How I’m processing my mom’s choice, 30 years after the fact.
Let’s go with a tough topic today. Suicide, specifically suicide of a loved one. In my case, it was my mom. Everyone loves to talk about it, it’s a great ice breaker at parties. Try it sometime. It’ll gain you a lot of friends and close connections…..But do you ever really heal after a loved one commits suicide?
What happens years and years and years after a loved one takes their own life? The ideations of a suicidal person that ‘it doesn’t really matter if they kill themself because they don’t matter that much?’ That’s bullsh*t.
That said, I do understand that it feels that way in the moment, the despair of a struggling person, and it seems like there is just no hope. It breaks my heart to even have to say that, because I see the struggle, and it’s deep, and painful. There is hope. There is always hope, and there is always help. It doesn’t have to be the final chapter of the story for someone, but I know that’s the easy to say when you’re not in that situation.
If you’re reading this and feeling suicidal, the phone number to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at the bottom of the article. Please get help if you need it. You are worth it.
Here’s where I’m at 30 years after the death of my mom, and how I’m still processing her choice to take her life. I’ve learned that suicide affects loved ones for the rest of their lives. It reaches closure, but it’s never fully a settled matter. I’m talking about my experience, in case you’ve been here too. It’s a silent type of grief, and I’ve struggled to find resources on the subject, so I’m diving in.
My mom committed suicide when I was 17. She wasn’t a good mom on paper or in real life. She wasn’t there consistently for me and my sister, ever. She caused us a lot of pain. She had a life that was riddled with problems, and she just couldn’t take it anymore I guess. I love her though. Even still, I love her and I loved her. She mattered to me, because she was my mom. I know she had problems she couldn’t understand, and I so wish that she could have found a way to choose life, rather than death. I believe that would have been possible for her. I believe that there is hope for everyone, and that suicide is not the answer. It’s not that easy, just to say that, and leave it there though. I get that. When you’re on the brink, it’s not enough.
I didn’t live with my mom at the time, when she did it. It was all kind of hush hush when we heard. My dad and stepmom didn’t know how to handle the whole situation. Neither did I. We did the thing we all knew best, and brushed it under the rug. I learned of her death on a Saturday night around midnight, and I went to school on Monday, just like nothing had happened, because none of us knew what to do. So we acted normally instead.
One of my teachers asked me on that Monday why I hadn’t done my homework over the weekend, and I ended up saying to her in a deadpan voice, ‘It’s not my fault my mom committed suicide over the weekend.’ That obviously ended up with the school counselor calling me to her office a short time later. I didn’t want to talk about it, but I was aching inside from pain and the reality that no one could really understand what I was going through. I shut the counselor down pretty quick, I didn’t like her anyway, and I didn’t trust that she really wanted to know. She wasn’t worth involving for those reasons alone. I didn’t mention it at school anymore.
I didn’t know anyone then, or even now, that has dealt with a parental suicide. I’ve known others throughout the years who have had a family member take their own life, but it’s been rare. It’s kind of a hidden pain people carry if they’ve been affected by a tragedy such as this.
Sympathy, Pity, and Compassion
Suicide is a touchy and awkward topic, of course, and I think people are genuinely concerned when they hear that someone has made such a drastic decision and ended it all, leaving grieving loved ones behind. No one knows what to say when you reveal such a terrible story to them. It’s made me realize how serious it is, and how painful a topic it is for everyone. Even a stranger has sympathy, pity, or compassion, because they can imagine the difficulty in coping, even if they’ve never had to do it themselves. I hate sympathy and pity. I have usually chosen not to bring it up to avoid both of those reactions. I have had plenty of compassion offered to me as well from caring and loving people. That has been very healing. It’s just difficult when the person you are telling doesn’t have a shared understanding of this type of grief.
The grief process plays out after a suicide, just like any other death of a human. With a suicide death there is a lot of confusion left for the survivors. The ‘Why?’ question rattles around, and it just doesn’t make sense. It’s piled on top of the already painful grief that naturally presents itself. It’s really unfair. It’s a dual track of sadness.
In my case, I was dealing with the death of a parent, by her own hands and at her own free will, when I was a teen. I guess we could add the sweeping under the rug aspect there too. So is that a quad-track? I guess so. I had a quad-track of grief. I still do in many respects.
What happens when the grief cycle ends?
In my experience, when the harsh pain of the grief wore off, life does go on. At first it just feels like the bottom just keeps dropping out and the well of pain will never end. That fades over times as the cycles of grief get completed. Whether you face that grief head on, or sweep it under the rug, the pain still fades. It has for me. It’s now been almost 30 years since that time. After the shocking sting of grief wanes, what does it feel like though?
