Writing Center
Fall 2011 Edition

My Father’s Choice

Sherrin Rieff
Expressive 1010 1st Place
Professor Dr. Rosalyn Eves

My father committed suicide December 20, 2009 and we buried him on Christmas Eve. As I stood in the doorway of the funeral home I was totally frozen. I didn't want to see his lifeless body lying in his casket. I was still holding on to false hope that this was all just a bad dream; that it wasn't really him in the casket at all. A horrible misunderstanding had taken place. But I was so wrong. I heard a yelp of pain from my mother and thought to myself, “Oh God, it is him.” I felt a lump grow in my throat and I couldn't swallow back the tears. He was really gone.

I tried to busy myself arranging some pictures we had gathered of him on a small table just inside the door. They were nothing more than a small assortment of snapshots showcasing a lifetime of happier moments. Insignificant pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that if completed would show a life of misery and alcohol abuse. I needed time to prepare myself to see him. How does one really prepare themselves to say goodbye to a man they've loved all their lives?

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up at my mother. She didn't have to speak; I felt what I needed to do. I put my arm around my mother’s waist and we crept to the side of the casket. The walk felt as though it took centuries. I thought when I saw him I would be in hysterics, but I only felt a numbness run through my body. If it wasn't for the baby kicking inside my swollen stomach, I don't think I would have even remembered how to move. I just stood there, staring at him, lost in another world. He looked so peaceful. As if he had fallen asleep in his recliner watching Star Trek again. I watched his, face waiting for him to open his eyes.

Finally, I realized he was really gone and I had to say goodbye. I looked at my mother, who was sobbing, and it was as if I were snapped back into reality, the gravity of the situation hitting me all at once. The lump in my throat had gotten bigger and I felt myself losing control. My legs began to shake and I couldn't bite back the tears. I leaned down and kissed dad on the cheek, my tears wetting his face a little. He no longer smelled of his aftershave and his cheek felt smooth on my lips. I ran my fingertips along his large familiar hands. His fingernails were purple and he felt so cold. Almost as if he was made of clay. I lifted up his folded hands and my mom helped me tuck pictures of my two girls under them. I wanted him to remember them, even in his death.

Sitting down on the first row of chairs I laid my hands on my stomach. I could feel my baby boy kicking still. I couldn't believe that my father would choose to leave us. I still don't understand how someone can make a choice so selfish. How can you get to that point of no return where your state of mind is so clouded, so distraught, that you actually believe this world would be a better place without your presence? I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that he would choose to never meet his grandson, and his other grandchildren to come. He would never be able to dance with my baby sister at her prom, or walk her down the aisle when she married. He would never be able to see his two sons grow into men. How could he be so selfish to choose to take himself out of our lives? My mind would not quit racing. All the questions, all the anger, and all the regrets kept pounding into my brain one after another.

My grandparents arrived just as we were about to start the small program we had prepared. I'll never forget the pain in my grandmother’s face. You could read her broken heart as if it were written in the deep grooves that encircled her eyes and mouth. There was no light in her eyes, only dark shadows of grief. This would be the third child my grandparents would bury.

After the program and prayer we decided to shut the casket. My family said our goodbyes first, then the extended families. As they were shutting the casket lid, my grandfather, weeping terribly, fell to his knees and cried out, “Oh God, not my boy. Not my baby boy.” Those words still linger in my mind. I'm haunted by the cry of pain from my grandmother as she reached out to my grandfather, trying to comfort him, yet on the verge of losing control herself.

We had the graveside services immediately following the funeral service. Mother Nature was very cruel that day. It was only thirty-four degrees outside and the wind was blowing harshly. The cold air stung my face and made my tears feel like needle pricks. My four sisters, two brothers, mother, and husband huddled together, wrapping our arms around one another to shield us from the bitter cold. We watched the men carry the casket through the cemetery and set it in place. We wept as a family friend sang an old ballad my dad used to love.

After the funeral my husband and I decided to go home to salvage what we could of Christmas Eve for our girls. But all I wanted was to be alone. I couldn't bear to hear one more person tell me how sorry they were. I was so angry at him for leaving us. I felt so betrayed, and I felt as though no one could understand what I was going through. I went straight to bed when we arrived home and cried myself to sleep.

The next day we celebrated Christmas with our daughters. Haylie, who was six at the time, woke us up at five-thirty to see what Santa had brought her. After I pulled my fourteen-month old, Kimber, out of her crib, my husband and I put on our happiest faces and tried to enjoy the ripping of wrapping paper and squeals of delight from our little girls. They were so young they wouldn't have understood why mommy was upset.

Later that evening, after all the Christmas festivities were over, I was once again left alone with my thoughts. I came to the realization that I was foolish to try to understand what it was my father was thinking. How could I have ever understood what was going on inside his troubled mind? I decided it wasn't his mind I had to get a hold of, it was mine. For the first time in five years I prayed. I sat on my knees and prayed to God, begging him for answers, pleading with him, but all I got was a sickness in the pit of my stomach. I had sobbed silently to myself so hard that my head was pounding and I couldn't find control. I felt as if I had no one to turn to, no one but God, and he wouldn't hear me.

I prayed fiercely twice a day for a week. At first I prayed for understanding. “Please make me understand, God.” After getting no response or comfort, I cried. I begged God to just let him have his life back, let him take back all the horrible decisions he had ever made; again no response, no comfort. I truly believed that if I prayed hard enough God would send a lightning bolt with all the answers.

It's been almost two years since my father decided to leave us. I still have no answers as to why he left, but I have found comfort. Forgiveness was no easy task. I was so filled with hatred, disgust, and hurt that I couldn't see straight. I was grief stricken for over a full year before I came to the realization that it isn't my understanding of the choices my father made that matter. His choices were of his own agency. He made the choices in his own life for himself. I don't have to accept them; I don't need to understand them. They were his and his alone. I honestly believe that God opened his arms to my father and let him come home. I find immense peace in knowing Heavenly Father has a plan for us. I will always love my father, and I'll miss him every day. That is a choice I have the power to make.