Dancing with Dad

by Injete Chesoni

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

– Jim Valvano

This coming Sunday will be the first anniversary of my father’s death.  He died suddenly, six weeks after a major earthquake that took out his home, his church and about two-thirds of his possessions.

Actually at the time he died, he had no idea whether he would ever see any of his possessions again.  He had walked away literally with the clothes he was wearing, and nothing more.  If you are interested in reading more about the earthquake and how it influenced his death, click here.  This story, posted on the New Zealand Quake Stories site was written by me on the anniversary of that earthquake that changed so much for my family and for me.  You can also read there of how his death was for me, needless to say it was very traumatic and life changing.

In my family there were three kids, my two older brothers and me, and then my parents. Dad was my hero from as early as I can remember.  Dad wasn’t one for dancing, actually he wasn’t really one for playing with us either, but every so often I would get to climb on my father’s feet and he would shuffle around and I would think… I was a princess, and I was dancing.  I loved it!

Try and picture this:  Late 1960’s, early 1970’s.  A very middle class family in New Zealand.  My parents were both committed Christians and my father had just become the minister of a church.  It was all pretty straight-laced.  Dancing was hardly on the cards, but that’s what I thought we were doing back then.  I was dancing with my Dad.

When Dad died I realised all that I had taken for granted and had was now lost.  In those few minutes it was gone and it was so hard, even with his body there in front of me, not to expect him to walk back in the door.  And much as I have wished to be able to ring him up and say hi, or ask his advice on something, use him as a sounding board, and trust him to help me get what I needed.  It’s all gone.  But I’m not quite ready to let go completely and so I often talk to him, I just wish he could talk back.

The thing about Dad is that he may not have liked, or agreed with a lot of things I did but he was always there for me.  At times, and particularly when my mental illness was most out of control, I did everything I could to push him away and prove to myself that his love was conditional after all.  I grew up with this concept of unconditional love yet I never quite believed it.  I pushed away as many as said they loved me.  And I lost.  I lost some people who had been very close to me, because I found their love was based on conditions after all.  Or perhaps they just had enough of trying.  But not Dad.  He just kept on being there.  He kept on believing in me.  He kept on loving me no matter what.

For many years I battled with wanting to kill myself.  I thought about it continually and I tried to achieve it more than a few times.  I eventually realised that I had to find something, or someone to focus on.  For me at that time, saving my life wasn’t important to me.  I was so depressed that I saw no reason to keep going.  I was told that I would hurt people if I committed suicide, and I have to admit that I felt so bad that I really didn’t care who I hurt in the process.  It sounds so hard, but it’s exactly how I felt.

I realised that actually it did matter to me how I would hurt my Dad.  I decided I didn’t want to hurt him that way and so I committed to myself to stay alive.  I’ve also said in the past that my cat Penny was another reason to stay alive, but while I never told Dad of my decision to not hurt him that way, it kept me going when nothing else had worked.  It is now fourteen years since my last suicide attempt and while there have been factors such as therapy that have played a part, mostly it was a stubborn determination that I would not do that to my Dad.  Don’t get me wrong though, the thoughts have still been there but after years of repeated attempts and hospitalisations my silent commitment to Dad kept me alive.

And now?

Dad is gone and so, in life, I can’t hurt him anymore.  But maybe wherever he is, he could still be hurt by my actions and so I still don’t want to do that.  But also I have now found another focus and reason for staying alive.  When you don’t have a partner or children, you wonder does it really matter?  I know it matters to the remaining members of my family and my friends, but I needed a bit more than that.  I have found myself another focus, someone who means the world to me.  And I think Dad would like that.

And to anyone who is suicidal I suggest trying the same.  Just a blanket statement of ‘friends and family will be hurt’ is too general and easy to dismiss.  Well it was for me anyway.  It has worked for me so far to make it specific, so maybe it will work for you.  It does no harm to try anyway.

This post wasn’t meant to be about suicide but I realise more and more what part my Dad played in keeping me alive.  Saying thanks doesn’t seem enough, but I know continuing to live is.



6 thoughts on “Dancing with Dad

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