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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just another one of her episodes, I tell myself. But another one on Christmas. Usually these episodes last for one week to three. If I’m lucky, that’s getting away easy.
“Ungrateful stupid child, I do everything for you. *Curse word* and you get mad because I say this simple word in front of your son that isn’t even a curse word. All the things I do for both of you, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
It’s kind of hard to shut off that voice from my brain when it’s waking me up at that hour. When it’s shouting at me so hotly, hurting my ears. Still, I ignore her because I’m genuinely tired; I put my son to bed almost at 2 AM and managed to fall asleep at 4:30.
“DRESS UP! YOU’RE COMING WITH ME.”
No, simply no. That’s all I said. There was no power on earth that was going to move me from that bed in that very moment, like there was no power on earth last night that was going to make me do as she said.
This triggered one of her episodes, which I had coming for two days now. My cousin had been staying over for two days doing all she commanded and asked, making him do chores. Simple things she could do herself, she just loves saying to someone “do this” and they go like well-trained puppies and do as they are told. Kind of funny how sweet and nice she was to him and how sometimes she was actually nice to me.
A long, long time ago, my father invented the Internet. As in, he worked for network solutions and laid down cables that later became what we know today as the Internet. A few years later, that company was bought out and the higher-ups were given a fat check and let go. That’s the official story, anyway. It didn’t really go down like that, but I’m not allowed to tell that truth. I’m sketchy on the details myself, anyway.
So, my father started plans to begin his own business. While he waited to get things set up, he did day-trading of stocks online. One thing led to another, it took a while, and then his father died. Suddenly, the money he had saved was getting his mom (who later remarried) out of financial trouble. With his money for starting the business gone, he continued to do day trading and living off of his retirement fund.
As the years went by, and the stock market started to not do so well, my father became very depressed. He had many dreams of how to support himself, but nothing seemed to be panning out. One day while painting his home, he took a bad fall off of a ladder that was located at the top of some stairs. When he fell off the ladder, he went down the stairs, as well, and the ladder went with him. This fall left him in massive amounts of pain and feeling very depressed.
Not too long afterward, my mom received a copy of his will and his suicide letter in the mail.
That was a long day.
The police in North Carolina, where he lived, entered his home to find him alive, but very sick in his bed after taking an entire bottle of morphine. He proceeded to spend the next week in the psychiatric ward of his local hospital. Around this time, 9/11 happened.
That was a long week.
The doctors at the hospital pumped my father full of antidepressants and continued to see him on an out-patient basis. That medication was not good to him.
Here is where I will never know the full truth, and I’ll explain why later.
There is a small percentage of people who can’t take certain antidepressants. The medications do not metabolize well in them. My father is one of those people. It causes psychotic breakdowns and has led to some violent crimes (for other people – my father never got that bad), as well as memory problems and seizures. When my father went to talk to his doctors about what happened, they refused to discuss it and slapped a silence order on his therapist. My father stopped seeing them – all of them – as well as going off all medications. None of my doctors in the field have ever heard of problems like that with the antidepressant they had put my father on. So is it that rare? Or is my father that messed up mentally? More on that in a minute.
My father still has the memory problems and the seizures. He talks to people who aren’t there. Always has. He does this when he mumbles. He’ll never admit to it, but you can sometimes hear what he’s saying. He also has fanciful tails of the security clearance he used to have for the government, the people he advised, the projects he worked on. These stories are all the truth as he knows it.
Have you ever seen the movie A Beautiful Mind? My father reminds me of the home game.
Will I ever know the truth?
Only if my father receives a diagnosis that points us in one way or the other. And with my dad’s paranoia of the system – any system – we most likely never will see that diagnosis.
My opinion is that while at times I think my mom might have BPD, I’m pretty sure my father does. Everything fits well, and my acorn did not fall far from that tree. If my father is indeed having delusions, that would fit in well to Schizotypal, only in his case, I think it’s been his truth for so long, that he honestly believes it. Or who knows, maybe it really is the truth. As I said, I may never know.
It’s been almost three years since you died. I miss you. Until you died, I can honestly say that I did not carry around much regret, but since you passed I have one big regret. I am so sorry that I could not take better care of you in your old age, when your health was failing. None of us realized how bad you had gotten and I thought you had more time left.
