My heart is always tender and fragile this time of year, and this year is no exception. I find myself a little extra sensitive and sad, and even a little kinder. Today is the date that marks 12 years since my mom died, 12 years since mental illness robbed our family of our mother, wife, sister, grandmother, and friend.
The trauma of such loss can be so strange sometimes. In the last few years, the lead up to the anniversary is harder than the actual day, but always, the anniversary looms for me- the weather and the holiday, the smell and sound of the fireworks- seem to deliver up to my mind painful memories in waves, until I find myself making a conscious effort not to relive the shock of it all.
At 25, after I called to tell my stepfather that his wife had died, a heavy fog of pain and confusion began to settle in and would follow me for weeks and months later. That first afternoon and night are still a bit of a blur to me, but I remember that by the time the 4th came that next day, it felt like I had already lived an eternity without her. While the fireworks burst, I held my little baby and sobbed and sobbed through my second, long, sleepless night. In the next few days, I wrote an obituary, made arrangements with a funeral home for my mother’s body, and prepared her funeral services.
What I didn’t know then was that none of those horrible tasks would compare to life without her. When there was nothing left to do, no arrangements left to be made, simply rising each morning to a new day felt overwhelming. I thought I might come undone. And then every milestone that first year confirmed the void in our lives- new babies, birthdays, Christmas- nothing was right without her.
Yes, healing came, and yes, we strive to remember the best that she gave us, the bright and giving woman that was our blessing to know. And most days, I live a rich and full and happy life, firm in the conviction that she sees us and is with us in a way. But some days, this day, there is no measuring all that mental illness stole from us- the games we could have played and the holidays we would have spent, and the grand babies we would have laid in her arms. Depression and suicide are a terrible thieves.