Tag Archives: death

Sad Superman


I have been called a hero.  I’ve been called strong, amazing, heroic.  And I can say without the slightest of hesitation, I do not feel any of these things.  It’s mystifying to me that anyone could ever identify me as a hero.

And why, you might ask, have I been identified as heroic?  What feat of superhuman rescue did I perform?

I loved my daughter. 

It doesn’t get more complex than that. 

Perhaps I should give you some context.  Because calling someone a hero for doing what they are supposed to do as a parent, seems just a little odd.  My Father, after the death of my daughter, tearfully praised me for all I had done for her in the months leading up to her succumbing to the depression that ate away at her soul.  That I had taken the time off of work, had stayed with her, walked with her, tried to help and heal her.  He said it was heroic.

My friend called me amazing, and heroic, because after all our efforts to save her failed, I stood up and delivered her eulogy.  I planned her funeral, I walked behind her casket, and I didn’t fall down.

Yet another friend called me heroic for being able to walk in to her room, and begin the process of sorting through her things.  To seek people and places to donate my child’s belongings, just as I know she would want them to be used.

And even another called me Superman, for doing all these things, and for not falling apart completely.

To me, these are things that I can’t accept.  Trying to help Amber through her depression, trying to save her life, that was nothing more than what I SHOULD have done as her father.  Delivering her eulogy?  She deserved nothing less than her father being willing to stand up and tell her story.  And the rest?  That’s just the sad aftermath, that all who lose a loved one must ultimately undertake.

But let’s pretend for a second, doing all of those things make me heroic.  Let’s perpetuate that illusion for a second.

The only thing it means, is that I’m a failed hero.  I’m the sad Superman, who despite rushing in to rescue, watches as his efforts fall apart.  Hand desperately outstretched, trying to catch the falling victim, and missing. 

The Superman who can’t fly, so he has to run to try to keep up with what he can’t catch.  No super hearing or vision, no inhuman strength.  Just a bent man in a crumpled cape placed on his shoulders by other people.  Face in his hands, living with the regret of not being the superhero that he needed to be to get the job done.

Do I blame myself that I couldn’t save her?  Do I cast fault at my own feet that my daughter chose to end her own life?  No.  The depression that consumed my beautiful child was something that even the real superman couldn’t defeat.  It was the kryptonite of mental illness, and all efforts to change it met with failure.

But oh, how I wanted to be Superman.  I wanted to stop the speeding bullets of her self-hatred.  I wanted to stand in front of them and have them deflect off of me like nothing more than crumpled up pieces of paper.  I wanted to have super vision so that I could see when she was harming herself, and I could swoop in to stop it.

I wanted to be able to travel “Faster than a locomotive” like Superman. Faster still, than the train that brought me home on that fateful day, so that I could have been there in time to stop it.

I could do none of those things. And although I don’t accept the fault, I don’t shoulder the blame for it, I live with the regret, that the enemy was stronger than me, the super-villian was too much, too powerful to be defeated.

I can’t wear the cape.  I don’t deserve it, and capes are useless when you are unable to fly.


Her Story

Her story

(This is the eulogy that I delivered at my daughters funeral, just two months ago. We lost our wonderful child to depression and suicide.  I wanted to share what I have already shared, and tell her story.  Please understand, the grammar and structure, as it was intended for speaking more than reading.)

Welcome, and thank you all for being here. Amber’s mother and I cannot express in words the gratitude we feel for the outpouring of love, and the presence of family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. It warms our heart to see the faces of so many who knew and loved Amber, and those who know and love us.
Before I continue, I want to explain my strange attire. All too often, we put on a suit and a tie, and do our best to look presentable. I chose to dress in the manner that Amber loved me best. Frequently as I got ready for work, with my coat and tie, I would ask Amber how I looked. She would wrinkle her nose and shrug. One time, she said “that isn’t really you.” So Instead of Mark, the business man, I chose to appear as Mark, the daddy. I even skipped shaving, because Amber would kiss me on the cheek each night, and she liked it better when I was a bit scruffy. The only difference in what I’m wearing from what I usually would, are my mismatched socks.

