My mother’s suicide.

This was something I wrote shortly after my mother’s suicide.  It’s not funny, there’s no ‘positive gloss’.  For some, it may contain triggers.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m funny.  I’ve done a lot of healing since I wrote this piece nearly a year ago, but it will be something I carry with me always.  Thank you for allowing me to share it here.

Also, be warned, this post is crazy long.  If you’re going to read it, feel free to read it in pieces.

******

I had been waiting a long time for that phone call.

The one that would change everything.

My mother had always been sick. She’d been diagnosed schizophrenic, bipolar, and borderline split-personality disorder.  I never knew my father.  I grew up in and out of her care (when she was stable), foster homes, group homes and the occasional women’s shelter or homeless shelter.  Needless to say, we had a complicated relationship.  At 16, I was able to legally sign myself out of her care and regain a semblance of control over my life.  But she was always there, always playing a role in my stories.  She was my mother.  You only get one.

She was brilliant, beautiful, full of potential. She had not been given a fair shake at life. She was passionate, giving, strong and funny.  She would have done anything for me.  Her whole face lit up when I walked into the room. She loved me fiercely, and was proud of me. I loved her right back.

But there was this other part of her. This frustrating, parasitic, malicious, manipulative, hurtful part of her. She had tried to commit suicide multiple times in the past. She would also use the reason that she was “feeling suicidal” to try to manipulate me into buying or doing things for her. After a while, this angered me.  What kind of person would inflict this kind of emotional abuse upon her eldest daughter over a lamp, or a rocking chair, or whatever struck her fancy that week?  It was unconscionable.

She was also completely unpredictable.  I came home once when when I was 9 and she had smashed everything we owned. The place looked like it had been hit by a natural disaster. I had to clean up, pack whatever essentials that hadn’t been destroyed in a garbage bag and it was off to another foster home yet again. She did and said many hurtful things to me over the course of our lives together. And I was always left picking up the pieces after her.

But it wasn’t her fault. She had an illness.

I knew this intellectually, but that was not what I felt emotionally. I was angry with her. I had been classically conditioned to tense at the very sound of her voice. I was always preparing myself for the next crisis. I felt both good and bad things about my mother simultaneously. I loved her, I just didn’t like her. Over the last few years of my life, frustration and exasperation seemed to dominate how I felt about her.  I was hoping to fix that.  I was joining a support group for family members of those with mental instabilities, I wanted to re-wire my reactions to her so that I could just build the best relationship that was possible for us.  She was never going to change, but maybe I could be better.  Perhaps I might have been able to make some better memories to look back on someday.  I ache now for those memories that never quite made their way into fruition.  The lost moments.

She would ask me all the time though “Do you still love me?” and mostly I would reply with the obligatory ‘yes, of course’, but the last time I voluntarily told her I loved her was a few years ago.  I remember it vividly because I had to break into her apartment to find out if she was dead or not.  I’ll never forget walking into that apartment and seeing her laying on the floor.  Yelling her name, getting no response.  The panic.  The bile at the back of my throat.  Shaking her violently until her eyelids eventually fluttered open.  She wasn’t dead, but very sick.  I fought all my natural instincts about distancing myself emotionally from her and begged her not to commit suicide. She had tried a couple times before, and I feared she would again. I told her there were people that needed her and the world would not be the same without her in it. I begged and I cried. I looked directly into her eyes and said “I love you.  I need you in my life.  Please don’t leave me all alone in this world.”.

A couple weeks later, she tried to kill herself anyway. I can’t begin to describe how this felt. I was not angry, but crushed. Heartbroken.  Ripped apart.  Utterly powerless.  Pulverized.  I was actually surprised by the depth of what I felt. I had thought I had distanced myself more from this.  I had thought I had built walls high enough to hide behind forever.  Shortly thereafter she went into the institution where she spent the rest of her days on this earth.

There were more suicide attempts. Ups and downs. I had resigned myself to the idea that when she went, it would probably be from suicide. Every time my phone rang, and it was the police or hospital, a part of me would panic and think: “Is this it? Is this the call?”

And then one night it was.

