There is one thing I have always struggled with. It’s the initial reaction of people when I tell them that not only has my father passed away, but the circumstances that led to his death. I have always dreaded being introduced to new people or my friends' parents because one of the first questions they ask is, “What does your dad do?” I always respond with the same answer, “He passed away when I was young.” Then they always ask the inevitable follow-up question, “How?” I have always considered the word 'suicide' immensely harsh. It’s just a flat out ugly word. It is definitely not a word that a young girl should be so comfortable with, while others cower in fear of it.
I have never been embarrassed of how my dad passed away, but I have always been frustrated with the negative connotation of his death. I have always been frustrated with the gape in people’s mouths when they say, “Oooh I’m so sorry…” Anyone who has experienced losing someone to suicide can relate to this experience because it is quite obvious that the other person has become seriously uncomfortable and has probably even regretted prodding you on such a “horrific” or “traumatizing” experience. I don’t blame them; it’s uncomfortable for both of us. But, it doesn’t have to be.
I want people to know that although my dad’s death has affected me, it does not define me. I am not saying I am thankful in anyway that my dad died, I would do anything for one last fishing trip or one last afternoon spent watching SpongeBob SquarePants with him, but I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I've had to mature at a very young age, which has been a blessing and a curse. I have a hard time being around my peers that constantly use the terminology “I want to kill myself” or “kill yourself” over menial matters that include homework or other minor stressors. Sometimes I wish my experience on this subject spanned that far, but I’m glad I am not that ignorant in using such phrases so flippantly. I am thankful for how socially aware I have become, regardless of the extent my father has contributed to that.
I know I have missed out on a lot of opportunities that only growing up with a father can present, but I am a firm believer that it has not deterred from any aspect of my experience growing up. I am a firm believer that the conventional idea of a family is not the only way to have a family. I am constantly in awe of my mom. Her ability to raise me and my siblings the best way she could is in my opinion equal or better than what two parents are capable of in some circumstances. I don’t care that I’ve never experienced a daddy daughter dance. But, I do care that I have been fortunate enough to be raised by an utterly selfless women who is constantly putting the needs of not only her children, but countless others before herself.
When the organization i understand was founded, I was a bit frightened at first. I was scared of what my peers at school would think of me and what they would think about my dad with everything being out in the open. Being an introvert and being someone who often keeps everything inside, this idea was a nightmare. But, I’ll never forget the day when all of my friends and many others wore i understand shirts on National Suicide Prevention Day in September. I was overwhelmed with happiness and felt surrounded by support and love. This helped to put everything into perspective for me, knowing there are people who truly do understand and empathize. I urge you to learn more about i understand's "Wear, Care, Share" campaign and help to raise awareness in your own school, workplace, or community. The more we talk, the more we encourage others to share their own stories and hopefully help others who are living a daily battle with mental illness.
by Maddie Woodrick
About the Author
Maddie Woodrick is currently a freshman at Lake Forest College. She is passionate about adventuring outdoors and advocating for a stigma free community on campus and beyond. Maddie is the daughter of i understand Founder, Vonnie Woodrick.