Tag Archives: suicide

A Missing Link

Many of you know that my mother died when I was eight. It was suicide, or accidental overdose depending on who you talk to. Either way, she was gone.

There are things that people don’t have the right mind to think about before they do something like that. Take pills to ease their pain until there is no conscious knowledge that one has found any relief.

I grew up without a mother, and I managed and did okay, but there are still effects of that dreadful event 45 years later and I’m going to mention one now. The motherless daughter as a parent.

My daughter was raised by a mother who had no mother. Her mother never had anyone to hold her or hug her when she was feeling despair, loneliness, fear, or pain. Her mother did not have anyone to call her to inquire about her day. Her mother wiped her own tears. No one ever helped her mother with her children or household. There was no one to answer those questions that only a mother can answer. God is good, but God is not your mother.

Sometimes parenting was confusing to her mother because she had no real role model. She had grandmothers who were loving and kind, but there was a missing link. Always. Grandmothers are not the same as mothers.

Her mother went to college to learn how to care for others. Seriously. And she went on to have an excellent career in nursing, but with all of those school hours and work hours, she wondered constantly if she was giving her own daughter what she needed from a role model.

I loved my daughter, hugged her, wiped her tears, offered her encouragement and hope and always wondered if I was doing the right things by her.  She had a few years of strife even I could not cope with well. There were times when there was only bitterness between us.

So when my daughter delivered her second child at home and needed help with the household, I called a housekeeper to come in and do the work of cleaning for a day. It wasn’t much, but it was all I knew to do. I don’t believe it was enough. What she needed most was for mom to be close.

Well, today, my daughter, upon hearing about my agony in back pain, came over to get my heating pad off the top shelf in the closet. She set me up in my bed for comfort and gave me fresh fruit with yogurt for breakfast. She gave me hugs, then cooked bacon for my lunch, cut up tomatoes and lettuce. She cleaned last night’s supper dishes and loaded the dishwasher. We chatted a while.  We hugged some more. It was a much warmer time, I’m sure, than if she had hired someone to come over and attend to me. She was here for me.

She’s grown up just fine.

I’m still learning to be a motherless parent.

You see, it takes generations to overcome what a suicide will do. I see my daughter nurturing my granddaughter and feel the warmth in her nurturing me and know everything is going to be okay.

I am truly blessed. Thank you, daughter. You are appreciated.

Story Not Forgotten

Whatever happened to that other WIP, “Melody of Madness: Surviving Sister?”

It surfaces for air every few weeks. It is a painful process, slow and tedious. It is a difficult thing to write on an issue that is so very personal. How two sisters grew up in the same household and community and suffered from the same psychiatric malady, but share their perceptions through entirely different personal life experiences and develop entirely different personalities.

Claudette, the older, the pianist, appears strongest at the beginning, suffers and struggles through extraordinarily difficult situations that weaken her resolve, but stores the lessons away soulfully, strengthening the marrow that supports her frame.

Carol, the younger, the ballerina, appears weak and frail initially, defies all odds to achieve lofty goals, surpasses everything she ever dreamed of…lilting her way along, and then the perfection is ripped away, shattered, and she is sucked into a vortex she can never escape from.

The relationships they have with their parents, each other, and the ones they come to love crumble as a result of their illness, but one finds ways to triumph and one is forever lost to the emotional waves of manic-depression that crash the spirit against jetties of life.

They love each other as much as they grow to despise each other. Each has three daughters of approximately the same ages.

The sequel parallels the lives of the two middle daughters who are manic-depressive, subsequently dealing with their malady differently and resulting in totally different outcomes.

My word count on Book One is at 15,300. But it moves along like a sailboat on the sea with no wind. There is so very much research required, and the subject matter during the time period does not lend itself to quick searches on the internet.

This is a black and white 8X10 I have of my mother during her youth. Standing in the water, she is showing her friend, one of the Strickland girls, a water lily.

fifties and mama Pine mountain 001

This is a 1957 Chamber of Commerce brochure of the small town of Pine Mountain (Chipley), GA, the inspiration of the fictional town of Southbridge, GA, in the book.

fifties and mama Pine mountain 005

 

More photos of the pages in the brochure showing the local attractions. I found this in my mother’s scrapbook. You should be able to click on the pic to read the detail.

 

Uprighted clip

S.O. co. uprighted

 

 

Small southern towns are very proud of the little things that put them on the map, like Callaway Gardens, Roosevelt’s Little White House and State Park. Even my Uncle’s Standard Oil Company and the various hotels family members owned got into the brochure, and of course, both the Methodist and the Baptist Church…every small southern town has those. The only industry in town was Dacula Shirt factory…it has long been gone, Arrow took them over and it is nothing but a warehouse and offices today.

