Here it is – January 15. Thirty-three years to the day my mother died by suicide.
While I do not light a candle on for her following Jewish tradition on the Hebrew calendar anniversary, I have always lit one on the evening of the 14th, said the traditional prayer that I Google each year, and “talk” to her for a few minutes. Many people eventually develop rituals around milestone dates for the deceased. Other than what I have mentioned I have never settled on one.
A few weeks after she died there was a memorial service for her in Galveston, TX where I spent we spent my teenage years. My sister and I were not brought in to attend, but each received a cassette tape of the service thanks to my mother’s friend, Ellen Levin. For a number of years I would listen to the hour-or-so long tape on my walkman and cry as I listened to the Rabbi Alan Greenbaum and Dr. Bill Daeschner, Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch where she was a social worker, speak about her. I felt pride in who she was and cried my eyes out that she was gone. I also wrote her letters expressing disappointment in myself, lamenting how lost I felt and how much I was struggling to get myself together or feel good about anything. After a few years I reread the letters and found them depressing. So I stopped.
That was also a time I was getting busy with life. My mid-twenties were fun. I worked at MTV (when they played music). I lived in NY. I complained, I’m sure, but really had no complaints. I was free and felt like I was “going somewhere.” I do remember once or twice during that time telling my mom in our yearly “talk” that I thought she would be proud of me around then but it didn’t last.
I’ve been to her grave when I’ve been in Minneapolis for work or play. It honestly doesn’t make me feel closer to her and I felt self-conscious trying to speak out loud there. I connect more when speaking to a familiar picture.
Even with all the time that has passed, I am highly conscious of the date but the deep drop in my stomach and clench in my chest I used to feel when it came up is more like a light stomach leap now. Since I asked my family to speak to me about mom’s death about a year and a half ago, she has become more alive in my mind – a 3-D image with much more of a life, and many more good memories, than were part of the concise narrative about her that I created to “explain” her suicide.
This time of year affects my general mood, but it no longer shuts me down – especially now that I am finding my own way down the path I’m confident I would have ended up on so long ago had she been there to guide me – a career focused on helping others through action. The values, ideals, and passion that my mother instilled in me have awakened and the story she left me with is ready to tell. I think she would appreciate my current path, be thrilled that I’ve found purpose, and smile a slight “I told you so” smile to herself (but never say it to me.) I love you mom, I thank you, and will give you every reason I can to be proud.
I am using this date to unveil the Donor Memorial Page on my website listing those who are adding their voices to rid the world of the stigma and shame of suicide and honor those lost by helping The Silent Goldens become a reality.