25 years ago today, almost to the minute, my mother took her own life.
A therapist once told me that I had live through the worst thing that could happen to me, and I should take comfort in the fact that I survived it. I know that’s not true now. My mother’s suicide was a terrible tragedy, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen. My overactive imagination can come up with numerous things other people have had to survive that are far worse.
So I find it somewhat ironic when people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you pick up the pieces and go on?”
The truth is there’s no secret map that shows you the way to the day when you wake up and realize your mother has been dead for 25 years.
I did it one day at time.
In fact, sometimes I did it one moment at a time. In the early days, it was that moment before you get out of bed. When you are awake, but still seduced by tendrils of sleep, and you search for a reason to tell your body that it’s time to stand up again.
I won’t say there weren’t days where it was hard to come up with a reason. But eventually I did.
Sometimes the reason was that I really had to pee.
Some days maybe it doesn’t have to be a good reason, just any reason.
And eventually, when you get out of bed enough days in a row, you stop searching for a reason and you just do it.
You get out of bed. You take a shower. You feed yourself. And you do that over and over and over again for a long time.
Then maybe you find a therapist. And maybe a doctor. And you go to your appointments, even though you really don’t want to. And if the first therapist doesn’t really work out, you find another one. And you go to your appointments, even though you really don’t want to.
Then maybe you take your prescription medicine that helps you get up in the morning and go to your appointment. And maybe eventually it feels like it might be helping a little bit.
Just a little bit.
And after you get out of bed and take a shower and feed yourself, you get in the car and you go to work. And you put papers here and forward emails there and answer the phone when it rings.
And then you go back the next day. And the next. And the next. And one day you realize you’ve been doing it for a very long time.
One day you become busy again. Busy with getting out of bed and taking a shower and feeding yourself and moving papers around at work, and you think, “Oh. This feels like it used to.”
Only it doesn’t quite feel the same. Because your mother is still dead.
And maybe one day you get married to someone who loves you. And you get out of bed together, and eventually create a life together that looks nothing like the life you had 25 years ago. Because it is new, it is different and you are still getting out of bed every single day, even if it’s just because you have to pee and your bladder control is not what it used to be.
Only now you take a shower and feed yourself and your two children and your dog and your cat. Then you drive your kids to school, and then you drive yourself to work, and you keep doing that over and over and over again.
And then one day you realize your mother has been gone for 25 years ago. And sometimes it feels like it was yesterday. And other times you don’t recognize yourself because the 17-year-old girl who lost her mother to suicide is not the 42-year-old woman looking back at you in the mirror.
One day you realize you’ve made new friends. People who don’t know about the tragedy in your past because they didn’t know you then. And sometimes there’s a moment where they ask what your mother does or where she lives, and then you have to explain that she doesn’t do anything and she doesn’t live anywhere, because she is dead.
And then you deal with the awkwardness that comes afterwards.
The awkwardness comes when they say, “I don’t know how you do it. How do you pick up the pieces and go on?”
Because they don’t want to hear the real answer. The real answer is there’s nothing special about me, and there’s nothing special about them, and there’s no good reason they couldn’t be dealing with a tragedy in their lives one day. A tragedy that leaves them searching for a good reason to get out of bed.
Because odds are they will survive it just like I did, and they will start by finding a reason to get out of bed.
And if they can’t think of one, eventually they will have to pee.