My step-mother died by suicide.
I still have a hard time accepting and believing that she was successful in her quest to end her life. The first time she had attempted suicide I had the opportunity to sit and talk with her about it. Naturally I wanted to know WHY. Why would she want to end her life? What demons had a hold of her? What was she feeling when she was taking the pills? Why would she want to hurt the people who would be left behind to mourn her? Did she not understand how devastating it would be for my father and her son?
We talked at great length and over many days. She shared with me the why. She shared the how and the what and the who. She had been sexually abused as a child. It was ugly. I witnessed profound pain. I heard things that would baffle most people and yet to me they made sense. I understood at the deepest level the ‘why’ and yet I did not tell her. It pains me to this day that I did not disclose to her. I was not entirely ‘there’ at all times as some of what she said was triggering me and so I was disassociating. She had no way of knowing that I was ‘numbing out’.
We shared lots during the ten days that I was visiting. I listened as she told me how she ‘felt’ at the time she had decided to take her life. I will never forget the words from her mouth – “I felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.” She went on to tell me that was probably the scariest thought that continued to haunt her. It was the reason why she would be up early writing and reading and connecting in whatever way she could to whatever or whomever was around her. She hated to be alone anymore as she was afraid that feeling of ‘no feeling’ would return. That the busy-ness…the activity of even the most menial task helped her to get through each moment. And it was just that…a living of one moment to the next. To think further ahead was just too overwhelming for her. Too painful.
Two years after that visit my stepmother ended her life by suicide. All the therapy. All the support. All the activity. All the love in the world was not enough to help her to ‘feel’ at that moment of complete darkness. She simply kissed my father and half-brother goodbye that Sunday morning and sent them off to church. She felt nothing. She was empty. She simply wrote the note, downed the pills and laid down in her bed and waited to die. At some point she struggled with herself. As her life was fading away from her she fought to get up and tried to get to a phone but did not succeed. My father and brother came home to find her on the floor with no vital signs. She was pronounced dead a short while later.
Years later I finally told someone that I had been sexually abused as a child. It was shortly after my 47th birthday – some 42 years after the abuse had started. It was that same month that I sat in my living room and considered ending my life. I was contemplating the journey of profound pain of recovery. I was feeling overwhelmed with the shame of my abuse. I saw no future. And then, for just the briefest but scariest moment, I felt nothing. I FELT NOTHING. In that instant I swear my stepmom was there with me. Something shifted and I felt fear. Fear that I could think such a thing. I knew then that I could not ignore therapy or continue to hide in my shame.
I’m not sure what got me from that place of nothing to feeling fear and moving to action. Whether my stepmom was really there with me or not, it was what I had learned through conversation with her that saved me.
No matter what you feel – be grateful for it. Feel it. Learn from it. Feeling emotion, no matter the emotion, is better than being numb. If you can’tor don’t ‘feel anything’ or if the feelings are just too overwhelming, reach out for help. Please.