See, you came to visit me for two weeks. Shortly after I left my job to stay at home full time with my then one year old daughter, I had hoped that the visit would go well. We even toured a senior care home that was so nice and I knew we all liked it. But having you here for two weeks was hard. And we found out that since you had a felony on your record, you would not be eligible to live in a nice senior care facility, even though it was so long ago. I was barely keeping it together with my own family. I had been dealing with postpartum anxiety (though I didn’t know what that was at the time), we had just switched to one income, and I was an emotional wreck. I didn’t know that would be the last time I would see you.
When you stayed with us, you were scared to do simple things on your own, like changing the toilet paper roll or putting food on your own dinner plate. It also seemed like many of the usual social graces people use escaped you as I had to remind you of things like using a napkin. We thought you had been spending too much time alone. I knew being in new environments was stressful for you. I panicked when you told me you were starting new medication a few days into the trip. I was afraid that there would be a lag-time until the new meds kicked in and that you might have a manic episode. I was scared, and overwhelmed, and grumpy. Although I had always wanted to take of you, I was afraid of exposing my husband and daughter to your psychotic episodes and just could not handle taking care of you in my home.
After your next breakdown, you went to live with my brother in LA. It was hard to tell over the phone, but he said that you didn’t come back to normal after that one. I know you hated living in the city & in a noisy house with no where to walk to. We didn’t understand why your psychiatrist kept taking you off of your medications, without talking with any of us. I am sad that you died so soon, but I am beyond infuriated with the mental health care system and the shit they put you through all those years. That time, your case workers finally talked you into checking into the behavioral health center, but it was set up for short term care. Your psychatrist took you off of all your psych meds, so the hospital didn’t give you any & you were completely out of it. When I tried to talk to you on the phone you put the receiver inside your mouth. It was impossible to have a conversation. They put you in a wheel chair because you kept falling down. They couldn’t send you home & there were no long term care facilities available for you to go to. We finally fought for you to go to a medical rehab place and argued with them long enough to have you (finally) evaluated by a psychiatrist…which took two weeks. They put you back on psych meds and you improved enough for J to take you home.
But you weren’t all the way better and you had a hard time adjusting to J’s house. He managed to get you into a retirement home that didn’t do a comprehensive background check. When you became agitated and confused again, we thought it was related to your mental health, so J took you to a nearby emergency psychiatric hospital. The doctors there didn’t know you. He waited with you all damn day and they couldn’t tell him how long it would be to get you in to see a doctor. They told him the only way to get you seen was to have you brought in by police. So he called the police, explained the situation and a very understanding cop escorted you in the back of a police car to the hospital. It breaks my heart that he had to put handcuffs on you to walk you into the hospital “in custody.” They explained to you that you hadn’t done anything wrong, but didn’t think you really understood. After all of your experiences,I know that was scary for you and I feel horrible that they had to do that to get you into a doctor. Horrible and pissed beyond belief at this fucked up mental health system that would put a 72 year old man with severe mental health issues though that just to get fucking treated by a doctor. Anyway, it seems like we should have been taking you to a medical doctor, because you died within hours of being checked in. Supposedly they gave you a physical exam, then something to help you sleep because you were tired. When the nurse checked on you 15 minutes later, you were gone.
My other regret is that you had to deal with a system that was so incompetent and frustrating to deal with. That your health care added to the hardships that you faced in life & that I wasn’t a better advocate for your care during your life. I love you and I miss you, and I am glad that you are no longer suffering.
I was feeling so alone. I freeze when I meet people I don’t know. My parents have messed me up big time. My mother, who I no longer have anything to do with, is a bisexual, bipolar mess. My father is an alcoholic who gets in touch to ease his own conscience. I’ve been doing it alone for years. Some days, I am strong for my two girls; others I’m a mess and feel like a failure who yells.
My brother, who is now disabled after being attacked in jail, cannot speak: he can only say yes and no. My mother decided to kill him “for his own good,” or so she says. Her only punishment was home detention and supervision.
I’m getting off track….
I feel I’m the only sane one in a big storm that’s only just starting to subside. I get lost in the mess or drama at times. I am more than that. I am not just a product of two alcoholic parents. I am my own person. I am a young woman who has endured too much in her short life. I want to be free of it all. I keep myself going by keeping busy with cleaning, gardening…I’m an artist who has an opinion.
I want to say to anyone out there who has a messed up family life that you are not alone: it does get better. Your situation does not make you who you are. I would love to talk to anyone who feels the same in this life. Please
feel free to share, too.