The pain is not less

My tear ducts have been to the gym. 

Let me explain. I am 65 and in the process of taking things out of storage. I’m going through boxes and large (sometimes clear, sometimes not) garbage bags. The bags are filled with soft items that mostly turn out to be curtains, fleece blankets, stuffed animals, clothes. Old t-shirts of mine that when held out full, look shockingly small. 

I’m clearly not half the man I used to be.

And then I emptied the contents of a pale cotton bag, maybe a pillow case and a half in size. Out fell a dozen or so neatly folded washcloths,  colors faded, pinks, yellows. Two hand towels. 

I couldn’t place them. 

And then, the coin dropped. They were my mother’s. She committed suicide August 12, 1992. Today is January 17, 2019. No, the pain is not less.

My tear ducts have been to the gym.

Where are you?!

Where are you?

On this, the twenty-third anniversary of the day you committed suicide, I ask, where are you?

You are missed by many (me!) beyond words, beyond the reach of creativity, beyond the reach of thought and emotion. It is your being, you, that we miss. You were and are loved, more than you knew, because, as you said, you did not believe anyone loved you. You were as mistaken and as flatly wrong in that believe as those who believed, with every honorable fiber of their being, that the world was flat.

I have slept a great deal today. When awake I find myself remembering the day you left this world, and I am immobilized. I remember being on the phone with someone and hearing my poor sister – your daughter! – in the background, wailing in agony. My little sister shattered. I could not rescue her.  And, God forgive me, I could not rescue you.

In our hours and hours of magical conversation those last ten years I told you once that the day you died would be one of the biggest blows of my life. You were utterly baffled. “Why?” you asked.  And in that moment I knew that you really didn’t understand, believe, how much I loved you and how much my sister and her children and my daughter loved you. How much your brother’s wife and children loved you. How much so many people loved you. Love for you was a foreign language you’d never learned. It was, I believe, your undoing.

Your son and daughter are doing better than anyone expected. You would be deeply proud of your daughter. I am. And we both know you loved us. And while I can’t speak for my sister, I think it safe to say we both wished you’d been able to not just believe, but fully know, that no son and daughter ever loved their mother more than we loved you – and still love you.

I miss you, Mommy.

Where are you?

Today My Mother’s Birthday

Today would have been my mother Virginia’s 88th birthday; she was born July 7, 1924.

My mother died August 12, 1992. She committed suicide. After her death people who’d known her since I was a baby told me she’d been talking about suicide since the 1960s. Well after I reached adulthood and after a nearly 10-year gap in our relationship, she talked about it to me too, referencing a condition called restless legs syndrome as her primary reason for considering the option.

We agreed that ending one’s life is a choice each person has the right to make. Then and now, however, I voiced the belief that suicide was like many of life’s choices. The choice could be made for healthy or unhealthy reasons. If someone is terminally ill and chooses to end their lives peacefully rather than run out the clock by availing themselves of every damned piece of medical technology and pharmaceutical option out there, I support them.

This was not the case with my mother. She was not terminally ill. She was, I now believe, deeply depressed.

My mother did not believe anyone loved her. She was wrong in this, many did, not least of all me. Nevertheless, she believed no one loved her and, as inaccurate as her belief was, it was hard-wired into her thinking and feeling and, in the end, it led her to end her life with a hefty mix of alcohol and codeine. Moments after her graveside service came to an end  my legs buckled under me so severely I would have collapsed to the ground had my wife and someone else not caught me in time; such is the power of pulverizing heartbreak and agonizing emotional pain.

Not long after her death I realized I too was trying to die by consuming enormous amounts of alcohol and pot while at the same time taking prescription medications intended to help me manage the brain damage I’d sustained when I was held up and shot in the head in 1984, an event that left the bullet lodged in the frontal lobe of my brain. That I am alive to write these words to you, my reader, is nothing short of a miracle. Consider the fact that at the end of my drinking I was consuming 12 to 14 gin and tonics (in tall glasses) every night, smoking pot all the time, taking meds, and doing two to three nebulizer treatments daily to keep my lungs open so I could keep smoking pot.

This July 12, five days from now, I will be sober 10 years. I do not think it happenstance that my sober date is so close to her birthday.

My mother was my friend. I’d go to see her, usually arriving midday and we would talk all day long. Sometimes we’d go out to dinner, but always our time together was spent in conversation. They were the best conversations of my life. I miss her terribly, well beyond the reach of words.

According to my mother’s minister, a truly remarkable woman named Laurie Ferguson, I was my mother’s lifeline and had I’d not been part of her life she would have ended it a lot sooner. I wish I’d been a stronger lifeline.

Writing About My Mother’s Suicide

Every honest writer knows words can take you to some painful places. For me, none more so than writing about my mother’s 1992 suicide. I am, I think, about four months away from finishing the memoir and am now writing about her suicide. There is a piece in this blog called Goodbye Mother Sunday which talks about it.

No matter how much time has passed, this August 12th will mark 19 years, the soul-tearing pain and heartbreak never goes away. There are certain events in life that are so big they freeze me in place, one giant ache. This morning, writing, a conversation with her letting me know the time to end her life was coming, my head bowed down and, although I live alone, I got up and closed the door to my writing room, not entirely clear, then or now, exactly why I’d closed it Protecting myself, I suppose, though from what I don’t know.

What I do know is that she is gone, and that, I will never get over. Despite our rocky time when I was growing up, a time that culminated into my being disowned three months after my father died when I was 15,  resulting in a nearly 10-year estrangement, we reconnected not long after the birth of my daughter in 1977 and, in the last 10 years of her life, became very close friends. In fact, when it came to advocacy of all kinds we were each others number one adviser. We both worked hard for the Brady Bill and rejoiced when it became law. She helped Laotian refugees find homes and volunteered at the GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and we both fought against the death penalty.

My mother cared deeply about many things, but not herself. In the end, I learned, she did not believe anyone loved her. She was so wrong. I loved her and my sister loved her and her grandchildren loved her; many people loved her. But sometimes our personal histories gain so much power, they destroy our ability to see ourselves clearly. It cost my mother her life.

I will finish writing about her, her suicide, and I will finish the memoir and then, I will keep living. I know that’s what she would have wanted me to do. I know it’s what I wanted her to do.