My mother died when I was eight years old. I am fifty-two now. I don’t think that you ever get OVER losing a parent, but you do get THROUGH it.
Even at such an early age I have very fond memories of her. All during the month of May wild pink roses bloom on the hillsides and forest edges of West Georgia. Their roots run deeply into the red clay. When myself and my two sisters were very small, we would gather bunches of these delicate flowers and pick the thorns off so that our mother would not prick herself .
My own children did the same for me, bringing in bunch after bunch throughout the whole month of May so that every corner of the home was decorated with fluffy pink ruffles of sweet fragrance. With the thorns so tenderly removed, the roses took on an even more loving character. There was something special about them that they thought to remove the thorns without being asked.
My mother was a romantic, a ballerina, a writer, and a dance instructor. She was a very sharp dresser and took care that she was always presentable. She was such a perfectionist that she would repaint all of her nails if one nail showed any flaw. Her clothes were always color coordinated, and her matching accessories were carefully selected. She sang like a lark as she worked around the house and she sang in the Church, a soprano. To hear her, you would have thought she was the happiest person in the world. She read stories to us three girls every single night, regardless of how tired she might have been. She corrected our manners and our grammar with gentleness and firmness. She made us delicious meals, and kept our home clean and tidy.
After her divorce from my father when I was seven years old, her mood changed. My mother and us three girls moved to the city of Atlanta from our small town home in LaGrange. She continued to dance and to sing, and with her witty humor started a comic line complete with hand drawn illustrations. She was convinced that she was going to be famous someday. The Church pastor told her that she was going to go to hell for divorcing my father. She had cursed his unborn child by his second wife and felt independently responsible for the condition of my father’s only son who died the day after it was born with multiple birth defects. My father was an upper middle class highly functioning drunk who had beat her and trashed the house almost daily when they were together, but still she loved him. For financial reasons, we moved back into the home of my Grandma. Mama had started secretarial school, and rented a house that we were to move into the next week. We were all excited. We thought.
There are things about the night of her death that I wish not to remember but cannot forget. Etched into the mind of an eight year old. Twenty six years old, laying naked on my grandma’s bed, with IV solutions running into arms, stretched out in crucifixion pose, from bottles suspended on a coat hanger from the curtain rods. Pill bottles scattered on the bedside table. Thick, black syrup of Ipecac oozing over her lips. The foul smell of feces, from enemas, filling bedpans on the floor. While the country doctor husband and wife team worked frantically to save her life. February cold. The ambulance reflecting the red light of this emergency off the white walls of the house as the stretcher carried her out. Little girls, we three, gone to stay with an aunt for the night. No sleep. Fear! Wondering when she would come and get us. Uncle crouched down by the gas heater in the morning. “Your mother has passed away.” What does that mean? My year older sister went screaming to lock herself into the bathroom. Three year old younger sister never conscious of the agony in that moment. A memory that she will never have, thank God. Yes, this is what it was really like. This is what followed me along with the lilting sound of her voice and the stories she told, as she tidied the house and put us to bed. The comic strip had its last illustration, albeit a sad and frightening one. Do you seriously regret the loss of the memories? Never regret. If you cannot remember, be glad. Do you feel denied the memories? Count your blessings. Do you really think it was easier growing up with SOMETHING to remember? I would have rather been three. I would have rather never known that sorrow, those memories. Try to remember the roses.
In the South, there was a Mother’s Day tradition in Church of wearing a white rose corsage if your mother was deceased, and a red rose corsage if your mother was living. I hated that tradition. I felt marked as one of few children who were forced to wear the white rose. It was an act of old women, in my eyes, not children. I insisted on wearing the blend of white and red in a pink corsage. A large part of her dead, a small hint vaguely alive. Slivers of memory.
As a nurse and a human being, I have always had empathy for the pain of the suicidal, but there is one thing that I do know without a doubt, and that is that the act of
Suicide is the Epitome of Selfishness.
Perspective of a survivor, not a victim.