First I would like to tell you about the Amber from a time before most of you met her.  Amber was full of surprises. She began her list of surprises and shocks by crashing in to the world on March 22, 1996, a full seven weeks ahead of schedule. Her mother didn’t even know she was in labour, until moments before Amber arrived. She weighed in at 4 pounds and 10 ounces. She came fast, tiny, wrinkly, screaming, and beautiful. Dad nearly passed out.
She continued her preference for amusing surprises. Like the one time she was up late at night and was being really fussy, until mom and dad were able to hypnotize her to sleep. Or, the first time that mom and dad decided to go out after her being born, she promptly vomited her last meal down the inside of her mom’s shirt when hugs and kisses goodbye were being given. And what parent didn’t have the little nudist stage? Always at the most inopportune times, off came the clothes, and the shrieks of laughter began as she ran naked and free.

Amber was mostly smiles and laughs. She warmed up to people so fast and played with any kid that came along, just so long as they weren’t meanies.  She was precocious, and ferocious in her protection of her mommy and daddy. Like when mommy was watching the news and crying about the events of 9/11, she stuck with her mommy, and then prayed that everyone would be safe and the police would get the bad guys. Or when she was just a few years old, and Daddy was pulled over for speeding. She promptly undid her seatbelt, stood up, and yelled at the police officer to leave her daddy alone, because he was taking her to Sunday school. Daddy still got the ticket.

The years of her as a little girl passed in a flash. Halloweens, birthdays, Christmases. Ten thousand, one hundred thousand memories of laughs and smiles and tears and temper tantrums only a privileged few of us were blessed to share in.  Those memories are something her mother and I will cherish and hold dear. But what I want to talk to you more about the Amber that many of you got to meet.

There comes a time when a child starts to turn to other people for companionship and laughter. Mommy becomes Mom, Daddy becomes Dad. And that is as it should be. It was with pride that we watched Amber develop friendships and relationships independently. Amber drew people to her. Her smile and personality made her instantly likeable. Many of you here today experienced exactly that, an engaging, unique and caring girl that was willing to be friends with just about anyone.

She had a maturity and intelligence beyond her years. In a time where you would expect her to care more about gadgets and shoes and video games, she asked questions about history, current events, politics and philosophies, questions that would leave you struggling to answer.At the same time, she expressed herself through silliness and fun. Most of the time, she did this to lift the spirits of those around her. She’d run and tackle hug people without worrying about dignity and decorum. She would tear out of the house without shoes on to greet her friends. Her mismatched socks would get filthy, and she simply didn’t care. She sang along to her music. She often complained that her own singing voice was kind of like a tone-deaf frog, but even though she felt that way, she would sing anyways. When we drove somewhere, and she managed to convince us to plug her music in, she would dance in the car. She didn’t care who saw her doing it, and laughed when people did a double take of her silly moves in the seat.

Amber dreamed of being a social worker. She could never decide though, what kind she would want to be. She didn’t know if she wanted to work with teenagers. Or the elderly. Or with those who had disabilities. Her indecision on that came not from uncertainty, but an unwillingness to choose one; for fear that the others would be left out.

Amber loved sports. Individual sports she excelled in were swimming, water-skiing, tubing and knee boarding. As to team sports, many here had the pleasure of seeing Amber play soccer, her first love. But she played at times basketball, hockey, and flag football too. She was never the most technically skilled player on the field, but what she lacked in training and skill, she made up for in sheer heart. She played her soul out. Her face would go bright red within moments of starting to play. A ferocious look of focus and determination would be fixed in her eyes as she chased the ball, shot the puck or tried to catch the pass.

She wanted nothing more than to help her team. In soccer, her chosen sport, she would be upset if she didn’t score a goal. And when she scored one, she would be unhappy that she didn’t score two. This was never because she craved personal glory. She just wanted to help her team win. Once, at a soccer tournament, she was awarded the team MVP medallion. She took it, put it in her soccer bag, and I didn’t see it again for months. It wasn’t until I was putting away some clean laundry for her, that I found it tucked in the very back of her sock drawer. Only the awards that she won as a team, like the Milton all-stars championship trophy, were on display in her room.

Amber had an artist’s heart. She wrote. She sketched and doodled, she acted in her drama classes, she sang and danced. She was never satisfied with what she produced. Her artistic ability far exceeded that of her parents, but she would always go back and erase, and retry. The goose that she was trying to draw, its feathers were out-of-place. That line of script for her drama presentation wasn’t delivered just right. Wasn’t there a better line I can write for this poem? Amber wanted everyone to see, in her drawings or stories or poems, what she was seeing in her heart.

