A Daughter's Journey: The Loss of My Father to Suicide

A Daughter's Journey is a documentary from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  It shares the story of Sarah Ash and how she coped after the loss of her father to suicide.

Below is part of Sarah's story:

As Sarah graduated from college, she wore her dad's watch. She says, "It’s important to keep the person that you lost by suicide a part of the milestones that you accomplish in life."

Reflections on her Dad

My dad was my middle school basketball coach.  He bought all of the girls these obnoxious colored socks that we wore to games. I still have the socks.  A few months before my dad died, we had just had the biggest game of the season and I had been the lead scorer.

He wrote me a letter after that game:  Dearest Sara, enclosed please find the score sheet from the last game. In life you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Take care. Love Always, Dad.

I got a tattoo on my foot of his “love always” signature from that letter.

Struggle with Mental Health

My dad was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and to treat it he was on different medications, he did ECT and he did a lot of talk therapy.  For the next few years it was a lot of ups and downs.  Inpatient stays outpatient day programs. I never knew what dad I was getting. Was I going to get my happy dad, my crying dad or my angry dad?

The night my mom found out about my dad’s death she told my sister and me that he had died by suicide.

I am so grateful that my mom was honest with us from the start. It’s allowed us to create this unbreakable bond between the three of us. We don’t have any secrets so I knew that whatever life threw at us we were going to get through it together.

Sarah's Emotions After Losing Her Dad

The initial feelings I had after my dad died were anger, misunderstanding, resentment, sadness, and emptiness.  Something that has helped me since losing my dad has been writing notes to him...sometimes they are feelings that I don’t want to hold on to anymore.  I will just write it out and then throw it in a fire. I see my emotions literally burning and going up to the sky.  It makes me find peace and hope and new life in the flames.

What Has Helped Her Cope

My sister was only 5 when my dad died. There are a lot of father/daughter activities in elementary school and my sister didn’t get to have a "donuts with dad." So we go and get donuts and bring them to the cemetery. It's really special to have our own "donuts with dad." We just sit and talk to him like he’s there with us. Sometimes we will say a prayer or a poem or a song or just sit in silence.

My sister is now the age that I was when my dad died.  All of the milestones that she is having this year have been really hard for me because after they are all over I won’t have any more events that I can hold on to and say, “well when I was that age daddy did this with me.”

What was most helpful for me after my dad’s death was talking about it to anyone who would listen. I started attending a children’s bereavement camp where I was introduced to kids who had experienced the death of a parent or sibling. I started out as a camper and as soon as I was old enough, I started a training session and have been a volunteer for over 5 years now.

Since my dad died, I’ve spent a lot of time in talk therapy. Talking out my emotions, experiences that I hold onto relating to my dad and that’s o.k. But I need to let me live my life. I need to be happy because my dad would want me to be happy.

Mindfulness to me is a way to help me get inside of my emotions and help me process what I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way and letting myself feel those in the moment. Practicing Yoga is a way that I can just let them go and realize that I am going to be okay.  When I breathe out, it’s just this breath of relief and freeness.

Hope for the Future

I have now graduated from college and have an internship at a children’s hospital. I want to help anyone who is vulnerable. Kids especially are my passion.

In the short years that I had with my dad, he taught me how to treat another person, how to love someone, how to give my best in all situations.

Because of my loss, I know that my capacity for love and empathy and helping others is so strong. I know that I’m going to be okay.

If you or a friend need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, for free confidential, 24/7 help. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. For additional help, please visit the suicide prevention resource page.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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