This is still a pet project that has not been abandoned but can only receive occasional attention.

Do you have any pet projects hiding in the wings?

No Choice

My head has been in weird place this past week. I have a lot in front of me and a lot behind me.

Being both bipolar 1 and also being a child survivor of suicide, Robin Williams’ death sent me spiraling downward at a time when I am trying to spiral upward. I feel empathy for the pain he has suffered and for his family. I can also understand why some people (survivors mostly) feel it was a selfish act, but what they don’t understand is that it is a selfless act in the mind of the victim. I say victim because the chemical imbalance in the brain that darkens the world and slows then stops time chooses its prey, they don’t choose death.

That is the one most vital thing people have to come to understand and the least understandable.

This is not sadness, but it is a sad situation. Depression is called depression for a reason.

Your metabolism slows to the point of not feeling hungry…ever. Or thirsty…ever.

Your thought processes slow to the point that your mind begins to formulate a thought and hours later, after distorted thoughts have come and gone, your mind finishes it.

You don’t know what happened in between. Worse than a drunk in a blackout, you function, but you are not conscious of it.

In the worst of it, your motor functions are crippled. You literally begin to move in slow motion. It’s called psychomotor retardation, and it’s not one day…or two or three, but every day for weeks, months and years.

I recall one day during an episode where I rose from my bed and put my feet on the floor. I was thinking about making some coffee. I, at some point, walked into the living room, opened a window, and sat in a rocking chair. There was a hole in the screen. The kids were at school. I have no clue what I thought about all day long, but when the kids came home, nearly eight hours later, I was still sitting in that chair. A wasp nest was in the corner of the window and it had been disturbed by me opening the window early that morning. So these wasps were now inside. A few were flying around the room. My face and arms were covered in wasps, and I could not, would not, move. I was an observer. They were crawling around on me, I felt them, and I did not care. I was thinking about making some coffee.

That was my day. I was totally not in control of my thoughts or actions.

I never self-medicated with drugs or alcohol. I was on medication for mood disorder, but this was a breakthrough episode. And I felt that I wanted to die. I did not want to put my family through me going back into a hospital for treatment.

In between these episodes, I was Professional Registered Nurse, wife, mother, student, employer, employee, Girl Scout cookie chairperson, Eagle Scout mom, soccer mom, drove the kids to tae kwon do, horseback riding lessons, softball practice, I was cheerleading chaperone and youth group leader. No one knew, but my family.

When I was manic, I was working sixteen hour shifts, a creative genius, devising staffing inservice manuals for CCU, and healthcare program designs, creating ceramic artwork that would blow your mind…no one faulted me that. No one much noticed the toll it took.

Even when you seek help, there are often complications, like there are with any disease. There are resistant strains, chemotherapy and talk therapy are both tricky. It’s expensive to treat. Responses are varied. It can take weeks or months to see the positive effects of medications, and many won’t endure that long. The medication that finally stopped all of this for me, after several experimental cocktails, was a third generation psychotropic discovered in 1996. I took it as an experimental drug. I was willing to try anything. My episodes were off and on from 1979. Some people are not as lucky as me, because everybody’s brain chemistry is different. It can take years, decades, to find the right mix.

I don’t know what Robin Williams was thinking, or even if he knew what he was thinking.

I don’t believe he chose death. I will never believe that he chose death.

Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness

This is a tattered photograph that I have carried around for 43 years since the age of ten. It was retrieved from a scrapbook that my grandma had in an old trunk that held my mother’s personal effects after she died in 1969. The scrapbooks were filled with the sorts of things teenaged girls and young women collect, postcards from places visited, movie and theater tickets, coupons for dancing lessons, pressed corsages, letters exchanged between friends and lovers. On the back it is signed, “Love, Carol.” I don’t know who the intended recipient was supposed to be, but it became the only tangible image of her that I possessed for thirty years.

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My aunt, my mother’s only sister, had a few photographs. They were mostly small pictures taken in their childhood years and there were only a couple that my aunt had of her sister as an adult. There were other pictures, but they were given to my older sister for safe keeping and we became estranged over the years of separation that followed Mama’s death.

In 1997, after coming to Florida and connecting with a cousin, the one who owns Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa, I learned that my uncle, his father, who started the resort back in 1964, had been a photographer with the Miami Herald during the 1950s. When my Aunt Pete, his wife, died in 2000, my cousin was cleaning out boxes in their home and ran across some photographs of my mother and her sister that were taken in their teen years. There is now a vast treasure of black and white 8X10s, and smaller photos of the two sisters. I was overjoyed to be gifted this collection and shared them with my mother’s sister, who was also thrilled.

