I lost my mother to suicide on my twenty-first birthday, though I spent the day ignorant to that fact. My mother hadn’t answered my call to her that day, not an uncommon occurrence. My mother, Lynn, had struggled with mental illness for as long as I could remember and had recently begun going through periods where she refused to speak to me. What had seemed like mild depression when I was young had appeared to grow to into debilitating bouts of despair, total apathy, erratic behavior, and serious substance abuse. She first attempted suicide during my sophomore year of high school and there would be four more attempts in the years before she died.
My mother’s mother died by suicide when my mom was a young woman. Estranged from what was left of her family and twice divorced, my mother felt totally alone and brutally lonely. She tried numerous therapists, substance abuse programs, and medications but never seemed to fully commit to a treatment plan and she never really seemed to improve. I tried as hard as possible to make her feel loved and supported but eventually she seemed to give up on herself and I was alone in hoping she might make it through and continue to be my mom. By the time she died, it was a horrible shock but not at all a surprise.
I muddled through the next year feeling mostly numb but also sad and relieved in equal measure. I didn’t have to worry that she wouldn’t answer my next call or fail to show up at work. I could relax now that the worst was over. My dad and sister and I (three very different people) struggled to find a way to handle it together and her death went entirely unmentioned by my extended family. Her assets went to cover debts and all I ever saw of her possessions again were the 2 boxes of pictures and jewelry she had packed up for my sister and I and the notes she had addressed to us. We interred her ashes and in some ways she almost felt erased.
The following years have been slightly more emotional. 6 years later I am still angry and sad and disappointed. I am still so angry that she felt so helpless and that I, in turn, felt powerless to make anything better. It still hurts to think about how much pain she must have been in. I am still disappointed every time I have to turn to my dad for advice on dating because he is really bad at it. This ugly, grey, wiry ball of emotions makes days like Mother’s Day difficult. I hope one day I can actively celebrate Mother’s Day; that I will be at a point where the happy memories are easier to dig out and the painful end will have retreated some more. 2015 doesn’t feel like the year but I do hope and trust that I will eventually get there.
Claire was a staff member with AFSP.
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