An open to letter to parents from JC Clapham

    Trigger Warning: Suicidal themes.

    Dear dad or mum to a child or children. Firstly, let me declare I’m one of you. I have children of my own and hopefully like you and yours, my kids are the best part of my life and I’d do anything – anything at all – to see them healthy, safe and happy. Just as I know you would.

    Secondly, let me declare I’m fortunate to be able to write this letter, if I’m completely honest with you. I might not have reached the nearly-forty I am today, if my suicide attempt when I was 22 had been successful. But it wasn’t, and I’m still here, and I’m so grateful I am.

    I got to become a parent, three times over, and feel that love that only a fellow parent can truly understand. That’s not to disregard other loving relationships, but nothing else has come close to the love and sheer animal protectiveness I feel towards my children. Like you towards yours.

    Thirdly, let me declare why I am writing it. A couple of decades ago, I lost my dad to suicide. And the dastardly tentacles of that tragic loss still reach for me as I swim through life today.

    Losing a parent to suicide doesn’t *ever* stop impacting you. It never leaves you, and never will. It is always a parent-shaped hole that won’t ever fill.

    These things I have declared give me a bit of an insight into the dark hole a lot of people find themselves in at some stage. Too many people. I’ve lost a parent, I nearly lost myself, and there is no way at all I will ever take my own life.

    As the child of a parent who died by suicide, I want to share with you the impact your loss will have on your child, if you ever chose to die.

    At every significant moment of their life, they will miss you and mourn you and feel a bit empty and unloved by you.

    I know you love them, you know you love them, but to a child, a parent choosing to die and leave their child is the biggest rejection possible. And it’s understandable they will wonder, “Didn’t they love me enough to stay?”.

    They will be sad when they finish each year level at school, and when they start a new level at school, and you’re not there to congratulate them or wish them a good year.

    They will be sad when they need new clothes and you’re not there to tell them how big they’re getting.

    They will be sad when they start a new sport, or go up an age group or skill division in sport, and you’re not there to show your pride in them.

    They will be sad when they make new friends, because they know at some stage they’ll need to explain why you’re not around.

    They will be sad when they lose old friends, because you’re not there to tell them that people come and go throughout their life, though in a way you’ve shown them that already.

    They will be sad when they have their first kiss, because the joy of it is exciting, and if you had a good relationship with them, they may want to tell you about it.

    They will be sad when they get their heart broken for the first time, because you’re not there to either keep the embarrassment from or to confide in and lean on.

    They will be sad when they get their first job, because you’re not there to drive them to their first shift, or to pretend to be a customer and embarrass them because you’re so proud and just want to watch them as little adults in a grown-up world.

    They will be sad when they bring a date or partner home, because you’re not there to make it awkward even though you’re trying really hard to be cool and calm.

    They will be sad when they have their first intimate experience, either because you weren’t there to talk to, or to keep the cool secret from by whispering about it with their friends while you’re in the next room.

    They will be sad when they leave home, because you’re not helping them pack their things, or find a place, or drive them to uni, or find furniture for them, or pay the bills when they fall behind, or help with the housework before their first rental inspection, or to help them pack up and leave that place for the next one.

    They will be sad when they get the first job they think might be their calling, because you’re not there to brag to or celebrate with or pat them on the back.

    They will be sad when they meet the person they want to spend their life with, because you’re not there, and they can’t show you their beaming, bashful face.

    They will be sad when they have children of their own, if they do, because you’re not there to hold them close and hold their child close, and promise to be the best grandparent you can.

    They will be sad when they have doubts about relationships, about jobs and careers, about people and parenting and all sorts of big issues they know you’d have helped them with.

    They will be sad as each new year starts and ends, without you being in it.

    They will be sad when your favourite sports team wins the big dance, because you’re not there to either celebrate with them or rub it in, if they follow a different team.

    They will be sad when their remaining parent finds love, because it’s a hard slap-in-the-face-reminder that you’re not there, and even though they want their parent to be happy, it hurts that it’s with someone other than you.

    They will be sad for so long, and not just the ‘regular’ kind of grief – but the more brutal kind, wrapped in rejection and tied up with fears they too may one day find it all too difficult, just as you did.

    They will be sad forever.

    They will miss you forever.

    They will always wonder if you loved
    them enough.

    And they will never, ever, ‘get over’ your absence. Never.

    You might think all this is too much pulling on your heart strings and the valves of your tear ducts.

    But I need to do that.

    Because I know helplessness, just as my dad did. I know defeat and failure, just as my dad did.

    I know self-sabotage, just as my dad did.

    I know the feeling of falling into the abyss and just wanting some peace and a break and for it all to bloody well not hurt anymore, just as my dad did.

    But I also know you can get through it.

    It will be hard. Very hard.

    It might be embarrassing. It might feel shameful. It might mean you need to just sit and wallow in the sloppy soup of shit for a while, so it isn’t locked away inside you.

    Reach your arm out, hold the hands that will be there (they will be there, just keep your arm outstretched!), and tell someone how lost and hopeless you feel. Pour it out. And again. And again.

    And to professionals, like doctors, counsellors, psychologists. Again and again and again and again.

    Take their guidance, their advice, their listening ears and their warming hearts, and the medication they prescribe and the exercises and homework they give you.

    Take it all, and find what helps and do more of that, and find what doesn’t work, and stop doing that.

    Cry when you’re sad. Yell into a pillow when you’re angry. Cut the unnecessary wastes of time and energy from your life.

    Because one day, without you even consciously knowing it, you’ll feel a little OK. And then more OK. And then maybe a little less OK, and less, then more, then more. It will come and go in waves like that – sorry, it ain’t linear. It’s a ride with bumps and turns in between big stretches of open road.

    And when you child comes to you at some stage in their life, as they probably will, and tells you they’re not too great and they feel pretty grey and sad and lost and in pain, and asks if you’ve ever felt that way, then you have the truly beautiful opportunity to be there for them.

    To show them what they and you can do together to find the light and warmth again. They will be relieved because you are there to support them and help them and guide them.

    But you’ve got to do that for yourself, first. You are allowed to put yourself first while you need to. You must do it.


    I miss my dad every day, and I wish he could see the smiles and hear the giggle of his grandchildren.

    Please make sure you get to see and hear yours.


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    1. do i cry? do i think what if? do i sit here and say why? why is it Joel that you can ask and sometimes answer the ?’s i have asked myself over and over again? Simply – why?

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