I want to ask you to take a look at two sets of these photographs that hang on my wall. You don’t know the story of these sisters, Claudette and Carol, but I would like to ask you to tell me if you see anything that hints of a story in these images.

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The images alone demonstrate the differences in these two sisters.  My mother, Carol, a ballerina and dance instructor died of suicide at the age of 26, and Aunt Claudette, a pianist and horticulturist, is 74 years old now.

Carol was a hopeless romantic and a dreamer, and Claudette was a hopeful realist and pragmatic. Carol was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Claudette was countrified and domestic. Carol, a soprano. Claudette, an alto. Carol was open and free-spirited. Claudette was closed and restrained. As young adults, Carol was dressed in stockings and heels, and Claudette wore jeans and penny loafers.  Both were well educated and cultured in their youth, but their childhoods, teen years, and young adult lives were tumultuous. Music and dance were where they mutually sought solace.

That side of my family is riddled with mental illness and addiction.  Of all the many cousins and aunts and uncles on my maternal side of the family there are geniuses who became entrepreneurial millionaires, and there are paupers who suffered epilepsy, neurological conditions, psychiatric disturbances, multiple tragedies, became institutionalized, or died trying to overcome the obstacle that is madness.  There is a fine line between madness and genius. Mental illness and neurological disorders were cloaked in a veil of secrecy in their era and still have a degree of stigma associated with them that needs to be overcome.

Very few were able to walk the middle of the road, but the strength found in faith, time, and modern science and medicine has made a huge impact. My aunt is one of those who did, although she had severe issues with bipolar and addictions.

I had a brief adventure with drugs and alcohol between the ages of 17 & 19, but addiction was never a problem for me. I was hospitalized for an acute psychotic episode when I was 19, and have been on medications for bipolar and in therapy ever since that event. I drink socially on rare occasions but the experiences of me and my aunt have paralleled many times…either on a personal level, vicariously, or through my patients in my nursing career. My moods are relatively stable now. I am still “driven” at times and “depressed” at times, not to extremes, but such has not always been the case. I would like to tell my story someday, but not before I tell the story of the two sisters, my mother and my aunt.

When I wrote “Red Clay and Roses”, I was telling a story that was wrought with historical tragedy and the serious issues of racial tension and reproductive rights and responsibilities. I wrote passionately about events I witnessed personally or events that had been shared with me by others who had lived the experiences. I did not set out to write a novel by a specific formula or template. I documented a harsh reality. It was open and candid. I have never been one to shy away from that which is painful or shameful. A wounded society does not heal itself by looking the other way, and neither do individuals. At the same time, I tried to be as unbiased as possible and approach these unapproachable issues with sensitivity. On that level, I feel it was successful.

In addition to numerous short stories, I have three works in progress. One is a crime novel. I am about 30,000 words into it and my husband, who reads them daily, loves it. I feel that it is superficial and shallow, amusing and entertaining in its own way, but I am not certain that it carries the weight that makes me comfortable in my own writing skin. Another is a murder mystery. It is more a psycho thriller than a crime novel and I am about 15,000 words into it. I liked the beginning of it, but it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that I planned for it. Sort of hard to explain, but it, again, doesn’t flow with the passion from the pen that I feel most comfortable with…it feels forced and I am beginning to see that in the way that it reads.  At any rate, I am not so sure that this genre of crime/murder is where I need to be right now. I don’t feel like I am in my element. Perhaps this is something that I can come back to at some future point. The final work is an autobiography of sorts that is almost unbelievable as a memoir.  It is a complex life that I have lived in foster care, an orphanage, on the street, in the islands, small town USA, the countryside, the nudist resort, and the big city. So I am not sure what to do with this either, whether to continue it or shelf it for a while.

Which brings me to questions that I need your help with. It seems to be the passion that I felt when writing “Red Clay and Roses” that I am missing.

For those of you who have read “Red Clay and Roses” (A fictionalized true story set in the 1950s-60s, but involving relatives on my father’s side of the family), you already know that Carol is mentioned twice in that story…once by Hannah in relating her memories of her mother and her mother’s death, and again by her cousin, Sybil, in relating the death by suicide of her cousin, Henry’s, wife, leaving three little girls with no mother.

If I decide to write this book, I would approach the writing process much differently, not as a fictionalized true story being told to a narrator, but as pure fiction (which is always, in part, based on some truth).

