. Even on the tough days, I felt the gentle, resilient stretch of growth.
By the anniversary of his death, I had created a meaningful spiritual relationship with my father and was often reminded of him through the linking objects that he once owned and I now possessed. I had evolved from the experience and gained a sense of personal strength. I had learned the significance of nurturing relationships and appreciating life. Still, I just wish my dad could have been there.
Copyright Barbara Rubel, MA, BCETS, CBS
This is an excerpt from Open to Hope Foundation’s newly released book, “Fresh Grief” which offers 35 stories of loss and recovery
Updated: April 24, 2013