In 2009, just a few months before my 18th birthday, and what would have been her 49th birthday, I lost my mother to suicide. She had struggled with alcoholism and mental illness since before I was born, and then in the summer of 2008 she nearly died when her kidneys failed and the doctors put her in a medically induced coma. Amazingly, she ended up living through that and during her time in the hospital, she was clean and doing better mentally and emotionally than she had been in a very long time. Unfortunately, at some point while she was recovering in the hospital, she contracted a virus or had a bad reaction to some medication which resulted in her having both legs and arms amputated due to gangrene. When she returned home, she was without the supports she had in the hospital, and did not know how to cope with her new circumstances on top of the already existing mental illness and addiction. She returned to drinking and when I went to see her, not long after she had returned home, she was in a worse state than I had ever seen her. I tried to be helpful and supportive, but in the state she was in, she was going through severe mood swings and dealing with intense delusions, which caused her to lash out at me one minute, and the next, cry and say that nobody loved her and that she wanted to die. Because she had been saying things like this to me my whole life, I did what I usually did and begged her not to say things like that and told her how much it would hurt us all if she died. I cried with her and hugged her and told her I loved her but she kept saying it. At the time, I had no knowledge at all about suicide awareness or mental illness and did not know what else to do, so I made arrangements to leave the next day because it was hurting me too much to be there anymore. I told her that night that I was leaving the next day, but that I loved her and wanted her to "hang on" and get better because I wanted to come visit again but I could not continue to see her like that because it hurt me too much. She cried and begged me to stay, saying that if I left she would kill herself, but I just kept telling her I couldn't stay but that I loved her and wanted her to get better. The night of the day I had left, she called me and got upset at me because I had forgotten to call her right when my plane landed. I apologized and listened as she continued to tell me that I hated her, and so did everyone else. I reassured her that I did not hate her, and that we all loved her. At the end of the call, she finally seemed to calm down and when saying goodbye she said, "I love you so much pumpkin, and I'm so sorry for everything." I told her I loved her too, that it was okay, and I would talk to her soon. The next night she was gone, and I found out the following morning. My then 7-year-old baby brother was the one who found her on the couch, and thinking she was asleep, had tried unsuccessfully to wake her up.
For years after, I blamed myself. I thought I was the very reason she did it. I told myself that I had killed my own mother because I was too weak to stay for her. My counselors, my pastors, and everyone else told me it wasn't my fault, and while I know they are right, I still can't help but feel guilty. I wish I had all the knowledge about mental illness and suicide awareness that I have now. I wish the others around her knew better than I did, but they didn't. I wish that I had listened. I wish she knew how much we all loved her. I wish I made it more obvious. More than anything, I wish she was still here. It still hurts all the time; our birthday that we shared is always bitter-sweet now, and mother's day is particularly painful. However, I continue to get through by remembering who she was underneath her mental illness. She was a beautiful, kind, talented, funny woman and she loved her kids more than anything, even though she was unable to properly care for us the way she would have liked to. I look back at the sweet memories I have of her, when she dressed me up and did my hair and took me to school on my first day of kindergarten, and when she used love to take me to the candy store and the park when I would visit her.
Losing my mother to suicide has driven me to learn all I can about mental illness and addictions, and having learned about suicide awareness, I have promised myself that I will do everything in my power to keep others from losing their loved ones the same way. For those around me that may be struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideation, I promise to be there, I promise to listen, and I promise to take action, EVEN if you tell me not to! For those who have lost loved ones to suicide, I hear your pain, your guilt, your anger, and all the other feelings that come with it, and its okay to feel that way. It will always hurt, but it will eventually start to hurt less often. Use that pain to help others who are in pain! You are not alone in it. To EVERYONE, chances are, you will encounter someone who is struggling. Reach out, listen to them, and take action. If you don't know what to do, ask someone who does or get help; better yet, take initiative and learn: take a mental health first aid course, or attend a lesson about suicide awareness. Prepare yourself, it might just save a life.