I can still dial those seven digits by heart, and often times, I still do.
I don’t do it intentionally. It’s habit, because for so many years I called my Dad every single day.
I really miss dialing my Dad’s number. When I was little and my Dad worked second shifts at the steel plant, I missed seeing him when I got home from school. So, my Mom always kept Dad’s number written down for me near our household phone. I would call the plant and the receptionists always recognized my voice. They would call for my Dad over the public-address system, he would eventually find a phone, and he would talk to his boy. Sometimes just for a few minutes, and other times for a little longer.
I don’t think I ever realized what an inconvenient interruption this probably was for my Dad. He worked in a large steel plant in the age before everyone had a cell phone in their pocket, so every time his little boy called, he would have to stop whatever complex project he was working on, find a phone in a quiet spot in the plant (which was hard to find), and chat with me. I’m sure this wasn’t good for his productivity, but it was good for his family. And when it came to my Dad, family was always more important.
Eventually, Dad got a cell phone and from that point on, it was always very easy to get in touch with him. I used to be able to call Dad for anything…and I really didn’t even have to have anything in mind to talk about! Sometimes, I would just call to talk, to hear his voice, and to see what he was up to. He had the same cell phone number for as long as I can remember, and dialing his number or my Mom’s number was as natural as breathing. Mom and Dad were (and still are) my lifelines.
Whenever something good would happen to me at work or school, I knew that I could always call my Mom and my Dad first to hear their congratulations. Whenever I was hurting or down, I could call Mom and Dad and they would always lend a listening ear. Whenever my car would break down (which was often), I could call Dad and he would tell me what to do to fix it. And then, when I inevitably had no idea what he was talking about, I could call him back and tell him I needed a ride. I could call him anytime and tell him about something funny that had happened, and I knew he would always be there to listen. No matter the time or the purpose (or lack of one entirely), Dad’s line was always open when I needed it.
And now, I would do anything to be able to dial those numbers again, hear his warm greeting, and talk with him about anything. And everything.
Recently, I’ve had a string of accomplishments and great things that have happened in my life. Things have gone well and I’ve had a positive and optimistic outlook, and there have been instances when I hop in my truck and think about folks I could call to share my good news with. Inevitably, Dad is one of the first people to come to mind. And when I can’t talk to him, it hurts.
I’ve also had some moments recently when I’ve doubted my ability. I’ve lacked confidence in my own capacities, and I’ve had moments where I needed support, love, and a pat on the back. Whenever I start doubting, I will naturally begin to say to myself “I sure wish I could call Dad and talk to him about this.” I know that my Dad would have given me the “atta boy” I needed to weather the storm. I know that my Dad would have bolstered my spirits and told me that he believed in me and that I should too.
More than anything, I’ve wanted to call my Dad for guidance. Over the past year, I’ve gone through tremendous change in many areas of my life. I’ve gone through questions and trials regarding my career, my life’s calling, and my life in general. There are no road maps in this life, but in lieu of roadmaps I always had my Dad to give me the sound advice I needed to navigate the bumps and curves. There have been so many times when I sit in the desperation of my own indecisiveness and wish I could call him one more time. There have been so many nights where I’ve cried in my truck and will simply cry out in frustration, “Dad, what should I do?” And yes, there have been many nights where the trauma of my life fades from my line of sight and I pull my phone out of my pocket and dial those seven numbers before I even realize what I’m doing.
And it’s those nights that are the absolute worst.
I get a sinking pit in my stomach each time this happens, and it happens every few months. Part of me feels so very guilty when this happens. When I dial my Dad’s number four years after his death before I realize what I’m doing, I often wonder how I could ever behave as if life hasn’t changed when it’s been altered forever. I feel guilty for not calling him more when I had the opportunity to do it. I feel sadness that, even if I did go through with it and dial those numbers, I wouldn’t hear his voice. I feel loss because something as simple as an everyday phone call has been taken away from me forever.
More than anything, the nights where I accidentally begin to dial my Dad’s number are extremely painful because they reignite the intensity of my grief in a way that few other things can. When I accidentally dial my Dad’s number, it takes me back to what life used to be. It makes me think of all the times I would call Dad when he was working or away from the house. It reminds me that he was never, ever too busy to pick up the phone when I called him. It forces me to remember that for so many years, whether I appreciated it or not, my Dad was just a phone call away.
And it reminds me that all those things are gone. And there is a deeply difficult longing that ensues for just one more phone call, even though I know that one more phone call would never be enough.
Look, I know that this isn’t an earth-shattering revelation in the field of grief. Many, many people who have suffered loss on any scale will often write or talk about how they miss having phone calls with their loved ones. How they will habitually dial a loved one’s phone number years after they are gone, only to realize later on what they were doing.
But I’m choosing to write about it anyway to show those who are grieving that we are not alone. In the midst of our grief, it’s okay to do things that we don’t understand. We resort to habits of love because we long to have our loved ones back. It’s okay to experience those moments of relapse because it shows how wonderfully natural it was for us to have those individuals as part of our daily lives. And, particularly, those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide wish that a phone call might have changed something.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. It’s a month that uniquely reminds me what I’ve lost while also confirming my passion to prevent that loss in the lives of others.
So, if you are hurting like my Dad was hurting, I encourage you to make a call. I encourage you to reach out to family and friends and loved ones and anyone who will listen to share your pain.
If you are so full of despair that you can’t imagine going on, please know this: Your life matters. You matter. And your pain, although severe, is temporary if you can find the help. Your pain will subside if you can find the right treatment. You deserve to be healthy, and there are people who are committed to helping you find that.
And if you want that help, I encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (or 1-800-273-8255). 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are individuals from local crisis centers who will provide free and confidential emotional support. They will help you gain perspective on your life and connect you with resources that can save it. You can learn more at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
I once took part in a mental health first aid training course (which I’ll write about in future posts), and I remember the instructor giving us the number for this line. She encouraged us to program the number in our phones in case we ever needed it or needed to give it to someone we thought was in danger. I probably followed her orders because I’m a rule follower, but I don’t think I honestly believed that I would ever need to use that number.
Then, almost a year later, my Father lost his life to suicide.
I wish I would have known. I wish I would have sat down with him, called the number, placed it on speakerphone, and had one of my most important phone calls with Dad. So in this month and in all the months that will follow, let’s all commit ourselves to making a call when we need it—because as much as we might need that call, maybe the person on the other end of the line needs it just as much.
Make a call because I can’t. Make a call because you matter. Make this call so your loved ones can continue calling you.
Make the call because you deserve love.
Dad, There have been so many times when I’ve wanted to pick up the phone to call you, and there have been so many times I’ve done it only to realize you won’t be able to answer. In the four years that you’ve been gone, there have been so many momentous occasions—both good and bad. In each of those moments, I’ve wanted to call you to tell you all about them, to get your advice, and to hear your positive encouragement. But it’s the little moments that I miss just as much. The days when I would call just to ask you what you were doing. The days where I would call to hear you tell a stupid joke. The days when I would call just to hear your voice and remind myself how lucky I am. My heart hurts each and every time that I realize I can’t call you, and I wish I had been able to do more to keep you around for more phone calls. Dad, I’ll always remember how even in the most mundane phone calls you made me feel loved. I’ll carry that in my heart forever. I’m longing for a day where this long distance is no longer. I’m yearning for a day when I can talk to you face to face, forever and ever. Until that day, seeya Bub.
“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:4 (NIV)