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.
“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. 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.