It is impossible to offer enough of Amber’s life to truly paint a picture of what she turned out to be. But now I’d like to talk to you about the Amber we didn’t know.

When I say the Amber we didn’t know, I speak of some of the things that we learned about Amber in the last few months of her life, and what we have learned after her passing. We always knew that Amber was good and kind and compassionate. We didn’t know, though, and may never fully grasp, the extent of her soul.
Amber turned no one away. There were no losers in her eyes. No one was unacceptable, no one was unlovable. On her Facebook page, she posted a 5 second clip of herself. She does nothing more than smile, and then hold up a sign that says “you’re all beautiful.” And she believed this. That everyone in this world deserved love.

She gave of herself fully and completely. Her cell phone would buzz constantly, and she would carry on three, four, ten conversations at once. That always seemed like normal teenager stuff.  But what she was doing was helping people. She was offering words of comfort and support to people who were struggling. She would drop whatever she was doing, and go to her friends when they were in need. She did so regardless of how she was feeling. It would be raining cats and dogs, she’d have a bad cold, and she’d get a call. She’d be out in the rain and on her way to her friend in a moment.

And even seeing this… knowing how good and kind she was, it left us unprepared for the stories that have poured in since her death. Stories from people, friends, other young people, who told us what Amber really was. Stories of people who had given up all hope. Messages that said they were done with living, until Amber came and lifted some of their pain, so they could go on. Not one, not two. But many stories and messages from people of how Amber had rescued them. Or made their lives brighter.

When Amber was a little girl, I would lie on my back, lift her in the air with my legs, and she would spread her arms and fly. Pretending that she was a superhero. She dreamed of being a hero. She and I argued about who was the better superhero. I liked batman, she thought Batman was lame and that Spiderman was better.

She fulfilled her dream. She became a superhero. One that put Batman and Spiderman to shame. She never would believe that of herself, but the best heroes are the ones that don’t claim to be one.

The truth is, Amber saved lives. She made other lives better. She freely carried the hurts of others so that others could see their way through. She worked tirelessly and selflessly to make sure that her friends and others around her felt loved and worthwhile. She accomplished more good at 16 than many will in lifetimes of 60, 70, 80 years. As much as her loss hurts, as deep as the pain is, the greatest feeling is pride, and awe at what our little girl became, and what she did.

Amber dreamed of paradise. But she didn’t dream of it for herself. She dreamed of a world of paradise where everyone would be safe and happy and loved.
To everyone here, Mom, Dad, Grandpas and Grandpas, Nanas and poppas, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, Amber knew that we loved her. She never doubted this. Know that, and take comfort in the fact that she understood that we loved her. And take comfort in the fact that she loved each without reservation as well.  Do not doubt for a moment that she questioned that love. Amber understood how to love more than most of us ever do. For those who have come to support us, but didn’t know Amber, know that she would be happy that people were here to care about those she cared about. It’s exactly as she would want it.

We know that Amber is now free of fear or pain. We know we will see her again for tackle hugs and a kiss on the cheek.
But we may find ourselves asking, what now? With Amber gone what do we do? I can tell you she is not gone. She is in every smile given to someone who needs it. She can be in every hug you give a friend that is hurting. We can honour her memory by carrying out her heart’s desire. That everyone feel like they matter. That everyone be told, and feels, as if they are beautiful.

I say this to everyone here, but especially to you young men and women so close to becoming adults. Help each other. Lift each other up when you fall. Don’t suffer in silence when you are broken-hearted. Let no one be excluded or left behind. There are no losers; there are none unworthy of being loved. All Amber wanted for each of you is happiness and love, reach out and take it from people when you need it, and give it to those you know that are needing it now.

Thank you again, for Loving our little girl.

Sad eyes and eggshells


I truly hope that at some point, I can write humour again.  I sincerely hope that I will be able to find enough funny within myself to express it.  This blog was never meant to be a soliloquy of angst.  Nor was it meant to be simply an offering of the absurd and chuckle-worthy either.

