“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have a confession to make. I’m pretty sure each and every one of you reading this will agree. But…agree or not…here it is: I can forgive others but I am lousy at forgiving myself for any part I played in mom’s death. There it is. I said it.
It will be 40 years on September 5, 2019, since the worst day of my life.
I help people to “see” that only if we were God or had some almighty power, could we know that our loved one was about to take their life. I know that the past is the past and that it cannot be redone. I can say that I still carry a bit of guilt but when I look at the entire picture, I see so much of prevention on my part that could have occurred. The one piece that saves me is that mom had a prior attempt, 4 months after dad died. THAT I would never have imagined. Today I know that a prior attempt is the number one warning sign.
After her attempt, hospitalization (medical) and agreement to see a psychiatrist, I was “less than.” She came to stay with me for 2 weeks after her release but then I thought it was time to get about the business of normalcy. It was time for her to go home.
I checked in by phone with her at least daily and listened to her complaints (depression) about a variety of issues. What I did not recognize was a lonely, frightened woman who had been able to make it on her own with 2 kids while working during WWII when dad was gone. She did it all, I was told. I did not know or comprehend the grieving process; about a year after her death, I was fortunate enough to see and hear Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, THE leading expert on grief. The pieces began to fit into place as I was thinking about her and what she’d been through.
Many of you know that I called her psychiatrist after her 2nd visit and offered that my sister and I and our husbands would be happy to come and meet with him and with our mom (now called “family therapy” but I had no way of knowing that then or if it even existed as such.) This arrogant ----------------------------(fill in the blank) told me words I have etched into my memory: “That won’t be necessary, I can manage this on my own.” After the third visit, she crowed that she “had fooled him by telling him exactly what she knew he’d want to hear.” Yes, one can lead the horse to water… But I digress.
My move out-of-state 9 months before her death was almost the final nail in her coffin. She came to visit several times, once on a train that took her back home during a horrible snowstorm and she almost couldn’t even get a taxi to take her home from the train station. Once she showed up at my house at 6:00am. (wasn’t expected until 9:00am) and I wasn’t all that pleasant. Another time she asked me if I thought I could find her a husband “like a professor kind” as I was then living by the University of Notre Dame. I was outraged and told her, of course, “No, how can I even do that?”
She was lonely, scared, and desperate. The final, final blow was her having to start work at a new school after she’d been the Learning Center Director at one for 14 years. I am very hard on myself. Thinking I could have done more, been kinder, etc. is hard and, at times, I can wallow in it. We are moving toward mid-summer, then August into early September. It feels like the sadness starts sooner for me.
The last people to see mom alive were an elderly neighbor couple who had had her to dinner on Saturday night (she died somewhere between then and Tuesday.) Irene walked Mom home that dusk evening. I learned through a police report that Mom asked her the following, “If you were going to kill yourself, what would you do?” Irene said, “Ellen, I would never want to do that.” Mom then said, “Do you think rat poison would do it?”
Suicide is a build- up of years of pain, especially amongst adults. I can chronicle what I knew was the pain over those many years. If I was a piece of it, why can’t I forgive myself for being human?
I’ve had 2 dreams recently about mom. In the first one she was smiling and happy and waving good-bye. In the second one, it was mom and dad. Their backs were to a monster. They didn’t see or hear the monster or even know it was there. I was screaming (literally out loud according to my husband,) “Mom….dad….mom…dad…” Then I woke up.
The woman I am today is judging the 30 year old with 4 small children, a husband (then) who’d started a new job in a new state. Perhaps there IS a survivor who can say he/she bears no guilt, but I haven’t met one yet. Like picking the scab until the wound opens up, each one of us can perseverate and rethink the one thing we cannot redo. “Life has no ‘redo’s’’ and ‘life isn’t fair.”
I have been filled with anxiety the past week because of some family issues. I am more prone to crying, rethinking, and beating myself up. So what do I do? I talk to and listen to my husband as well as other friends and family. I go to my garden and immerse myself in the dirt that we call “earth.” I ask certain people to put me on their prayer chains. There are times I feel I “pray without ceasing” but then I often can’t tell the difference between that and the obsessive phrase that used to run through my head over and over and over after Mom died. “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof; speak but the words and my soul will be healed.” (I’m not even Catholic…)
I do some things I love: baking, cooking, knitting, reading, bubble baths… I can write this because I am writing it to YOU. We are a community of mourners who understands the ups and downs of this process we call grief. I can tell you I’m horrible, rotten, selfish and you can tell me that, at times, you feel like that as well. So I will work, like you, to love myself more and forgive myself more…