The Oak Leaf

Rise against the dying of the light

Isabel Johnson, Opinion Editor

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My dad killed himself when I was 15. He drove himself to the beach outside a small town in Southern Oregon and shot himself, becoming the most interesting piece of news the town had seen in years. It’s been eight years, and I’m still angry, confused, guilty and incredibly sad.
My life doesn’t revolve around my father’s bad choices, but I’ll never “get over” losing him like that. Sometimes I cry when I hear Frank Sinatra, because all I can think about is riding in Dad’s car, singing along with him. I can’t walk around a bookstore without remembering countless sessions of begging for just one more book to add to my collection.
I’m getting married. When my brother walks me down the aisle, I’ll be happy to have him there, but it should be my father giving me away. It’s easy for people who haven’t experienced a suicide in their immediate family to say, “call the hotline, watch for signs.” Afterwards, we have to remember there was nothing we could have done; above all else, we can’t blame ourselves.
Does anyone else see the contradiction? There were plenty of the signs listed on suicide prevention pamphlets. My dad certainly wasn’t behaving like what a psychiatrist would describe as healthy. But his symptoms could match plenty of other problems. Was I supposed to notice my dad saying goodbye in indirect ways every time I saw him? A dad giving his daughter advice is considered pretty normal, but in retrospect, the series of emails warning me against making the same mistakes as him seem like a pretty obvious farewell. Should I have noticed?
Any therapist would be reassuring me at this point, “You were just a child.” But that doesn’t make the guilt go away. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my dad is gone. No spur-of-the-moment road trips to the Grand Canyon, no watching chick flicks while eating bad pizza, no taping episodes of “Ally McBeal” and pretending it’s just so he can mock it (secretly, he loved that show). On the rare occasion somebody uses the “shave-and-a- haircut” knock on my door, it isn’t him. I’ve stopped expecting to see his truck when I hear a diesel engine pull up outside my house.
Suicide is a terrible thing. The idea of wanting to cut your own life short is contrary to the most basic of human characteristics. We want to live, and fight, and love and leave something of ourselves behind to be remembered by. Dylan Thomas said it best, “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rage at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
If you’re considering suicide, find someplace you feel safe expressing why. Talk to a friend, a therapist or an operator for a hotline. Throw things, scream at life, write dark poetry and listen to loud music. Do anything you can to express your feelings without hurting yourself. Death is final, and the only way to guarantee that life won’t get better is to end it. There is always hope, and people willing to help you. Make a list of everything you love to do, and all the things you want to do.
Make an appointment with Student Health Services can be made by calling (707) 527-4445 for the Santa Rosa Campus or (707) 778-3919 for the Petaluma Campus. They provide individual and group therapy. Call (800) 273-8255 for the Sonoma County Health suicide prevention hotline.
Do any or all of these things, just don’t give up.

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Rise against the dying of the light