I am, however, there right now.  In a place within myself that finds it hard to smile, hard to laugh, and impossible to put together a full post with the intent to amuse. It’s an alien landscape for me, someone who has oft used humour and the absurd to cope and relate.  If I can beg the indulgence of those who would read this blog, I will get there again, but for now, I am using this as a not-yet-effective-but-here’s-hoping therapy.

Since my daughter died, I have experienced a range of communicated emotion from other people at a level and ferocity that I have never seen before.  Tears shed on my behalf, words of comfort, hugs and kisses and hands on the shoulder.  All things that I have seen, of course, all things that I have had happen before, but not anywhere approaching the deluge that walking the road of a bereaved parent has created.

Now if you will allow me a preemptive qualification of what I am about to write next;  There are some to which it does not apply.  To my beloved wife, to my closest of family, to those I have made family by choice instead of by birth; My Bunsos, my Pung Yau.  To some who are simply my friends, and have passed by the awkwardness that comes with human interaction: Please, do not read this and feel that you create the same problems for me as to which I am about to describe.  For me, your mere existence and presence transcends it all, and you are valued above all else.  Each of you who read this will know if you are one of these people to me, I have already told you, or, you already would know based on our shared talks and experiences.  In short, if you are worried about whether or not you are one of those people for me, you probably are, and if you have to ask, you probably are not.

now that I have that digression is out of the way;

The difficulty with the grieving and loss as experienced by the well-meaning support of so many people, is that so much of it is not helpful in the slightest.  Some of it is actually painful, in its clumsy attempt to comfort.  I don’t attribute any ill intent here.  I am thankful for the face value affection and concern that is given to me.  It is only because I have had so many people step up and simply be there for me, that I have found any will to progress in my life at all.

But we aren’t very good at this, are we?  Helping the bereaved?  Comforting the broken and lifting the fallen?  Oh, we try.  We want to be there for people, but for the most part, we haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about doing it.  In my experience, there are certain categories of people and how they approach it.  I fear this will be muddled and disjointed if I don’t retreat in to the laziest of exposition forms, the list.

The God Comfort

I grew up in a Judeo-Christian non-Catholic home.  In other words, all the religiosity, and about 1/3rd the guilt.  Suffice it to say, I know pretty clearly most of the ideas, doctrines and standard goto’s that Christians will use in times of pain and strife.  And I label it as Christanese, a special language used among Christians, that is easy to accept as comforting if you are the one giving it, and has all the comfort of a burlap blanket, when you are receiving it.  Saying like “God cares about what you are going through” or “just trust him” or “God has a plan.”  Utterly meaningless to one who has lost.  It offers no answers, and it only opens up questions as to what your concept of God is… either existent or non-existent, close or distant, caring or capricious.   It can be taken to an offensive level as well, by those who challenge your doubt or anger or disillusionment as lacking in faith and being a weak Christian (if, by that point, you are even able to identify yourself as one in the first place.  I can assure you that clutching the body of your only child to your chest as you scream in anguish, can all but extinguish even the faintest notion of an all powerful being.)  It’s a standard refrain of those who have to justify their OWN beliefs about tragedy, by passing it on to you, and has all the benefits to the giver of feeling both righteous and comforting as they leave the bereaved in their wake.

The Everything has its reason

This one angers me.  I have, in a few instances, had to bite my tongue until I think I could taste blood, when someone had the gall to tell me that there is some reason, some purpose, behind my daughter taking her own life.  And when I say reason, I mean some cosmic or religious notion of reason, not the straightforward “She was incurably depressed, and decided to die” reason.  Some over-arching supernatural gambit as to a purpose.

Let’s pretend for a minute that it’s even true.  That her death served a greater purpose.  I will never, NEVER accept this.  I will never believe that any purpose, particularly one that will never be revealed to me (as that is the caveat of the “everything happens for a reason” argument, is that we won’t ever know that reason) as sufficient.  My daughter died, and no reason that would remain shrouded can comfort me.

The I share your pain

Part of helping a person who is grieving, is sharing in the pain.  It’s crying tears with them, it’s wishing it weren’t so, it’s being struck mute by the enormity of the situation along side the people who have lost.  But those who recount tales of those THEY have lost, and state that they know what you are going through…. No.  No you don’t.  I’m sure your pain was horrendous.  I’m sure your loss was difficult to bear.  But I have yet to have someone who has lost their only child to mental illness say this to me.  It’s someone who lost their grandmother, or their great-aunt.  Sometimes a mom or a dad.  And my mind screams in outrage while I whisper my thanks.  I’ve walked behind my child’s casket.  The one I could not save from the demons of her mind.  You do not share my pain, you cannot.  It was my only child.  She suffered terribly, and then she died to escape it.  How can you begin to understand?  Perhaps I am being selfish in that thought… but the thought persists.

