You are much too quiet now.
The hum and buzz of constant silence can boom louder than any volume. It sounds like huge nothing but overflows the million empty spaces where only your voice should be. I try to remember the clang of pans and wooden spoons, flour handprints across your holey weekend shirt, small stampede of grandchildren’s feet around your skinny legs as you teach them your old recipes. They chatter frantically and you laugh big, big in between their urgent words. Mimi fed the grandkids too much sugar again and you are delighted with yourself. “Don’t tell your mom,” you say with a wink, but I am sitting right there, laughing at the joyful chaos.
In a delivery room, I try to hear your silly Lamaze breathing, he-he-he-hoooo. I want to see your furrowed brow as scared and determined as if you were the one laboring. I need your bony hands wrapped around my leaden foot and squeezing my shaking hand. You are so much stronger than you look. Just like last time, I think, your face will be close, whispering into my forehead jumbled mumbles of desperate prayers and urgent praise, “Lord Jesus. Good. Good, my girl. Just one more push, preshy. You can do it. God.Oh! You are so close! God be here now.”
You are much too quiet now. No conjured memory, no flimsy snapshot can fill your chair at the holiday table. No dreams, however vivid and clung to, are as solid as your real tears greeting a grandson new to this world. I study your picture on the mantle. Bright smile, blue eyes, frizzy hair, and a million invisible treasures bundled inside. Somewhere in the image is your voice, your spirit, your favorite color, your BIG loud love, your knitting yarn sprawled across your lap, your loopy cursive telling stories no one else can write, your whole, well self. There is a space for you here, mammoth and vital and wholly unfilled.
Two years ago suicide claimed you like a secret, solemn and silent. It occurs to me that every minute of every day since you’ve been gone a mother is picking out a coffin for her traumatized soldier son. A husband weeps over his newborn, frantically searching for signs and symptoms that took his wife’s life in this most joyous season. A teenager just beginning is convinced by a deceiving mind that he must end. A middle-aged woman wakes and slides down one foot and then the other. Heavy. She is not sure how many more mornings she can get up again. The crushing weight of facing a world that tells her to hide a hurt she can’t stop carrying is slowly breaking her. Every minute of every day since you’ve been gone another shocked family stares at another still picture and they think of whole, crucial lives like yours permanently over. We are stunned to too much silence, the same silence that killed you.
I read your last note, scribbled confusedly. One sentence is loud and clear. “I’m sorry,” you say, and it is one apology too many. The heart breaks. I picture the stacks and stacks of papers scattered all over this world, desperate letters and final goodbyes. How many others suffered like you and still used their last breaths to utter an apology to the world for their suffering? How many others have carried blame for an illness they could not control alone?
Too much shame. Downward glances of innocent acquaintances tell me I should not have said suicide when they ask how my mother passed. They are uncomfortable, embarrassed for me or their own discomfort. Quotes in books and across computer screens lecture that suicide doesn’t end pain, it passes it on to everyone else. Selfish, selfish. The common phrase “committed suicide” is in itself an accusation: committed death like a murderer, like a cheater commits adultery. Guilty, guilty. Like no other injury or illness, we dole out a judgmental tsk in lieu of guidance and treatment. We hold sufferers accountable for a disorder they did not create. For all we share on social media- the sea of birth announcements, the pleading for prayers to comfort a loved one fighting cancers and natural disasters- I begin to notice the stark absence of acknowledgment for those fighting depression, anxiety, trauma and mental injury. I cannot find a mention of prayers for a friend as he battles suicidal thoughts. I shared no statuses bold and open saying “My mom is not well. Her mind is killing her”. Was it because, however subtly, I’d been conditioned to think I’d embarrass you? We’ve become unwittingly complicit in a social scene that tells us mental illness is best kept private. Hush, hush. And in doing so we send a damaging message which reiterates the most deadly symptom of depression: that we will not accept mental illness as we’ve accepted all other ails, as symptoms which simply need to be treated. It is too much to ask a person whose psyche is betraying him to use that very mind to fix what’s broken. It is not enough to sit idly and hope she can see past the destructive lies of depression, to find her own way to light when she is blinded by dark. No, not enough, when we can be the light guiding towards safety, a hand to keep steady someone floundering while we help them seek help. We can be the truth if we want to be, said raucously to drown out depression’s deceptions that there is no relief or peace here, no other cure but death.
There is no such thing as too much truth. It’s best spoken too loudly and too often. Mama, you are much too quiet now so let me speak with this voice you gave me until it overwhelms the silence.
You are beloved, a giver of life and advice and calm. You are grace and comfort who needed grace and comfort. You are a loyal daughter, a bossy big sister, a doting friend. You are big piles of yarn and two able hands knitting shawls, weaving prayers into each stitch to cover the hurting shoulders around you. You are hurting, too. You are mountain-quaking laughter and deep, wise tears. You are so much stronger than you know. You are splashing in cold ocean water like a child. You are the writer of words that move minds and heal hearts. You are tricked into believing your pain is our burden. You are something to behold, beauty glowing from the inside out. You are Mimi and more than those two tiny syllables can contain, you are fun and wild and gentle and love personified in your grandbabies’ world. You are never alone. You are singing new notes into old, dusty hymns. You are worth saving. You are proud, bright clothes, eccentric and brilliant, a walking party to liven up any room. You are staring amazed at us like we are the strangest, sweetest strokes of good luck. And do you know we are staring back at you, always, always, just the same? You are not defined by mental illness. It is a speck on the back corner of the great masterpiece that is your life. You are too much more, but you are much too quiet now. The hardest truth that didn’t have to be: you are gone.
Every minute of every day since you’ve been gone we could condole so many alive and suffering instead of offering too-meager condolences over their too-soon graves. We can spread far and wide the truth that while mental illness feels like too much it is only a weight that we have the tools to move. Therapies, medications, rehabilitative programs, support: brick-by-brick this burden can be dismantled. And when it is, there waiting is an irreplaceable, healthy soul. It is priceless and shining still with a favorite color and a unique laugh and a story only it can tell and an irreplaceable pulse that this world desperately needs to breathe and heal, breathe and speak, breathe and live. Every minute of every day is a person doubting silently what I can guarantee as unshakable truth, too loudly and too often:
You are so much more than the curable illness that has plagued you.
You are not alone.
You are worthy of help and there is help for you.
YOU ARE TOO MUCH TO TOO MANY TO BE GONE.
In loving memory of our one & only Vicki
Cherished Mom, Daughter, Sister, Mimi & Friend
September 16, 1959 – September 10, 2014
In hopes of healing for every person suffering with mental illness today & in support of Suicide Prevention Month & World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10th.