By Eleanor Cowan
The generous invitation to a “Survivors of Suicide Loss Retreat,” a day of comfort for those left behind, could so easily have been ignored by me. After all, it’s been 46 years since my depressed mother climbed over the railing of her high-rise balcony in Toronto.
I’ve done a great deal of recovery work since then. I researched the negative domino effect of Mum’s life: abused by her alcoholic father, unprotected by her co-dependent mother, denied the privilege of marrying the man she loved because he wasn’t Irish, followed by her hasty marriage to an unhappy religious man, who was a widower – and Irish.
“Why did you marry a man you didn’t love, Mom?” I asked her one day in my teens.
“Because,” she wept, “I was already 24 years old.”
My parents brought into the world 12 children neither wanted.
“Why did you have so many children if you don’t like kids, Mom?” I asked her in my early twenties. “God’s will,” she replied. “My role as a woman was to bear more souls for God.”
After my Dad’s early death of exhaustion and heart disease, my mother met someone who claimed to love her, but once Dad’s inheritance money disappeared, so did he. He began to find fault with my high school grad mother, and soon fell for a more educated widow with much deeper pockets.
My mother fell to her death.
Last week, the welcoming volunteers at the reception desk for the free event, sponsored by Calgary’s Canadian Mental Health Association, gave me a little red heart for my name tag, the color designated for those who’d lost a parent. I sat at a table where weeping mothers and red-eyed fathers wore green hearts signifying the suicide loss of a child. Three others wore yellow hearts for the siblings who ended their own lives. The Palace Theatre was packed, two boxes of Kleenex sat on each table, and the love and support of our volunteer hosts and counselors was heartwarming.
At the podium, a grieving mother shared about sudden suicide of her happy-go-lucky daughter who seemed “perfectly fine” the night she chose to die. Her mom said that the more serious the intention, the fewer the clues. Another talked about the suicide of his wife who also gave no indication of her desperate unhappiness the evening she kissed him goodnight before swallowing the pills that ended her life. I felt for everyone. While the sincere sharing moved me, I didn’t feel personal grief. I wondered, as I often have, how emotionally disconnected I am.
Then came a talk about the sudden death of a parent that catapulted a woman into a hasty marriage with a horrible user who sniffed her fresh vulnerability and zeroed in for the kill.
Nadia said she went from the frying pan to the fire. Within a year of the death of her Mom, she married a super-enthusiastic colleague with whom she’d turn a brand-new page. Guaranteed, she’d have a fabulous replacement family and erase the defective one she’d leave far, far behind. Not quite. Within four years, her hero bilked her and her father out of their paid-for house, and left her with a young child, a boy who required vast amounts of special care because of the traits he began to show at 14 years old, like stealing from his grandfather’s wallet and telling convincing lies about the classes he never attended.
At our “Red Heart Parent Table.” our knowledgeable counselor, Shawna, encouraged more sharing. Nadia revealed that her mother’s suicide was the trigger that catapulted her into two decades of torture. Fortunately, on the day Nadia herself considered ending her life, she told someone. Her brave disclosure, taken seriously by a friend, set in motion a positive domino effect of the care Nadia received.
Listening to her story, so much like mine, I felt, at last, an electric surge of connection. Warm tears flowed. I too married a year after the death of my mother. I also married a user who found me only too happy to support him for a decade of abysmal servitude while he molested our children. I’d had no care or resolution for the trauma I’d experienced. Instead, I too flipped the page and vowed to “forget” the past. I too learned, the hard way, that it’s far smarter to resolve the past than ever to attempt to forget it.
Later, as we walked to the C-train together, Nadia and I agreed that we liked the up-front forthright name of our event, ‘Survivors of Suicide Loss.’ Say it like it is.
At home that evening, I pried off my red heart from my name tag and stuck it onto my framed birth certificate in my den.
I whispered my thanks to my mother for giving birth to me, a life I cherish.