I was supposed to go and visit her that day.  I had picked up some some stuff for her; shampoo, conditioner, and some hair clips. Then some friends came over for what we affectionately refer to as a ‘Sunday Funday’: games, a few drinks, good company. Being the fun-loving 20-something I am, I did that instead. “I’ll go and see her sometime this week,” I thought.

Then, much too late at night, my phone rang. It was a worker from the hospital.

I was immediately tense, my whole mood changed. “It’s nothing,” I thought. “It’s something small, some altercation she’s been in.”. I fought my rising sense of panic by telling myself to stop being melodramatic.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is Sophia there?”, a voice answered.

“Speaking,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Where are you? Are you driving?”, the voice on the other end replied.

I suddenly felt disconnected from my legs. A little dizzy. “No, I’m at home. What’s happened?”

“Are you sitting down?” The last of my hope was quickly slipping through my fingertips. I was hanging on by fingernails.

“Just say it,” I replied. Say anything else, I thought. For a brief moment, I begged the universe for the voice on the other end of that line to say something else. Anything else at all.  Anything.  Please god, anything.

I knew.

“Your mother’s dead. She committed suicide today.”

Not for the first time in my life, my universe had ripped wide open in an instant.  She had been snatched from me, leaving a gaping hole where she used to be, threads dangling, and my world would never again be the same.  There was a dagger of pain burning it’s way through my chest, I couldn’t quite feel my legs and my lungs couldn’t quite draw in enough air.  There was a sound coming out of my throat, wringing it’s way around a white-hot lump, that my brain couldn’t quite account for.  It took just one sentence, one second, one voice on the other end of the phone to fundamentally alter me forever.

She… was… gone.

My mother and my sister.

My mother and my sister. If anybody can rock a mullet (they can’t. mullets were a terrible hairstyle) it was my mother.

It was December 1st, 2013.

I picked up the pieces, because that’s what I knew how to do. I made the necessary calls, offered comfort wherever and whenever needed.  I said “It’s going to be ok” to countless people.  I took a week off work and planned the entire funeral. I took care of everybody else, and honesty it was easier to focus on their pain instead of my own.  I pulled myself together, buried my pain, and ran full tilt from my feelings.

I went back to work. I smile, I laugh, I spend time with my friends. I know that someday, I will be okay. I am not lost, or broken.

But this loss, this pain is constantly there. Deep and true loss, “grief”, it physically hurts.  All I have to do is look over my shoulder and there it is waiting for me.  My grief.  This giant, throbbing ball of loss that I cannot seem to outrun no matter how fast I move.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me, an idle thought slipping through my mind, and suddenly I’m unwillingly transported right back into my own personal hell.

Just as in life, with her, what I know intellectually and what I feel are two different things; I know there is nothing I could have done. I could not have changed this outcome, only postponed it.  I still feel guilty. I wish I had been a better daughter. I wish I had tried harder. Had more patience. More understanding. More kindness. Been more open and loving.  Been better.

She was sick, and had a terrible life with no hope of ever getting better. I can’t blame her, and she didn’t do this to me, she did it for her. She’s finally at peace. I still feel livid. She walked away from me, she left me. She did this one, last, terrible thing to me.  Fuck her.  I miss her.

Everything will be fine, and it won’t always feel this terrible. It won’t always be so bad. Time has a way of healing these deep-set wounds even though the scars remain. But right now there is this ball of hot coal sitting heavily in the center of my chest; burning, burning, burning right through me and it hurts so bad I can’t breathe. It feels like it’s getting worse, not better.

I know I will be okay. I am a survivor. My life has made me strong, and I know I can bear this story.  I can bear this scar.

I am not okay.

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20 thoughts on “My mother’s suicide.

  1. The one , undeniable gift your mother gave to you, was the insight to put into words the joy and pain of a child who experienced what most children could NEVER comprehend, loving, and trying to save a parent who needed her child as much as her child needed her.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Unopened Christmas Present | Stories from the far side of normal

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    • Thank you, that’s awfully kind! I have trouble seeing it that way, and never respond appropriately when someone says I’m ‘amazing’. For me, this is just the path I’ve happened to walk in life. Everyone has their own stories. We can either let life break us, or try our best to respond with grace and dignity.

