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“I honor her struggle.”

Today is my mom’s 60th birthday. My mom, however, is not here to celebrate. In the spring of 2006, she committed suicide. As I’ve written before, I also lost my brother over a decade ago. For some reason, if the topic of family comes up with someone I just met, I can readily explain that my brother was killed by a drunk driver. However, if someone starts asking about my mom, I describe her death in a vague, abstract way, like “Well, it was kind of sudden, but she was sick for a long time.” Then I jump to a new subject before the person even has a chance to respond.

For the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I do this. Why can I say point blank, “My brother was killed by a drunk driver” but I can’t say, “My mom committed suicide”? I think that in the case of my brother, it’s easier to explain to someone how my brother died due to the universal sympathy that his death can evoke. He was young. He was the victim. Most people know someone either directly or indirectly who have been killed by a drunk driver. Most people can imagine what it might be like to lose a sibling.

Considering my mom’s death, it’s a lot more jarring to tell someone that my mother committed suicide. I think it can sound so violent and extremely upsetting. Depending on the other person’s beliefs and values, they might think negatively of my mom or start in on me about how they view suicide as inherently wrong. I know that suicide is a taboo in our culture. But am I holding back to protect the other person’s feelings for asking an innocent question, or am I holding back to protect myself from the other person’s reaction? Or, it is the case that I don’t want anyone to judge my mom for decision to take her own life, and therefore I hold back to protect her?

I can only conclude that it’s a combination all three. I don’t want to make someone feel bad for asking normal getting-to-know-you type question. I don’t want to feel bad myself for having to think about my mom when I don’t feel comfortable, and I don’t want to get into an argument about the morality of suicide.

The thing is, I’m not angry with my mom or ashamed of what she did. My mom really did try. She began life with one of the worst childhoods imaginable. That meant she never had much of a family support system. Her father and sister died by the time she was 35. My mom also had a chemical imbalance which greatly affected her functioning. She was severely depressed for about thirty years of her life. This made it very difficult for her to maintain healthy relationships, no matter how much work she put into herself. She went to therapy. She took medication. She volunteered. In her early 50s, she even went back to college. She explored all sorts of different spiritual paths. I think, though, that when brother died, something broke in my mom that she couldn’t repair. Unlike you or me, my mom wasn’t born with a good tool kit for coping, nor was she ever given useful examples from her family. I know she fought hard, but fighting makes you tired. Personally, I can’t justify expecting my mom to continue into her 80s never feeling secure, never feeling loved, and never feeling happy. I think she had every right to give herself a chance to rest.

I’m not going to lie to you: my mom and I had a pretty terrible relationship. However, I know that so much of her behavior was really out of her hands. And I also know that she tried as hard as she could everyday to change. I will never forget the words my cousin, Claire, spoke at my mom’s funeral. As Claire described what my mom and their relationship meant to her, she also spoke of my mom’s constant struggle to find contentment. Claire concluded, “I honor her struggle.”

I will do the same.

  1. January 6, 2012 at 15:11

    Thank you for sharing this, Lori. You have no idea how much I needed to read this today. My mother is an alcoholic, and, I believe, chemically imbalanced. Although I am trying not to resent her, I do. I resent the mother she was to me at an early age, or during my young adult years, and I resent that she is the “type” of mom that could really make some of my tough days a little more manageable. But, I know she’s struggling. I know she doesn’t want to be the way that she is. I’m going to at least attempt, to be a little more understanding. Thank you.

  2. January 6, 2012 at 15:56

    “I know she fought hard, but fighting makes you tired. Personally, I can’t justify expecting my mom to continue into her 80s never feeling secure, never feeling loved, and never feeling happy. I think she had every right to give herself a chance to rest” Has to be one of the most compassionate and pragmatic insights ever.

