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Dear Friend,

This is part of a letter to a friend in response to her mom’s suicide.

Dear Sarah,

It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.

I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to. 

I took your mom’s suicide hard.

Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.

I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.

I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.

I still can’t.

I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”

By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates.  She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.

When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.

mom's suicide

My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.

During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.  

My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety. 

I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober  As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.

When your mom died by suicide, I was glad that she had doted on you those years before she started using again.

As my home life became marked by violence and fear, I began that the world was full of bad people. I quickly became withdrawn to protect myself.

Beth was a reminder that there were safe adults in the world.

When my stepfather and my mom first started fighting, I called your house in the middle of the night. I was so scared. I didn’t know what was happening or what to do.

It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.

mom's suicide

Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.

Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.

The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.

The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.  

I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.

Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.

Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.

Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.

I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.

I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.

By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time. 

It seemed that you were on your own, too.

I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.

On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.

Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it. 

I didn’t see much of Beth after that.

I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend.  I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.

I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days. 

The next time I saw her she was in a coma.

Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.

No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.

She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.

died by suicide

I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.

I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.

The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.

Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.

There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.

You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.

What is there to say now, after all of these years?

That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.

I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.

With much love,

Sarah 

Losing My Sister

Sunday will mark five years since my sister died. I had a hard time losing my sister to bone cancer. She fought for over three years with bone cancer that caused her daily pain and stress.

Her life ended when she’d had too many surgeries and her body couldn’t keep up. Losing my sister is the hardest thing I’ve experienced.

I don’t feel bad for her now, because she’s free from all of that. But I do miss her; more than I miss my grandparents who have passed away. Her death was a trauma for me, as her 27-year-old soul was ripped away from my family and we were left with a forever empty chair at the table.

Now, I have a daily regimen of seven medications that keep me here on this earth from antidepressants to mood stabilizers and sleep aids. I fight suicidal thoughts and feelings near-constantly during this time of the year.

I have two girls; the younger one is my lifeline. I was pregnant with her when my sister died and I live in fear that she will die and leave me just like my younger sister left my mom.

My faulty logic says that little sisters die; I am so afraid that I will lose her. Her presence is one of the biggest comforts to me, which makes me love her more than her sister.

losing my sister

There, I said it: I love one kid more than the other.

What can I say? What else is there to do but keep pushing on, trying to move past a pain that is so old and yet so fresh.

I love you, Wends, and I will see you one day.

The Last Fight

During the month of August, Band Back Together is going to be publishing posts about loss and grief. These losses can be perceived or real as we know that loss is universal. We welcome you to share the stories of what and who you’ve lost – parents, children, animals, sisters, brothers. Please share your posts with us by clicking here.

This morning on the way into town, I had a flashback of a phone call. A phone call I’d had with hospice, seven months ago.

I remember it well. I was in the back room at my parents house where I’d been staying for the last week or so to help take care of my mom. She was sick. She had taken a turn for the worse. She’d had Stage 4 Colon Cancer for four years. It had been four years of fighting: first chemo and surgeries, and then natural medicine and a special diet.

She’d lived far longer than the doctors thought possible. She’d outlived the projections of every website and message board I’d visited in my obsessive need to understand what we were up against. Her CEA (tumor marker) numbers stayed low and nothing showed up in her monthly exams for a long time.

Then, the numbers started to creep up. After three years of nothing, they’d found a new spot on her liver.

It only took four months to go from finding that small spot to being in that back room on the phone with a lady from hospice.

Mom had been getting intravenous fluids the week before. As weak as she was, we would help her get dressed, get her to the car, one of us on each side to keep her from falling, drive her to the hospital and wait the two to three hours to get the fluids and then repeat the process to get her home.

We’d done this every day for a week, but the benefits of the fluids were starting to be countered by the difficulty of the journey. She was getting too sick to make the trip anymore. We’d talked to her doctor, the hospital, to anyone we could think of to figure out how to get the fluids to come to her. We felt certain there had to be a traveling nurse, or someone else who could administer the fluids. If the problem was that insurance or Medicare wouldn’t cover the cost, we were all more than willing to pay for it.

We just needed someone willing to do it.

When I asked the lady from hospice if that was something she could help us with, instead of answering my question, she asked some of her own: What did I think was really going on? What did I think the fluids were going to do for my mom? Would it be better to keep her going as long as we could, as she got sicker and sicker? Were we doing this for her, or were we doing this for ourselves?

We discussed that Mom’s body wasn’t benefiting from the fluids as well as we’d hoped. Her liver and kidneys had already begun to shut down, and we knew she was experiencing fluid retention. In fact, the fluids we were fighting so desperately for may have been doing more harm than good.