Without knowing the details, do you think the story of Claudette and Carol is one that you would find interesting? Particularly, how Claudette coped in the long run to turn her life around. I have been all over Amazon reviews this past week and there seems to be quite a market for this sort of thing as well as the era…people are saying that they are too old to enjoy the drama of Paris Hilton, and too young to relate to the 1930s and 40s, about which so much is written.  Finding and connecting with these people will be another challenge.  People my age and ten years older are beginning to retire, have the time to read, and they are dissatisfied with what is on the market.

As a family saga, beginning in the mid-fifties and moving into the mid-nineties, do you think this story would make a worthy sequel to “Red Clay and Roses”?

For those who have not read “Red Clay and Roses”, what are your thoughts about “Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness”?

Mother’s Day Memories

Romantic pink rose bush

My mother died when I was eight years old.  I am fifty-two now. I don’t think that you ever get OVER losing a parent, but you do get THROUGH  it.

Even at such an early age I have very fond memories of her.  All during the month of May wild pink roses bloom on the hillsides and forest edges of West Georgia.  Their roots run deeply into the red clay.  When myself and my two sisters were very small, we would gather bunches of these delicate flowers and pick the thorns off so that our mother would not prick herself .

My own children did the same for me, bringing in bunch after bunch throughout the whole month of May so that every corner of the home was decorated with fluffy pink ruffles of sweet fragrance.  With the thorns so tenderly removed, the roses took on an even more loving character.  There was something special about them that they thought to remove the thorns without being asked.

My mother was a romantic, a ballerina, a writer, and a dance instructor.  She was a very sharp dresser and took care that she was always presentable.  She was such a perfectionist that she would repaint all of her nails if one nail showed any flaw.  Her clothes were always color coordinated, and her matching accessories were carefully selected.  She sang like a lark as she worked around the house and she sang in the Church, a soprano.  To hear her, you would have thought she was the happiest person in the world.  She read stories to us three girls every single night, regardless of how tired she might have been.  She corrected our manners and our grammar with gentleness and firmness.  She made us delicious meals, and kept our home clean and tidy.

After her divorce from my father when I was seven years old, her mood changed.  My mother and us three girls moved to the city of Atlanta from our small town home in LaGrange.  She continued to dance and to sing, and with her witty humor started a comic line complete with hand drawn illustrations.  She was convinced that she was going to be famous someday.  The Church pastor told her that she was going to go to hell for divorcing my father.  She had cursed his unborn child by his second wife and felt independently responsible for the condition of my father’s only son who died the day after it was born with multiple birth defects.  My father was an upper middle class highly functioning drunk who had beat her and trashed the house almost daily when they were together, but still she loved him.  For financial reasons, we moved back into the home of my Grandma.  Mama had started secretarial school, and rented a house that we were to move into the next week.  We were all excited.  We thought.

There are things about the night of her death that I wish not to remember but cannot forget. Etched into the mind of an eight year old.  Twenty six years old, laying naked on my grandma’s bed, with IV solutions running into arms, stretched out in crucifixion pose, from bottles suspended on a coat hanger from the curtain rods.  Pill bottles scattered on the bedside table.  Thick, black syrup of Ipecac oozing over her lips.  The foul smell of feces, from enemas, filling bedpans on the floor. While the country doctor husband and wife team worked frantically to save her life. February cold.  The ambulance reflecting the red light of this emergency off the white walls of the house as the stretcher carried her out.  Little girls, we three, gone to stay with an aunt for the night.  No sleep.  Fear!  Wondering when she would come and get us.  Uncle crouched down by the gas heater in the morning.  “Your mother has passed away.”  What does that mean?  My year older sister went screaming to lock herself into the bathroom. Three year old younger sister never conscious of the agony in that moment. A memory that she will never have, thank God.  Yes, this is what it was really like.  This is what followed me along with the lilting sound of her voice and the stories she told, as she tidied the house and put us to bed.  The comic strip had its last illustration, albeit a sad and frightening one.  Do you seriously regret the loss of the memories? Never regret.  If you cannot remember, be glad.  Do you feel denied the memories? Count your blessings. Do you really think it was easier growing up with SOMETHING to remember?  I would have rather been three. I would have rather never known that sorrow, those memories.  Try to remember the roses.

In the South, there was a Mother’s Day tradition in Church of wearing a white rose corsage if your mother was deceased, and a red rose corsage if your mother was living.  I hated that tradition.  I felt marked as one of few children who were forced to wear the white rose.  It was an act of old women, in my eyes, not children.  I insisted on wearing the blend of white and red in a pink corsage.  A large part of her dead, a small hint vaguely alive. Slivers of memory.

As a nurse and a human being, I have always had empathy for the pain of the suicidal, but there is one thing that I do know without a doubt, and that is that the act of

Suicide is the Epitome of Selfishness.

Perspective of a survivor, not a victim.