  3. Miles
    January 6, 2012 at 16:27

    Think of all the advancements in medicine and science that WOULDN’T have taken place, think of the lives that may have been lost, if people were as quiet about cancer as they are about suicide. While you know that I can totally relate to your “three reasons” Lori, we must try to remember that unlike other incurable diseases, the sudden nature of suicide forever excludes it from the world of celebrity spear-head campaigns. Suicide has no Michael J. Fox. It only has us – the survivors, and there are many more of us than anyone realizes. So we can’t hesitate to do whatever we can to push the issue into the light, even if that means possibly putting someone in an uncomfortable situation once in a while. Good for you for doing that through this blog, and so eloquently – as usual! Love ya, sister.

  4. Jessi
    January 6, 2012 at 18:15

    Beautifully written. A wonderful way to honor your mother, and her struggle. You are a strong and good hearted person and you’re mother plays a big part in that. Even if your relationship was “terrible”, you became a stronger person for it. Uncomfortable situations are far easier to avoid then they are to talk openly about. Your view is one many need to take to fully understand what someone who feels such despair is pushed to. Those of us who have good coping skills and a good network of friends can’t fathom how alone someone can feel. Continue to be strong and be an advocate for those who are dealing with this form of loss.

  5. Ricki Jo Kauffman
    January 7, 2012 at 02:45

    I knew your mother thru Claire.
    Having my own struggles and challenges myself I am refreshed and nourished by your words. I share Claire’s words – I honor your mother’s struggle.

  6. Nicole
    January 7, 2012 at 10:55

    Just got teary. Thanks for sharing Lori.

  7. January 7, 2012 at 12:45

    Thank you so much for sharing that. Oprah recently stated : “Forgiveness is the letting go of the notion that the past will be different”.
    You are very wise to get this out in the open. Even wiser to recognize that her condition reaked havoc in your life.
    Wiser still is the person who understands that you DO NOT have to go down the same road.

    I am doing a workshop to help heal the “Wounded child”. When we lack the proper tools, we suffer greatly.

    A brand new Mercedes out in the middle of the desert has a flat tire. The driver gets out of the car, opens the trunk and discovers that she has no jack and further no spare tire. The Mercedes and the driver are stuck.

    There are tools to help us see the impact of abandonment and/or abuse. While we cannot change the past, we MUST look at it clearly from the little one who experienced it.

    She waits for you to come back and hear her story. It is not me or the person you first meet who needs to hear your story. It is YOU. You, as the adult, need to hear the story that the little girl inside of you is waiting to tell. Your only job is to believe the story that the little girl tells and to give her the validation and support that she may have lacked.

    Once you and the child within are in agreement, the story is very easy to accept and to tell – as it is.

    Talitha Cum (Mark 5:41)

  8. Paul
    January 7, 2012 at 15:06

    nailed it. love

  9. January 8, 2012 at 00:20

    Everyone, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I debated for a long time about writing this post, but I finally decided to take the plunge.

    @Brandi, I can definitely relate to your feelings of resentment. I’m glad you have Ayva in your life and you and she can build your own loving, creative, supportive family together. I hope we can meet up in the next few months and talk some more.

    @Miles, you were a huge inspiration for me in writing about my mom. I have admired how upfront you are about dealing with your own loss and I wanted to follow in your footsteps. I love you and I’m so grateful for the time I get to share with you and Gracy.

    @Dad, I love you. You truly are tmwfitw.

  10. January 10, 2012 at 11:02

    okay. what the f is ‘tmwfitw’? I want to learn something new today.

    • January 10, 2012 at 11:14

      Haha! It is an acronym created by my father many years ago. It stands for “the most wonderful father in the world.” It’s how he signs most documents.

  11. Sara Kane
    January 23, 2012 at 23:02

    She did make endless efforts to find the high ground. Your mom was a good and worthy person.

    I once took a spiritual development class about our many lifetimes and how there is a sort of curriculum of experiences that we all go through at some point. One of these is suicide. We all do it in at least one of our lives. Apparently, it is an archetypal aspect of the human experience.

    Thanks for writing so well about this, dear Lori.

  12. October 6, 2012 at 15:16

    A difficult and emotional subject, but you wrote it so well. Thank you for sharing.

  1. February 20, 2012 at 22:52
  2. September 8, 2012 at 16:06
  3. January 6, 2013 at 18:27

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