I had one of those moments when the blood thunders through your ears, the air is sucked from your lungs, and time slows down.

She was so sick. Every day she was getting sicker. Of course we knew she was going to die. But until that moment, I’d been in fight mode.

This was the first moment I realized the fight was really over.

The lady on the other end of the phone waited until I stopped crying, and we made arrangements for her to come over to talk to the rest of the family. We’d been fighting this disease aggressively for over four years. It was going to take some professional help to transition from that all-consuming fight to helping our Mom let go and…die.

She came over and we all gathered around the couch where Mom was laying, and we talked about the fact that she really was dying.

It was singularly the saddest discussion I’ve ever been a participant in. Everyone left my sister and I alone with Mom. We talked about how this was really it. We told her how much we loved her, how we would be there with her through it all, and how we would be there to see her on the other side.

I wonder how she felt at that moment.

I think about that moment a lot. I regret that moment sometimes. I wish we’d stayed in denial about her death so we’d never have had that discussion. Once it was out there, it seemed like any fight she had went away. She was ready for it to be over.

My sister, my grown niece and nephew, my aunt and I all took shifts staying with her and Dad.  At first we gently tried to get her to eat and drink, but in retrospect that may have been a lingering need to fight for her life. Eventually, even that stopped.

I’d stay for two days, then leave for one or two. I would go to work on the days I was away. Work became a sanctuary where my mind was otherwise occupied. As I drove the hour and a half back to my parents, I felt the heaviness increase until I had to drag myself up the steps and into their house.

We’d brought a hospital bed into their living room so I’d see her the minute I opened the door. Every time I opened that door, I wanted to recoil in horror. Our mom was laying in that bed dying! It couldn’t have felt more surreal.

By then, she was drugged and asleep, and unable to talk much even while awake. It was a living nightmare.

A strange numb detachment descended upon me. I’ve never been like that my whole life. It was like my brain just shut parts of itself off. I felt made of stone.

We held her hand. We brushed the hair out of her face. We put chapstick on her lips and swabs of water in her mouth. We told her how much we loved her over and over and told her we were going to be okay. We promised that we would never stop talking about her to our kids so they would always remember her. We talked about our hope for the future when we would all be together again and she would be healthy.

I hope that she felt some comfort from us being there with her. I know she was scared; her brow and face would be scrunched up with anxiety and pain, even though she couldn’t voice it. The best we could do was give her the shots of pain and anxiety medication that hospice had left for her.

The last time I saw her alive, the truth is, I knew it would be the last time.

I should have stayed. I should have stayed. I should have stayed.

But when my niece came over for her shift, I left. To escape the horror, the impending doom, and the despair, I went back to my house. The next morning, I talked to my niece and she told me that Mom’s hands were getting colder, and I knew I should go back. I knew the signs of impending death by heart; I’d read them over and over in hopes of preparing myself.

But I didn’t go back. I went to work instead. My sister called me at work to let me know she was at Mom’s. She held the phone to Mom’s ear so I could tell her that I love her. She couldn’t talk, but I could hear her breathing loud in an attempt (I choose to believe this) to communicate with me. My sister then called my brother and they had a similar interaction.

My sister was on one side of Mom holding her hand, and my Mom’s baby sister was on her other side holding her hand when it started. They told her it was okay to let go.

And she did.

I am so sad I wasn’t there when it happened.

I am also grateful.

That Which Is Left Behind; That Which Must Be Said

In 2004, I was pregnant with my daughter and at a job I enjoyed with a morally corrupt boss that I hated.

But I was fine.

When I was 32 weeks pregnant, my father came for a visit. Dad lived two hours away from me, so having him show up suddenly for a visit wasn’t unusual. In fact, I loved it. I’d wake up to the smells of breakfast cooking, coffee brewing, and my Dad whistling happily to himself as he took over as caretaker in my house.

There was something very comforting about my Dad’s presence in my house. My father was a six-foot tall and solid man. So when he hugged me, he enveloped me. The feel of his embrace, the scent of his cologne, the unmistakable him-ness, could give me strength and faith that no matter what, I would always be okay.

My father loved me. My father was my friend. My father was a fabulous grandfather to his grandson. My father was my foundation. My rock. My stability.

And that morning, my father showed up and made breakfast. Blueberry muffins. He spent the morning talking to my son and I. He helped my son tie his shoes for school. I could hear them laughing and talking and whispering to each other as Dad helped his grandson fix his hair for school.

When it was time to leave, my son did not want to go. He wanted to stay home and spend the day with his grandpa. I remember saying to my son, “Come on, I’m taking you to school. Grandpa will be here when you get home.”