      I simply refuse to be broken. We all have the right to be happy, we just might have to fight a little harder for it from time to time.

      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I probably shouldn’t call people amazing. More like I’m impressed with how you’ve handled the things that have come your way. And honestly, I’ve been kind of a brat considering what I feel like are hard things to do. So good for you for handling things with grace.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hahahaha, no worries! You aren’t the only one. I’ve had that amazing chat more than a few times in my life. I really ought to just start saying thank you.

          But also, one person’s story never diminishes another. Knowing that someone else has suffered often does little to ease our own suffering. There are those out there who have had far worse lives than mine, but still, pain is pain. Always give yours a voice – it’s easier to leave in your past that way.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Sophia, I knew your mother for a few years. Her dad was best friends with my partner at the time, and since we lived in the same city as she did we tried to help her whenever we could. After my partner died I tried to befriend her. I admired her beauty and intelligence, when she was at her best. But in the end I knew there was nothing I could do for her and had to withdraw from her dependency. It made me very sad.

    From reading your posts I know that she would be very proud of you. I knew her long enough to know that her children meant the world to her and she really did try hard to become the mother she wanted to be. Like you said, she didn’t get a fair shake in life. But you will be everything she couldn’t be and she will smile.

    Like

  5. It’s so rare to read something I feel so viscerally. My mom was mentally ill–diagnosis unclear, but probably bipolar characterized by bipolar–long before she was diagnosed with cancer. I loved her deeply, but it was hard dealing with her mental illness. It was hard when I realized there would be no hope of her ever healing or living a normal life, because she wouldn’t live. And though it’s been four and a half years since she died, I still have moments like the one now, where I think of all that might have been and all that was and wish it could have been different. The feeling will pass, and probably quickly, but for now … it just is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment, and I’m very sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. I think you hit the nail right on the head. In grieving, even if years have passed, there will be moments where our grief comes back to us. And as you so eloquently put it, the feeling will pass, but it’s important in the moment to allow those feelings to just ‘be’.

      And like yourself, I struggle not so much with her death, because she was so tortured in life, but more so with the loss of possibility. Of what might have been, should our world looked just a little different.

      Just so you know, I will be posting more about complicated grief recovery, if this is something you are interested in reading more about.

      Thank you again for sharing a little of your story with me.

      Like

  6. This was so painfully relatable for me. My mother also struggles with severe mental illness and repeated suicide attempts. My father was around, but abusive. To this day, I tense at the very sound of her voice. She would use these things to try to manipulate me. When I get phone calls from certain people, I feel faint, assuming that it has happened. I too struggle with my feelings toward her, feeling anger but wanting to feel empathy because of her illness, not being able to tell her I love her voluntarily anymore.

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. It’s not fair. It’s so fucking shitty. And from your beautiful writing, I can tell that you’re strong and that you’ll make it through. And that you’ll continue to go on touching others with your story just like you’ve touched me. So thank you for sharing. I hope that my story doesn’t end like yours, but if it does, I hope that I handle it with the grace, strength, and wisdom that you have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Although your narrative is also a sad one, and I relate so strongly to everything you said, it’s incredibly comforting to know that we are not alone. That we can borrow support and understanding from one another.

      I sincerely hope, in my heart of hearts, that your mother’s story will not end like my mother’s story. And I do see change coming down the road in the field of mental health. But either way, the end of their stories are not the end of our stories. We go on, perhaps wounded, but also stronger. More empathetic, more understanding, and hopefully a little wiser. And then we have the opportunity to fight back. And fighting back can take the form of simply speaking out, ensuring that their stories did not end in vain. If we can help just one person, then suddenly this terrible, terrible thing has been given meaning. And that doesn’t make it better, but it does make it hurt a little less.

      PS – it does sound as if our situations are very similar. Please feel free to email me should you ever want to talk to someone. I come from a small town, so I understand not having someone to relate too if that’s your case. And I will be posting more about complicated grief recovery and the field of mental health.

      Thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

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