Rest In Peace Mom
Tomorrow my brother and I will meet in Florida to clean out our mom’s apartment. She died Sometime between Sunday night and Monday Morning in her home, at the age of 64, alone, exhausted and utterly broken. She left a note that I’ve chosen not to read for the time being. The toxicology report won’t be back for months but I already know that she died from the disease of mental illness. It is an insidious and potentially fatal disease that is still under researched, under recognized and undertreated.
I feel fortunate, despite my long history of fighting alongside her, to be sitting here remembering beautiful sweet moments and wishing we’d focused on and talked about those more. Perhaps I knew they were mine to cherish, to nurture and take care of. Maybe knowing the memories of my life with my mother could quickly morph into something sinister and be used to hurt me, I protected them until now when I will need them most. Unpredictability was a predictable pattern I lived throughout my life with my mother. But she was my mom, and I loved her.
Sewing at the dining room table, comforting smells in the kitchen, great music dancing on the arms of a Florida breeze swirling through the house, laughter and affection. She wasn’t the monster she once accused me of believing she was, she was sick and the very thing that she wanted most in life, deep meaningful connections and unconditional love, is the one thing her demons would not allow her to accept, like really take in, in ways that could have collaboratively created a revised narrative of her perceptions…of herself, of others, of the world…No matter how I said it or tried to show it and genuinely felt it, unconditional love wasn’t a gift she could accept, even from her children.
It hurts as a small child to know that “the mother” is hugely dependent on “the child” to meet their emotional needs. I had a graduate school professor that described this type of dynamic as “emotional incest”. I remember feeling I had just been punched in the gut from the realization. More devastating though was the horrifying discovery, after decades of trying to meet her needs that the depth and breadth of them was infinite and more than another human being could fill.
The capacity to be authentic must exist as must the willingness to share those places with others. These are the very things that create relational connections. My mother rarely let her guard down. Vulnerability was too painful. She was characteristically not capable and went through life suffering the consequences feeling unloved, misunderstood and unsafe, always feeling deeply desperate to fill the vast empty space inside. Emptiness consumed her…life became all about her and her needs and she couldn’t see that pushing others away moved her further from the very thing that could have saved her and the love and acceptance she most desired.
My brother and I know more than anyone the extent to which our mom was haunted by mental illness. That type of battle doesn’t happen without collateral damage; in our case originating generations ago and morphing slowly as it plays itself out over generations, the legacy of trauma. Growing up with a mentally ill mother catches you on both sides of the nature versus nurture coin. Nature, challenging me to go against all the defenses put into place to guard and protect myself, some even before I had language. Pushing me to ask for what I need and to tolerate the discomfort of “the V word.” I always liked talking about the “V word” running adolescent counseling groups; helping kids to choose vulnerability or in turn risk the potential consequences. I knew early in life, in a deep painful way, that I wanted to (in my eighth grade language) help people not have to feel how I felt. The field of counseling was a no brainer given my temperament and aptitude. I am blessed every day I get to do my job because I view the educational journey I took to get to my career as my contribution to lessening the collateral damage for the next generation.
I care about this issue because it has been my story. I’ve seen and experienced the damage first hand. I saw my mom fight and claw her entire life even when she was exhausted, even when there was no one and nothing to fight, at least from what we could see. Eventually I realized the fight was inside. It wasn’t about us. I know how tired she was, how disconnected, scared and tortured she was. Perhaps her biggest gift to me is to truly make me a survivor. I hope she has found the peace she has been so desperately seeking. I love you mom. I’m sorry you suffered. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more. I’m sorry no one could have saved you. I’m sorry you weren’t able to save yourself.
Mental health is everything. It is entwined into everything we do, think and believe. Without it and in its poorest form quality of life and over all life expectancy are significantly decreased. It is a cat and mouse routine where no one wins and everyone hurts and no pill can fix it. Intervention needs to happen early and we need to make services readily available for everyone in ways that don’t feel like another exhausting obstacle to climb. It is too easy to give up because for some the pain is that bad and the desperation that scary. There is no shame in psychological pain. It is important to pay attention to it and do your best to ask for what you need from those who can best provide it.
Reach out; talk even when you don’t feel like talking, seek professional help. We all have mental health.
If you are worried about yourself or someone you love please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-237-TALK (8255)
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7 thoughts on “Rest In Peace Mom”
JANEE, I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother in every sense of the word. You have done an amazing job with your life and she loved you the best she could. You have eloquently put in to words a wonderful legacy of the fight for mental health advovacy. Your resilience is astounding. Thank you for sharing this. Tiffany M Kirkpatrick
Thanks for sharing this story, beautifully written. I lost my friend/partner to a severe bi-polar depression nearly 3 years ago. Although every situation is different; so much of the author’s experiences and reactions really resonated with me. Near the end of my friend’s life, we both had a kind of epiphany when he was describing the intense pressure he felt to “appear normal” for the sake of other people’s comfort zone – all while he was melting with depression inside. Men in particular feel this pressure to “man up.” As a Black woman, I realized this was akin to the pressure that black people often feel to “minimize” racially based daily interactions, in order to protect the comfort zone of the mainstream majority. It was surreal that we both gained deep insight into each other’s lives and the human condition that day. Expecting people who are clinically depressed to just “think happy thoughts,” is tantamount to expecting black folks to ignore the racism that impacts our daily lives. We have to remove the negative stigma attached to mental illness – and not judge -period.
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Janene, thank you for sharing your heart. This is so vulnerable and raw. I was touched. As a child of a bipolar mom I can so relate. Thankfully, my mom has gotten, and continues to get help as best she can. Heartfelt condolences to you. May your mom be at peace. Thank you for being there!! xoxo
Janee, my prayers are with you and your brother at this difficult time. The legacy you have given your mom and the truth you have brought to the mental health issues are so well written, I wish the world could read and hear. Thank you for all you have given to me and to the Y. My thoughts will be with you. Janet
That was beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss and the pain that goes along with such a sudden heart breaking sufferance. Thank you for sharing. I am certain that this will help save others lives. Blessings of comfort.
May God bless you, your brother, and the rest of your family. May he comfort you and give you strength at this difficult time. I lost my only child, my daughter, Aris, to suicide in 2013. She too had mental health issues. Even though I hurt and miss her daily, I am comforted by the fact that she no longer has the intense pain she felt the last couple years of her life. Another takeaway from this experience is that not only are you a survivor of your childhood and your mother’s death, a new you is awaiting to finally emerge. You will change. Embrace your new life. Sharing your story has touched me and will help others.
Janee, I’ll be remembering you in my prayers. My condolences to you and your family. Loss is a very difficult thing, and I hope you don’t ever feel alone as you trudge through this portion of your journey. Thank you for sharing.