My son hugged his Grandpa goodbye. His grandpa told him he loved him. He told his Grandson to have a great day.

I told my Dad I’d be back in about an hour; I needed to stop at the store before I came home. My Dad told me to be careful. He kissed me on my forehead and told me, “I really love you, kid. I’m glad I came to see you.”

As I drove out of the driveway, I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw my Dad taking out my trash and for one moment; one tiny moment, I thought to myself, “Maybe I can let my kid skip one day of school. We could all just spend a nice day together.”

But, my son had a spelling test, and his gifted class that day and I didn’t think he should miss those. I looked at my father in that mirror and I felt so good that he was there. I was so glad to have my father show up that week.

I remember thinking, “Time with Dad is just what I need.”

It was early spring here. The morning was slightly chilly but the sun was shining brightly. The day was bright with promise. After dropping off my son and a quick stop at the store, I headed home.

I got out of the car and grabbed my few bags of groceries and went into the house. At 32 weeks pregnant, I had an awkward sense of balance, but I managed to get to the door in spite of the dog and that’s when I thought, “What’s the dog doing outside? She doesn’t stay outside by herself.”

I went inside to find that my father had killed himself.

Much of what happened that day after that is burned into my brain and I will never, ever forget it. Some things are gray and fuzzy and lost to the haze of my grief and I’ll never remember them.

What I do know is that my world, my foundation, my entire sense of who I am was taken away in one moment by the one person who was supposed to keep me from ever feeling like that.

I’m doing okay with it.

So why am I telling you this story?

Because suicide is bullshit. And it’s aftereffects last a lifetime. In our case? Two lifetimes. It’s shaped who I am today and who my son is as well.

Because if there is anyone here reading this who thinks that suicide will end pain needs to know that it causes a lifetime of pain. Pain, confusion and hurt.

Because no one wants to talk about it.

When someone loses a parent to an illness, an accident or at someone else’s hand? People are there for them. They listen to them. They commiserate. They form a support for them that is so goddamn necessary to heal. Not so when someone you love takes their own life.

Suicide is a topic that no one wants to be connected to.

People don’t want to talk about it. They can’t hear about it. They don’t want to comfort you because they don’t know how. It’s not something that they want to believe can happen to you. They don’t know what to say. They don’t have the answers either, and that makes it difficult for them. It’s because of this that my father’s suicide has made me the loneliest I have ever been.

I’ve been isolated in so many ways because of it. So isolated that I don’t know if I will ever not feel like I’m separated from everyone else again.

I could sit here and tell you all the ways this has changed me. All the ways I am stronger. All the ways I am scarred. About crying in absolute emotional pain and just wanting my dad when just a few weeks later, I gave birth to my daughter. About all the irrational fears I have. Someday, I may tell you about all of it.

Today, I want to show you that my Dad was a real person, just as I am. I love him today just as I always have.

The day my son was born, my dad wasn’t able to be there. I can’t remember why. I believe my dad was cooing to him. But the obvious joy at having that boy makes this photo one of my most treasured memories. I wanted you to see it.

My Dad was a real person. He existed.

Today, I tell you about my Dad because this community is amazing. I read your stories and I am humbled by your courage, your tenacity and your amazing support for each other.

I’m so proud to be a part of this project, even in a small way. I’m so proud of every person who has posted and who has commented. I’m so proud to know that this community exists.

You have no idea how much you would have helped me in 2004, but I do.

I tell you my story because you’ve told me all of your stories. Your stories, in your voices, about your experiences have made me feel like people don’t suck as much as I thought.

I need you to know that if you have lost someone to suicide that it’s time we start talking about it and making it okay to talk about it.

I need you to know that if you are thinking about killing yourself, my story is a very good example of what you will leave behind. By killing yourself, you will have caused more pain than you can imagine. Pain that will never go away. Please, please, don’t do this to everyone in your family. Don’t do this to your parents, children, and friends.

I need you to know that for six years, I’ve stopped believing that anyone would love me more than they love themselves. I don’t know that I’ll ever believe that again.

I need you to know that I am sharing my story because I trust you.

Thank you all for inspiring me.

Thank you for making BB2G the community what it is today.

Thank you for being here.

————–

If you are feeling desperate, alone or helpless, or know someone who is call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a counselor at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Here is the Band Back Together Suicide Prevention Resource Page

Here is what happens to loved ones left behind from a suicide.

Because It Was Grassy And Wanted Wear

I will never forget that sound.

The crunching of the packed snow beneath my feet, dissonant with the throbbing in my ears from my racing heart.

