Today, she would have turned 56 years old. Instead, she chose suicide.
It all started back in 1985. I was seven. She was thirty. She had a psychotic episode and was admitted to the hospital for twelve weeks. When she was "better," she got to come home. For the next twenty years, mental illness- specifically bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder consumed her. She attempted suicide many times.
When she was 49, she became sicker. She got lost easily. She was confused, her thoughts disorganized, and she became unable to care for herself. I was the mother of a four-month old and a six-year old, the primary caregiver for my mother, as well as an RN on a busy med-surg floor. She went to appointment after appointment with no easy diagnosis. And then, it was Alzheimer's. At 49.
I was able to switch to labor and delivery (my dream job) and she became sicker. She had been giddy about Christmas in 2006. She had written out a list, similar to the way my now seven-year old had. She told me at noon on December 18, a week before Christmas, that she was going to kill herself; not to bother buying her anything. At 2PM, I took her to her psychologist, explaining that my mother was threatening to kill herself again. They evaluated her, she admitted suicidal intent, and contrary to state law, she was sent home. They promised to send someone to the house to help the next day.
Tuesday came and went - no home worker. At 6PM, I had to leave for work. I didn't know it would be the last time I'd see her alive.
Wednesday morning, I arrived home from work at 8:15. I was locked out, so I called her cell, just like I always did. After four calls, I got a bad feeling. I knocked on the door for five minutes - no answer. We lived in an apartment, so I walked around the building, and broke in through the window of her bedroom. She wasn't in her bed. I knew something was wrong.
I continued to walk through the apartment. When I got to the dining room, I stopped in my tracks.
There she was.
At first, I thought she'd passed out. Until I saw her hands - I'd seen those hands before. I'd seen those hands on the sickest of the med-surg patients who didn't survive. The ones who laid still, becoming cold as ice, waiting for mourning family members. They were dead hands - purple and mottled. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the letter, but didn't dare pick it up. I was horrified.
This was not happening.
I went to the bathroom. Called 911. Told them what had happened. It must have hit me somewhat at that point, because I ran out of the apartment like she was going to chase me.
I screamed. And screamed: No. No. NOOOOOO! Why? Why couldn't she love herself as much as I did? Why?
I was still on the phone with 911. I heard sirens. Distant. And then they were there. All for a dead woman. I watched from the frozen Indiana ground as the police, firemen, detectives, rescue squad, and finally, the coroner paraded into the apartment where my mom lay dead. The lights from my Christmas tree reflected off the officers' badges. There was something so incredibly wrong about it all.
I called my brother in NC. Through tears, I told him she was gone. He wasn't surprised. For twenty years, she'd threatened, attempted, and contemplated, and now, completed suicide. Two days before Christmas, I was oblivious to the hustle and bustle of last-minute Christmas shoppers. I found solace and comfort in a cocktail of Cuervo and anxiety medication. My brothers and I went to the funeral home where my mom was lying in the basement, her blood slowly replaced with formaldehyde. They picked out her casket as I stared into space.
Christmas Eve, I went to the police station to pick up her suicide letter. The detective begged me not to. I wish I hadn't. She blamed me for everything. Called me a selfish bitch and wrote that anything bad that happened in my family was my fault. This was all my fault.
Christmas morning, I waited until the kids opened their gifts, sent them off with family, and spent the day alone, crying, lying on the couch - my head nestled where, five days earlier, I had found her lifeless. The next day, I went to the funeral home. I had requested to dress her for the funeral.
She was going to be in that box for the rest of eternity, so I made her comfortable. Denim capris and a Jeff Gordon hoodie. She always had her nails painted a deep red, so that day, I took her hands, no longer purple, but now a flesh tone, and painted each nail a beautiful crimson color. I talked to her. I apologized to her. Told her I loved her. I'm so sorry, Mama. Yelled at her, cursed at her. How could you? Why?
She never answered.
The next day, the woman that nobody loved had hundreds of people waiting at the church just to express their condolences and say their final goodbyes. Yeah. No friends at all. I took turns standing at her casket, greeting people. Music played quietly. Music I picked out. When I wasn't at her casket, I was outside chain-smoking Marlboro Reds.
That night, I drank until it didn't hurt anymore. I woke early, dreading the drive to the church. My pastor gave the eulogy, and then we drove out to the cemetery. We put her body in the ground. Sadly, that spot is 500 miles away, and even before I lived that far away, I only visited twice. Her grave is marked only by a concrete angel meant to adorn a garden.
Nearly five years later, the pain hasn't gone away. Or faded. A lot of it has turned into anger. I no longer miss her. I had to wall off that part of my life, because living with that pain was the equivalent of living with a stake in the side of my head. Yeah, it fucking hurt. My brothers still blame me. I still blame myself. And to think that a doctor gave my mom her weapon. 86 mg of anxiety medication, 5 bottles of codeine cough syrup, and 5 Miller Lites. And then she was gone.
P.S. I wrote this September 10th, 2011. And breathed a sigh of relief.