On this day my mother ended her life in 1992.
What do I say? I watch the words hit the page this morning and I know if I charted the distance between them and the pulverizing impact of her suicide it would take more than a millennium to cross the divide.
The facts of it all sit like dusty stones – cold, and hauntingly still. It was the second time in the span of a year that she talked of ending her life. We had intervened the first time, and, for the moment, succeeded, at what I wonder. It only delayed the inevitable and in the days after her death, I would learn from her oldest friends that she had been talking about suicide since I was a boy. What had it been like for my father? I can’t imagine.
She called me Sunday August 9 to tell me she had decided to end her life. I was house-sitting for a friend. She would not say when. We talked for a short while; inside my body my organs were disintegrating. I asked if I could call her back. She said yes. I asked if I could come see her. She said no.
I gathered my thoughts, located the number of her minister, a remarkable woman named Laurie Ferguson, and her therapist, Fred Drobin, a not-so-remarkable man (I would later learn) whose cowardice would get the better of him. I called both left them messages telling them my mother was talking about suicide again.
I called my mother back and we talked for seventeen minutes. She told me she would was planning on seeing Fred Drobin that Monday, my “little man” she called him, and she would be seeing Laurie Ferguson on Wednesday, the 12th. I thought she was saying goodbye to people and thought we had a few days to work out an intervention. I was wrong.
Fred Drobin called me at home Monday night. “Your mother came to see me today, Peter, and told me she wanted to commit suicide. What do you think we should do?”
I was stunned, here he was, a therapist, and he was asking me what we should do. I asked if he didn’t think we should maybe sign her into a hospital to get her some treatment and he said he wasn’t sure. Then I said something I will, for the rest of my life, wish I could take back. “Well, she’ll be seeing Laurie on Wednesday and maybe Laurie will have some ideas.” He agreed.
My mother’s meeting with Laurie Ferguson Wednesday was not what I thought it would be. I was alone in a newspaper office around noon that day when I got a call from Detective Ray Liberati from the Orangetown Police Department in Pearl River, New York. Ray was a good friend of mine for many years and he knew my mother. I said, “It’s good to hear from you, Ray. My Mom’s been talking about ending her life and it’s like we’re all sitting around waiting for it to happen.” There was a pause, and then Ray said, “It did, Peter. I just left the house. I heard the call and hauled ass over there. No one called you?”
My mother had asked Laurie Ferguson to meet her at her house that Wednesday. Not to talk, but to find her body, which is exactly what happened. Laurie, suspecting something was up, brought two family members. They found my mother dead in her bed. In front of her was a bulletin board with family pictures so my mother could look at them as she died. I doubt her view was what she had hoped for. She was found in her own vomit and died from a pulmonary edema. In other words, she drowned in her own body fluids. She used a mix of pills and booze.
Days later, I sat down with Laurie Ferguson and we talked about all that happened. If there is a God, he was having a great day when he created Laurie. Not so Fred Drobin. I left him several messages and waited. Finally, two or three days after the suicide, he called me at home one evening.
“I just wanted to talk about what happened, Fred. I keep thinking there was something we could have done.”
“You need to move on, Peter. I really can’t help you. I have to go, my dinner’s getting cold.” And he hung up. Had he been in the same room with me at that moment I would have put him through the wall. He did not come to her memorial service. Like I said: cowardice.
The only remedy I know for dealing with the suicide of a loved one is acceptance. And let me warn you, watch out for judgment. It will poison you and poison the memory of your loved one. Remember, your loved one was and is more than their suicide. Don’t let the memory of their ending stop you from remembering their all.
Yeah, you may have those dusty stones too. But remember, they live in stillness, they’re not coming at you.
Last thought, tell people that you love that you love them. I don’t think there is any such thing as saying I love you too many times.