He sought me out. He wanted my forgiveness. Wanted to talk to me…to see in my eyes that forgiveness was even possible.

I sought out a safe place to meet him. Though I knew with certainty that he wouldn’t physically harm me, I feared for my emotional safety. My aunt provided that shelter.

Fourteen years prior, he shot my father twice and killed him.

I was two. And in an instant, fatherless.

As I reached to open my aunt’s door, I was stuck between two places. In that moment, with my hand clenching her doorknob, I could move forward or I could retreat. There simply was no in between.

I pushed the door open and the heat from my aunt’s house engulfed me.

He was there. Sitting at the table. I greeted my aunt, shed my coat, and sat opposite him at the table. And I waited.

It wasn’t my turn to talk.

He apologized. His words were much what I expected them to be. I knew the story…the reasons why he did what he did. They had been the best of friends.

I can still see him, rubbing one of his hands with the other, worrying his skin raw.

But his eyes? His eyes expressed his sorrow and remorse in a way that his words never could.

I’m not sure I have ever seen eyes as soft as his were in that moment as he sat there, stumbling over his words, looking to me for encouragement to continue speaking.

I let him speak until he was completely deflated…words expelled like air from a balloon overfilled to near bursting.

There was a familiarity about him. Some part of my brain remembered him.

In that moment I was left to make a choice. To forgive him or to hang onto my anger and hurt, polishing it until it gleamed with bitterness.

It was the moment to choose whether to set him free of his burden or take that opportunity to make him pay. To crush his hopes for a release from even a small part of his guilt.

I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I forgave him.

I made a choice that freed us both.

The easy, predicable choice would have been to hold my anger close, fueling it with thoughts of all that had been ripped from me.

The more difficult choice was to forgive him, to recognize that he was human and that relinquishing my anger would bring me peace unlike anything I had ever known.

His life was already broken. He would never be the person he was before he killed my father.

But my forgiveness? He sat there and asked it of me.

And offering that it to him was truly the fork in my road.

The Road Not Taken — Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

*The decision to forgive this man who destroyed my family was my choice. This was the right choice for me. If I were my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, or mother, I can’t say that my choice would have been the same. That is impossible to know. I can only truly know what is best for me. I love my family beyond words and their strength astonishes me to this day.

A Letter To Someone Who Stopped Talking To Me – Dear Mum, Love Martin

The following post is from a series called ” A letter to someone who stopped talking to me.” The posts from this series will appear on Stigma Fighters and Bank Back Together.

Dear Mum.

It’s been a while since I wrote you. Six months. What was the last thing I sent you? A postcard, probably. Someone – one of your sisters, my aunts – told me a while back that my letters to you went unopened. Hence the postcards: nothing for you to open (or not open), a pretty picture for you to look at, and less aching white space for me to fill each week. It made it easier – for me at least. Nothing too heavy. News from up here in the north. Family. Friends. Work. Then best wishes for your well-being and family down there.

Phone calls from me ceased when you could no longer take them. When you could no longer remain awake at the phone or even, perhaps, know who I was. You used to love texting, before illness took its final hold, but the special large screen phone we got you so you could take and make calls from your room languished unused and uncharged.

I cherish the times I came to visit with you, on my own or with Pam. The time I took you to Washington Wildfowl Trust to see the ducks. Holding your hand. Sitting with you in your room while you slept. I remember the moment (not precisely when but how it felt) when the question “When will I go down next?” shifted into the knowledge I would not.

And then the phone call telling me you’d gone. A week or two of uncertainty, doubt, fear. Then plans to be made. Hotel rooms and a hire car. Routes. What to wear. That was okay. I’m good with that stuff.

And then there I was, back in Liverpool one last time. Squeezed in the back of the funeral car. Your face staring at me all the way to the church from the framed photo they’d propped at the back of the hearse. Carrying your coffin – no weight at all really – up the aisle of the church I remembered so well. The priest’s eulogy. “She was a saint. Literally, a saint. She always put others first.” And I wanted to scream.

YES SHE WAS. SHE DID. AND LOOK WHAT IT FUCKING DID TO HER.

I didn’t scream out, of course. I stayed quiet in my seat. I own my share of the blame. The depth of your need terrified me and I left you to get on with it all. I wasn’t there when you needed me to be. It was easier to pretend I didn’t notice. To visit occasionally and then not at all. To phone occasionally and then not at all. To write letters, and then postcards, that said very little and needed no reply. I’ve learned a lot about being there these past years but too late for you and me. There is no going back but I would do better by you now.

I don’t believe these words will find you now any more than the postcards did. You are gone. Not gone somewhere. Just – gone. But there are tears in my eyes and perhaps that stands for something.

Martin