She was on the cusp of 34 the cold January night when she rocked her nine year old girl and wept. Somehow everything had become too much and she wasn't coping. She rocked and cried and said goodbye. She cleaned and cleaned and sent us late that night to a neighbor's house. As we headed down the driveway, a gunshot was heard. In that instant...my mom ended her own life. She'd thought a lot about it and planned it out. For many years, I've found it easy to just hate her. She put us through a lot. She was mentally unhealthy for a while and I will probably never understand.
This week, I turned 34. The weeks leading up to this birthday have been hard. I have now lived longer than my mother. It is an eerie feeling. Luke is the exact age I was when she died and Ben is the age my sister was. It is impossible not to put ourselves there...to try and imagine what she must have been thinking, to think of what it would do to Luke and Ben...I realize how young we were and how much we were forced to deal with. It is kind of haunting. Memories are coming back and it has just been plain tough.
I think the biggest issue is that when a suicide happens, no one wants to deal with it. It is an ugly horrific reality and we want to pretend it isn't. I can remember being furious as people would paint my mom to be a saint. I was angry and she chose death over me. I fully understand that she was "sick" but the reality is that it is okay to be mad. It is okay to feel betrayed and angry. I have always been made to feel guilty for feeling that way and the truth is...I don't anymore. In a matter of moments, my mother scarred us for life...we have a right to be angry regardless of the underlying circumstance.
Statistics show that suicide tends to reoccur in families and it is a statistic that others have often reminded me of. The thing is...I think that the reason it reoccurs is because no one confronts it, we say they were "sick" and pretend it isn't as horrific as it is, we don't talk about it and we just continue to shove it under the rug. Those things we shove under the rug always have a way of resurfacing...we have to deal with it...we have to deal with the reality no matter how ugly. Life isn't a bed of roses...we need to stop pretending it is. We live in a broken world with a lot of ugly realities and the sooner we just admit that and confront it head on the better off we will be.
"Confrontation with reality gradually eases the pain and removes the power of the act from the lives of the survivors and their future generations. " Dr. Marilyn Gootman
The above quote holds so much hope. We've got to confront it and quit running from it...this year, the 34th year of my life is the year I will fully confront it. I will deal with the darkness of the past in hopes of enlightening my future. The truth is, my mom shot herself. She changed the course of many lives by a choice she made in one instant. It sucks the breath right out of my lungs and for my WHOLE life no one has wanted to ever talk about it because it is uncomfortable, but silence isn't the answer. We have to press past the discomfort to find healing.
Suicide hurts, it destroys families and childhoods. My mom was likely depressed. Why is it so taboo to talk about mental illness. The silence is killing people. We've got to be unafraid to talk about it, she was too proud and likely too afraid to ask for help and I can't help but think about how many others out there are struggling with this. It is okay not to have it all together all of the time. It is okay and even admirable to ask for help.
Suicide is the TENTH leading cause of death in the US, and for every suicide that results in death 11 more are attempted. This world is broken and people are crying out. Every 13.7 minutes a person commits suicide. Ninety percent of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric condition. About ten percent of the population suffers from clinical depression in a given year...this is more than coronary heart disease, cancer or AIDS. Yet we are still more likely to speak out and educate on those other diseases.
Depression and mental illness is NOTHING to be ashamed of. It is a real condition that can be treated and catastrophic deaths as a result can be prevented. If you are out there and you are reading this and are feeling hopeless...there is hope. Please get help.
If you are out there feeling like suicide is the answer, I can promise you it isn't. It might end the pain you are feeling, but it will multiply the pain your loved ones feel exponentially. If I have learned ANYTHING from my mom's death it is that even though I fail each day in some way...being the mom and wife I am for my family is so much better than not being there for them. A mediocre mom beats a dead mom any day. I promise. My mom has been gone for almost a quarter of a century and I am just now, at 34, acknowledging the damage that has been done and seeing a counselor myself for the hurt I shoved away for far too long.
25 years later her choice is still haunting me. I am ending the cycle though...I am counting my incredible blessings and asking for help. While I am not currently depressed or suffering from mental illness, the trauma of the past needs to be brought out into the open, where it has never been and dealt with so I can move forward and let go of the anger I still carry despite my every effort to forgive her. I am going to heal and so can you...and we don't have to do it alone.