In Memory of my Mother - Breaking Free from the Stigma of Suicide
Today marks the 20th Anniversary of my mother’s death. My mother committed suicide 20 years ago when I was seventeen years old. I have never publicly written much about my mother’s passing, but with so much attention focused on the recent suicide of Robin Williams I felt that maybe it was appropriate to take this rare opportunity to share my voice.
It has been lovely to see the outpouring of support over Robin William’s passing on Facebook, but I do admit that I have found a few of the comments insensitive. One commentor in particular wrote that we should not look up to Robin Williams because we should not look up to someone who committed suicide. I’ll explain why that comment upset me, but first let me tell you a little about my mother.
The qualities that I most cherish about myself, I learned or inherited from my mother. She was unselfishly compassionate and kind. She went out of her way to make others feel special. She could see people for who they really were and always managed to point out the good in them. She had an eye for beauty and was extremely artistic. She was a fierce believer in self improvement and the benefits of healthy eating and lifestyle. She thought outside of the box; she was on the cutting edge, ahead of her time even.
She taught me how to artfully put on make-up. She showed me how to cook and eat healthy (think zucchini carrot oatmeal cookies). She introduced me to meditation. She cultivated an environment for me to write and create. (Our house was more of an art studio than a living space growing up.) She supported me in following my dreams. She was intuitive and even told me where I would end up going to college. (She was right!) The last thing she bought me before she passed was a sexy sheer low cut black prom dress and a tube of bright red lipstick. Even though I was unsure if I could pull it off, she was confident I would look fabulous.
So here I am 20 years later, 37 now. And my life has bloomed from the foundation my mother laid out for me years ago. I write. I meditate. I create. I live an extremely healthy lifestyle. I follow my dreams. And now I teach others how to meditate and eat healthy. Her legacy lives on as I teach others the things my mother taught me. I don’t wear red lipstick anymore, but I get compliments on the way I put on my make-up quite often. (Thanks mom!)
When the commentor, I mentioned earlier, said we should not look up to people who commit suicide. I felt sad, because both my mother and Robin Williams deserve to be looked up to. They deserve to be remembered for all the good and beautiful things they contributed to the world. They deserve not to be defined by just one moment of their lives, even if that moment was the one that ended it.
At 15 years old my mother fell sick. My mother developed a mental illness that eventually completely overcame her. I believe the official diagnosis was schizophrenia and bipolar, but even at the young age of 15 it was clear to me that not even the doctors fully understood my mother’s fragile mental state.
What do I know about mental illness after living with my mother and losing her to suicide? Practically nothing. Only that it overtakes a person’s mind, body, and soul until there is just a thread of the person left you used to know. And that it can be devastating to not only to the person affected by the mental illness, but it can be devastating to their friends and family as they watch their loved ones decline. It’s like watching someone being swallowed by quicksand, and even with all your best efforts, you don’t know how to pull them out of the abyss.
Do I understand what makes someone take their life in those final moments? No. I do know that my mother was in a state of mind that is beyond my understanding. A state of confusion that I hope to never know.
To judge someone or something that we know very little about is nonsense. And to put a stigma on mental illness and suicide is beyond cruel, not only to the victim, but to the friends and family of the victim as well. The amount of grief, guilt, anger, and confusion that is felt after a loved one commits suicide is almost unbearable. Unfortunately, added on top of this already difficult situation, is the stigma and shame that goes along with suicide.
The stigma associated with suicide has been a silent burden in my life. There have been times where I have wanted to say my mother died of cancer or some other illness. As if her suicide would somehow reflect badly on me, as if I was somehow tainted. Or perhaps, I wanted an outpouring of compassion and sympathy instead of the all too familiar awkward silence.
I know that some people won’t get what I’m trying to say here today and that’s okay. I’m writing this for myself, the many survivors of suicide, and in memory of my mother. I am affirming to the world today that my mother should not be judged for or solely be defined by her mental illness or suicide. I want her to be remembered as the loving, compassionate, free spirited mother who raised three beautiful, strong, and kind individuals. Someone whose love touched me to the core and stayed with me throughout these twenty years.
I am affirming to the world that I deserve not be defined by my mother’s suicide. That her illness and suicide was in no way a reflection of how much she loved me and how much I loved her or how good a daughter I was. I break free from these chains today.
And to a certain extent, I believe that no one should be defined by their most dark and shameful moments and what they perceive to be their biggest failures. No one should be defined by their illnesses or the tragedies in their life. We are so much bigger than any one experience in our lives.
Let’s start to foster compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others. Let’s attempt to hold judgement for the things we don’t fully understand. With the spirit of love, compassion, and forgiveness, let the healing begin.
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Cecilia is a gifted and compassionate intuitive healer and meditation teacher who is passionately dedicated to helping sensitive and intuitive people tap into their soul power to live strong, balanced, and purposeful lives. Click here to learn more about Cecilia and schedule an intuitive healing session.