“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus
This is often a quote I use when talking with survivors of suicide following the death of a loved one. In the beginning, after the death, we are in the depths of winter. We feel cold, shut off from everything that we once knew. Every assumption we had about how our lives would go ends at the moment that we learn of the death.
While my mom has been dead for 32 years, like any survivor, I can go back to that initial phone call that delivered “the” news and spiral into darkness. I can remember my world going black. Fortunately, as the years have come and gone, the spiral doesn’t last more than a few seconds.
My children were quite young when their grandmother took her life: 8, 7 ½, 3, and 11 months. The younger two know her through stories. The older two have their memories. Such a short time to love and know a grandma.
My life turned on a dime the day my mom died. I was a retired third grade teacher with a husband and 4 young children living in another state. I had only been in South Bend, Indiana, for 9 months when that horrible call came.
6 months after that death I took hotline training and answered calls to help suicidal people. I think of that now. How arrogant of me to believe I knew enough to help! I trained and was accepted.
I went to graduate school in Indiana and received a degree in counseling. The program seemed tailor-made for me. My classes were at night; I studied during the day while some of the kids were in school and the others were napping.
I learned about the American Association of Suicidology and went to a conference. I helped to form the Survivor Division. I rose to be the director of that division while also starting and running a Survivors of Suicide Group in Aurora (1982) and the Crisis Line of the Fox Valley (1984). I received awards. I worked to help others. I worked to prevent suicide.
We lived in Indiana for 2 years, 10 months, and 10 days. Then we moved back to Illinois and settled in West Dundee. Somewhere along the way I lost a husband through divorce and the children and I moved to Aurora, my hometown, the place my mom wanted me to be. The place I told her I would probably never return since my husband was on the academic track and would be moving to different colleges, or so I thought. It’s no accident that I returned to Aurora as a single parent with 4 children. The Crisis Line was here, the Survivors group was here, and I could drive by Mom’s house whenever I wanted to. Oh, yes, and park on the street and stare at the house…
So many thoughts swirl through my head. “If only I’d known then what I know now” is something else I share with survivors. Why didn’t the doctor tell me that a prior attempt put Mom at a higher risk? Why didn’t the emergency room show her more love? Why were they so biased? Why did she “fool” the psychiatrist and why, when I offered to come with my sister and our husbands to meet with him did this arrogant, pompous man say, “That won’t be necessary. I can manage this on my own?” Today we call this family therapy.
My family weathered a storm. They not only lost their grandmother to suicide, they lost their mom as she had been. Every week-end for a year I left Indiana and drove back to Illinois to work on cleaning out Mom’s house and then to go to 2 hours of grief therapy on Monday mornings.
A suicide in the family is like standing at the edge of the river and throwing a pebble in. The circles keep going out further and further. My kids watched me work fulltime in the world of suicide prevention. I worked a full day and often taught classes at night. Like any single mom, I worried about how this would affect them. I had two passions: my kids and suicide prevention.
Imagine my surprise and pleasure when my daughter took hotline training. She signed up without my knowledge. How honored and thrilled I felt to walk into that class and see her smiling face.
My daughter is the webmaster of Suicide Prevention Services, the agency I founded and continue to direct today. She handles our Facebook page and answers and responds to people with such wisdom, kindness, and strength. She participates in all of the SPS functions, often as the photographer. Seeing her and her younger brother at the SPS Walk each year brings tears to my eyes.
My mom and I were best friends. My daughter and I are best friends.
The “invincible summer” has arrived over and over again; having my daughter work with me, side by side, is truly the best of the best.