Dealing with Suicide Loss: A Daughter’s Memoir

Trigger warning: #Suicide
This excerpt relates to a death by suicide. Please do not keep reading if you are feeling triggered. Please reach out for help via helplines or trusted professionals

Dear Baba… 

Memory is a strange beast. The same memories that draw you closer to a person  can also tear you apart, annihilate you. Memories bear no  guarantees—there are only gates to enter, none to exit. 

Memories, like prison guards of war, hold time hostage. 

Growing up, I had no tangible memories of my biological father, Basudev Kundu, and yet, it was in his shadow that my entire childhood, practically, was spent.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, ‘Everything Changes’

Defined by his  looming absence and all the things it breathed to me, even as  he himself could say nothing, which is how I learnt to fill in  the vacuous spaces. The word ‘late’ was prefixed everywhere  before his name—on my passport, school and college  certificates; in conversations, amongst nosy relatives; at  boisterous birthday parties and lavish family weddings; and  in my mother’s pensive silences. My ancestral home located  in a shaded by-lane in posh South Kolkata belonged to my  maternal grandparents and bore no signs of my father’s  existence. Nothing except a large sepia photograph encased  in a steel frame in a sprawling puja room on the mezzanine  floor, placed alongside a retinue of dead ancestors caged  similarly in the same style of photographs—a moustached  man with a pouty mouth and intense dark lashes, staring  back piercingly in my direction. 

From the first time I ever really took notice of the similarities between us, I found myself questioning who he  might have been. Who was this man who looked so much like me? Was he a relative, someone close or distant? I had  no inkling what the word ‘late’ really meant. The dead  have no voice or vocabulary to offer their versions of the  story. And so, the word ‘late’ only added to the suspense  and inquisitiveness festering in my young, restless mind.  No one breathed a word about his demise to me, either.  What was the ailment that had robbed a young life such  as his? It was assumed, perhaps, that I would piece it  together on my own when I was older, the puzzle of an  absentee father. Maybe, looking back now, the secrecy  was intended to protect me. 

Book Cover: Everything Changes, by Sreemoyee Pia Kundu

Baba* ______ (method of suicide redacted by Health Collective in keeping with best practice guidelines) in his ancestral home in Midnapur, a district in our home state of West Bengal, a year or so  after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and started undergoing psychiatric treatment. He passed away on  the auspicious occasion of Lakshmi Puja, when I was  four. 

Editor’s Note: If you are feeling distressed, please stop reading and reach out to a trained professional for help. We have a list of India-helplines here. Please know that you are not alone, and that suicide is preventable

I was born on 14 December 1977, a wintry Wednesday  morning, after a complex C-section. Everything I had  gathered about Baba during my growing-up years was  essentially from eavesdropping on adult conversations — catching fleeting snatches of an almost invisible man  before I was inevitably discovered. I could not help but  notice how uncomfortable everyone got in my presence,  as if they were hiding something. Baba remained largely  pieced together by a fertile childhood imagination and  the longing for a superhero, I suppose. Someone to fill  in the blanks; to look up to and find a resemblance in,  not just physical, but one that would protect me, offer  answers and fix things as I grew up. The first time I knew  Baba was a person, albeit missing, was when I spotted  rows after rows of silk ties and woollen blazers hanging  inside an antique teak almirah in my grandparents’  bedroom I surmised could not belong to Bapi, my  maternal grandfather. 

Excerpted with permission from Everything Changes by Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, published by Bloomsbury, September, 2023