For me, I’ve managed to put together a fairly normal life, like most anyone else I know. Life has had its ups and downs for certain, but I’m happily married and have a family and all the cats I can handle. So that’s been a good thing. I’ve been healed a lot by living a ‘fairly normal life.’ The tragedy of the suicide though, and the trauma of it, has left scars. I have had a lot of trauma in my life, but this one is probably the biggest one. It’s shaped me in ways that I never wanted to be shaped, and it’s made me question, ‘Do I really know how to even be a mom?’ more times than I’d care to admit. I’ve realized I do know how to be a mom, I am just learning by feel, not by experience.
I still miss her and wish she was here.
She never really was a mom to me, but I loved her anyway. She was my mom, after all. She loved to read and cook and sunbathe. She wore a bikini top and cut off shorts when she sunbathed. She read all the Stephen King books she could handle, and I inherited her love of reading, cooking and sunbathing. She wore coke bottle glasses, and smoked Virginia Slims. Menthol. She had really great records, Billy Joel and the Eagles were her favorites and we would listen to loud music on her record player on the rare times we were with her. I remember those things about her, and it makes me smile. She drove a 1985 black Ford Mustang GT with red interior. She liked cool cars and I do too. My car has red interior too now, and I know she would approve. There are hard memories too, but I choose the things I remember to be the positive ones to shut out the questions in my head.
The pain is still there, today, but it’s a faint and distant ache. When her birthday passes every year, the very day that she decided to do herself in, I am reminded of her choice and it makes me sad all over again. The confusion and that ‘Why?’ question still rattles around my brain even now. I don’t think about her death too often anymore, it’s just too messed up to consider, and I know that I’ll never fully understand. I’ve stopped wondering if she regretted the decision after she made it, or whether she planned it for a long time, or chose this route spontaneously. I’ll never know. I’ve come to peace with that fact. Accepting that has helped me to be able to persevere. I hate living with the unanswered questions. I really want to get it. I’ve chosen a life of peace instead. I choose to believe she is in heaven too. I can’t think otherwise about my own mother.
I’ve accepted that I’ll never truly understand.
My mom had a lot of problems, like I said. I look at how my own life has played out, and I realize that I’ve had a lot of problems too, but I’ve chosen to stand up and face them. It hasn’t been easy, it hasn’t been pretty, and it’s taken a lot of courage to do that. I’ve done it though, trusting in the hope that the goodness of life is enough to sustain me. The confusion sets in again when I stop to think about my perseverance, and I wonder why she didn’t have it. Why wasn’t she enough for herself to live for? Why weren’t my sister and I enough to sustain her? I think about how she’s missing out on her grandchildren, my children, that I am so incredibly proud of. I wonder if she knows how I turned out. She never knew I got married or had kids, or even that my hair turned curly when I was in my late teens. She missed that.
If I haven’t figured it out in 30 years, I don’t think I ever will. What I do know, is that every single life is worth it. For the person who thinks that it’s not worth it anymore, and maybe you should throw in the towel, please don’t. No matter how desperate things are, the grief carries on, and no matter what a bad person you think you are, the pain carries on. My mom was not a great mom. She hurt me a lot. I still miss her though, and I wonder what could have been, if she had stuck around. She had so many great qualities and those are the things that are worth it. She had the bad parts too, but those weren’t worth dying for.
I’m pouring my life in to my family and myself and living the best life I can, and I’ll continue to do that. It’s healing and beneficial. My heart heals a little more every day, but it’ll never fully be fixed.
Healing from the universe does happen.
Two of the most amazing things happened to me in the years that have followed her death, and they will sustain me always. My mom’s birthday is on October 13th, as I said, that’s a hard day, it’s also her death day. In God’s infinite wisdom, he gave me the gift of one of my daughters, Molly, who was born on October 9th. He also gave me another daughter, Morgan, who was born on October 16th. Both of my daughters’ birthdays frame the death date of my mother. You could look at that, and say, how awful! No, it’s really amazing. I see a gift in this. I always have. God knew I needed hope, and He gave that to me in a way that I can carry for the rest of my life. It has given me joy and peace every year as we celebrate these milestones with two of our daughters. I have hundreds of happy birthday memories surrounding that difficult anniversary.
There is hope. Please don’t choose death.
If you are thinking about suicide, get help, please. There are people who care, and you can go to trusted professionals or even reach out to a friend who can help you get the professional help that you need. You don’t have to talk to people you don’t trust or don’t like, but I can tell you that there are people out there who will walk along side you through the journey. Your life matters. If mine does, yours does. If my mom matters to me, still, 30 years later, just know that even through any difficulty you are facing, you can make it. There is hope. Please choose that hope.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255