The what can I do for you

This one is the most well-intentioned of the lot, and as hypocritical as it is, sometimes is an immense help… and at other times the most useless of statements.  From the right person, from those who are closest to you, it is all the world.  It means they’ll take care of you when you can’t do it yourself.  It means they’ll make you a meal, listen to you cry, and cry with you.  It means a hug, it means a kiss, it means they are there.  And for the rest, it’s utterly meaningless.  What can they do?  What can the mere acquaintances do for you?  Because there is only one thing you could want people to do for you, and they have neither the ability nor the understanding to do it.  Take away the pain.  Bring her back.  Give me back my life.  Show me the way through this.  Tell me what I’m supposed to do now.  I know it’s paradoxical that it’s ok for some to say this, and others not, but logic seems to have no place in this process.

The I’m there for you

Speaking of being hypocritical, this one is worse.  These words dig in to your very soul from the people who you hold dear.  And they stay there, a warm core of affection and regard.  And from someone who has not penetrated that circle, it is all the fluff and vapid assurance as you get from someone asking how you are doing in passing.  They aren’t looking for you to say anything other than “fine, thanks.”  And in the case of the person disconnected from your reality, the aren’t looking for you to take them up on the assertion of their presence.  It’s more a salve to their own feelings, that they are in the presence of a broken man, than it is a genuine desire to help.  (They want to help, of course, so long as it doesn’t go further than an arm’s length distance, as the relationship is in the first place.)

Loss and grief gives you much doubt.  And in cases like this, it’s impossible, beyond the ones you know for certain, to know who is actually your friend, and who is tolerating your presence out of kindness at the time of your loss.  We do have a fundamental distaste at being dismissive or negligent with those who are suffering.  It’s more about our own consciences though, and less about the person that is enduring the pain.  And when someone asserts blithely that they will be there for you, you find yourself itemizing and calculating on whether or not this is a genuine offer of friendship, or one that you should let pass as no more than a polite construct, made out of the obligations of the social contract of civility.

Sad eyes and Eggshells

All of the other methods though, aren’t as bad as this one.  At least there is some effort, however misguided and clumsy, to the rest.  The one that hurts the most, is the looks of pity from afar.  From those who catch your eye, unintentionally of course, because eye contact would make it all the worse.  And the look in their eyes is one of regret and sadness, before they turn away.  Or, when they DO have to talk to you, they skirt the issue like it’s a rabid chipmunk.   Like a circus freak, you are watched and analyzed and marvelled at in morbid curiosity.

They walk tenderly on eggshells, listening for the crunch, and bolt at the first sign of their footing crumbling beneath them.  You are dehumanized, made in to an example of sadness, a picture of avoidable grief.  You want to scream.   Yell at them.

I’m still here.

I’m still human.

My daughter died, I didn’t transform in to someone else.

I won’t crumple to dust if you are near me or acknowledge what happened.  Can’t you see that?

But they can’t see that.  Or, choose the easier path. Or, are frightened of their own mortality in the face of someone elses. I don’t know. The reasons could be many and manifold.  And it resides behind the sad eyes as they scurry away.

The fact is, from all of the “methods” there is little that truly comforts.  Small points of light in an otherwise dark landscape, moribund of hope.  And I have only heard or experienced a few things that have even given me pause to think that there is a way through it all.

Being treated “normally.”  Being told that I’m loved. (Or, in the case of friends, the same kind of regard without the necessity of those exact words.) Genuine affection. Not batting an eye at the rapid vacillation between highs and lows, almost like a situational bipolar disorder.  Real smiles, without eyes that are mourning.  Genuine laughter, when laughter is possible, shared tears when they come, and quiet presence when nothing more is needed than contact.

And so far, in the realm of words spoken, only three have made any sense, even when I struggle with the potential for fatalism or despondency that could come from them:

So it goes.

In all it’s horrible truth:

So it goes.