My childhood was replete with moments where my mother lamented the fact that she was still alive. Hers was a life packed with significant pain early on, and by the time she left this world at the still-young age of fifty-seven, she was all but bursting at the seams with sorrow. She never tried to kill herself that I know of, at least not when I was alive or conscious of any such attempt. She did not threaten suicide specifically, but often leveled warnings at us of how much we would miss her fussing and nagging when she no longer around.
You’ll miss me when I’m dead and gone, she would say, matter-of-fact. You’ll wish there was someone irritating you with their worry for you. Usually these admonitions came in response to my heavy sigh or a curt reminder that she did not have to call eight times for me to know she was looking for me.
Because her own father had abruptly ended his life with a double-barrel shotgun in the mouth, she knew the precise agony associated with losing someone – particularly a parent – to suicide. While she spent much of her own adult life being so weary and so frail that she just could not fathom being alive any longer, she could not bring herself to bestow upon her children the same tragedy that had befallen she and her sisters. Ultimately, I am thankful for that.
The loss of suicide is a deep ache with which I am intimately familiar. When I was twenty-three, I became immersed in a whirlwind romance with a man I quickly became certain I would marry. We were so young. And though we didn’t know it at the time, we were also both so broken, so unequipped to battle the monsters that loomed much larger than us, the monsters that would eventually drag him away.
Depression has been described by innumerable writers, lyricists, artists, everyday people. It is a subjective and complex beast, a highly dangerous opponent to even the most skilled of us lowly humans. Suicide is typically inextricable from depression, and usually the person who chooses to take their own life is deep in a pit where they cannot see the sunlight of possibilities in their own existence.
Some believe that it is selfish to take one’s own life. This is a way for reeling, frightened humans to understand something that is incomprehensible. We must categorize and define everything, especially the harrowing and the tragic. If we do not paint it with some sort of meaning, and imbue it with characteristics that safely distance us from it, then we or our loved ones may be subject to a similar fate.
My jaw clenched and my eyes narrowed each time some well-meaning person would spew about the selfishness of suicide in the wake of Jason’s death. While these people were sometimes attempting to make me feel better – how selfish of him, this isn’t your fault – in large part it called into question the character of these people in my eyes. What kind of person reduces the enormous and nuanced pain of someone who was so distraught that they felt they had no option but to snuff out their very existence to a flat and imbecilic platitude?
The thing is, my mother struggled at times – often, in fact – with the desire to end her own life. She was so tired of living, so enervated by the constant onslaught of crushing circumstances that she fantasized about what it would be like to simply rest. And that was what death seemed like to her: a quiet, peaceful place where she would be free from the agony of a life that had offered her no shortage of heartache since before she was sentient. She often talked about death with a reverence and longing that was too complex for the mind of a small child to grasp. But I was not very old when my own depression set in, and as I compose this at thirty years old, I have total clarity about my mother’s lustful eye toward the cessation of her own life.
Today would have been my mother’s birthday. She would have been fifty-eight. I imagine this is the most peaceful birthday she’s ever had, wherever she may be.