Writing My Mother’s Suicide

Writing about my mother’s suicide in the memoir is, as you might imagine, a deeply emotional task. I can’t say it’s an unwanted to task because at least when I write the sentences I have some control over their content, and suicide, if you’ve had the misfortune to encounter it in life, is a remarkable and merciless reminder that we control very little. Even with our best efforts, we can’t stop someone from ending their life if that is what they want to do.

My mother commited suicide with a well-researched mix of drugs and alcohol on August 12, 1992. I will say nothing more about that in this essay for it is not the salient point of the essay. The salient point is this; my mother, Virginia Kahrmann, was a complete human being who does not deserve to be defined by that admittedly singular moment. Nor does she deserve to be defined by some of her rather harsh and emotionally brutal treatment of me when I grew up. Very few of us, if any, are all one thing. We are amalgams of life experience. My mother was no exception.

Her suicide was the culmination of a life that, for a variety of reasons, some I know, some I don’t, robbed her of her ability to love herself and thus her ability to believe anyone loved her. How do I know this to be true? She told me.

I once told her that her death (no matter how it came about) would be one of the biggest blows I would ever endure in life. She was completely and utterly baffled by this. “Really, Peter? Why?” I was speechless, a rare state for me.

As cruel as she could be to me at times – days after my father died when I was 15 she told me if I hadn’t been such a bastard he might have had enough strength to live – she inflicted far more damage on herself.

Yet, she was far more than the aforementioned. She was brilliant and the best conversationalist I’ve ever known. In the last 10 years of her life we became very close. I’d go to visit her in her Pearl River, New York home mid-morning, and we would talk straight through into the evening, our talks being accompanied by coffee, crackers and cheese, and going out to dinner.

We conferred regularly as we both threw all we had into fighting for the Brady Bill – a bill requiring states to have a waiting period to purchase a handgun until they had an instant check system in place – or when we fought against the death penalty, or the rights of immigrants. She countless volunteer hours to the GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) a group she referred to as the best run non-profit in the country, and worked tirelessly to help refugees from Laos find homes.

Her demons killed her love for herself and ultimately guided her into ending her own life. I am asking, hoping, that readers will not allow those demons to blind them to the beautiful person she in so many ways was, and in my heart, still is. If they do, then the demons win again, and winning again is the last thing they deserve.
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