June 14, 2017 – My mom used to tell me she loved me nearly every day. We both said it any time we left the house, on every phone call, and after every fight, once tempers had cooled and the teen angst and single-mother stress died down. It was the last thing she said to me — via email, with several exclamation marks — on the Wednesday morning she ended her life.
I knew she loved me, but for several years after her death by suicide, my knowledge of that was clouded by guilt, anger, and shame. I graduated from college, started my career, and got married: milestones that would have made her so proud. I left young adulthood behind, and started an exciting chapter of my life with new friends and colleagues who didn’t know this tragic part of my past.
For years, I left my mom’s suicide largely unspoken. As I anxiously managed the probate process from 1,000 miles away, I told a co-worker I was just selling some property back home. When people asked about my parents, I’d reply, “I have kind of a crazy family tree…” If I did mention my mom, I would do so vaguely in the past tense, hoping to avoid follow-up questions, because suicide felt like such a heavy burden to drop on someone mid-conversation. But the omissions were a burden on me — and unfair to my mother, who had loved and raised me for 22 years.
I eventually learned about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and when the Overnight Walk came to Dallas in 2015, my husband and I decided to do it. The challenge to walk 16+ miles and reflect with other survivors sounded like a meaningful experience, particularly as I approached the 10-year anniversary of my mother’s death. Writing about my mom and hitting “send” on fundraising emails were daunting tasks — but sharing our story was the most healing process of all.
We received an outpouring of support. People who never knew my family — and barely knew me — gave generously. We heard from friends and co-workers who’d lost loved ones to suicide. The yoga studio where I’d been practicing only a few months hosted a donation class and took up a collection for us. A friend of a friend turned out to be on the board of our local AFSP chapter! We met and talked over training walks at the lake.
One of my childhood friends made a donation and wrote to me, “Your mother loved you fiercely.” As I read those words, I realized how badly I’d needed to hear them. She DID love me fiercely. Her suicide did not change that. And because of her, I can be the woman I am today.
Completing another Overnight Walk and sharing our story are small steps toward bringing mental health conditions and suicide “out of the darkness,” and offering hope to others whose family members struggle or have died. In these moments, my mother’s voice and love can live on.