Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Living, Breathing Eulogy

When I was 4 I learned how to:

Braid Hair
Tie a shoe using the bunny ear method
Thread a needle
Read a few words
Count to 10 in Spanish

I also learned how to slap my mother across the face. This was necessary when she’d taken too much medication and would fall asleep in the big orange chair.

I don’t know how old I was when I realized that other children don’t stay up all night and watch MASH and eat fried egg sandwiches, then sleep the day away. Or that other children play with siblings and parents during on the weekends, not by yourself or with the dog because “We don’t wake mommy, even if there’s a fire”. And how. When you’ve lived a half-century without a good night’s rest or a healthy image of your body or spirit, or a fear that you have lost your mind because people think you are crazy, stupid, lazy or twenty years older than you are- would you want to be awakened by an 8 year old who needs what you can’t provide?

When I was 9 she was hospitalized for hip and back problems. Of course years later I found out that there weren’t any hip or back problems, but that she was voluntarily hospitalized for manic depression. One of many times to come. More often than not, she committed herself, without struggle. After that many years, you gotta figure, well- if it helps, it helps.

Do I resent my own mother? Yes. All the time. I resent that when I need things, as people do, she’s not there. I resent that for all the times I couldn’t be as much of a child as I wanted to be, I was okay with it because secretly I thought that she would get better, and I would get that back. That somehow, some year, I would get what I thought was owed me. And you know, I did. When she took her life and I collapsed in a heap, I was definitely a child. At 25, I was 7 and I needed my mommy.

When she had cancer, people came out of the woodwork. How much casserole can one person even eat? The love and support poured out of friends and colleagues like water, and we lapped it up. We went on vacations (“who knows, it might be the last one!”), Leeza Gibbons cried at our plight, the soothing crinkling of the cellophane on gift baskets was the soundtrack to our lives. But when the chemo was over, when her white count was up, when she was back to a healthy weight but still couldn’t get out of bed then the casseroles dried up, no one called and we were alone again, naturally.

We talk about fighting the stigma, and if you ask me, nothing has more stigma attached to it than The Big One: suicide. Please don’t think that there is no comedy to be found in the suicide of a loved one. Support groups often erupt in laughter at the pure absurdity of it. My mother wrote in her suicide note that she didn’t want to kill herself because then I would be The Girl Whose Mother Killed Herself. Well here we fucking are, and I am just that.

Let’s not pretend I don’t say What If? Every single day of my life. I didn’t live in the same city and I am just as guilty of abandoning her as anyone else. I tell myself that it’s okay because the guilt she would have felt if I’d lived in my hometown instead of following my dreams would have been too much for her, but guess what? It was too much no matter what, and I could have spent her remaining years with her and I chose not to, so that’s my cross to bear, and it’s heavy as shit.

Who had two thumbs and constantly fears her mind is unraveling? This girl!
Someone once asked me, “Do you ever think the constant fear of going crazy will drive you crazy?” Um, yes. Of course I do. We all worry about inheriting our mother’s mannerisms, her ticks, her voice, her deep affection for Joni Mitchell, her hatred of loud music, rude people and all things electronic. But then eventually you realize that you want her voice, her ticks, her obsession with hot pink and skyblue uniball pens hotpinkandskyblueonlyiftherearegreenintheboxIwilljustthrowthemaway. You want the good stuff.

But we can’t pick and choose and let’s face it. It will all happen. You will have to ask someone to cut your food, remember your name, carry you to bed, calm you down, drive you home and you may have your mail clippers, your lighter, your precious pens, your quiet, regal dignity taken away from you at whatever hospital, whatever program you find yourself in.

Let’s get one thing straight. My mother was never neurotic. She did once drive a car down the sidewalk , but neurotic? No. And let’s not kid ourselves- my mother was a great mother. This is a woman who taught me what strength is, what womanhood is, what wit is. She fought the stigma every day, and even after death she fights it. She’s in my voice, my hands, she’s in this room that I built with nine friends. She’s in my blood sweat and tears and in all of the papers that are filled with her bold, loopy, beautiful handwriting.

The truth is that I’m lucky. For all of the tears, for all of the anger, for all of the questioning, I had (have) a mother who was beautiful, brilliant, and yes, crazy as all giddyup, it was that same woman who looked at me after I was born and said, “I know you, why didn’t you tell me it was going to be you”, because she connected to people on a level that people who aren’t mentally ill, people who aren’t different, people who aren’t bat shit insane, can never understand. And for that, the word grateful can’t even begin to describe.

Contributed by Jessica Murphey Garrett


  1. Hello, New follower here from the I love Blogging Hop,
    Hope you can drop by, say hello and follow me back.
    Thanks and have a great day!

  2. Hi. My father committed suicide in 2005, so I can relate to a lot of what you are writing about. I'm so glad you found my blog through the hop, and now I found yours.
    The Girl Who's Dad Killed Himself

  3. New follower from the hop!

  4. I ♥ Blogging Hop drive by.
    I'm your newest follower.
    I am loking forward to exploring your blog! It is a very calming color.
    Laurie from Grandma Sez So