My mom killed herself when I was 12.
I’ve spent a good amount of time obsessing over the circumstances of her death. (I tell more about growing up in the wake of her suicide in my book Some Things You Keep, which you can purchase here.)
My mom’s suicide, as you can probably imagine, was the Big Event in my childhood. The dynamics of my family (parents were divorced, brother didn’t live at home anymore, mom was single) dictated that I was the only one displaced by her death. I wasn’t the only one affected by it, but I was the only one who had to move to a new home, get a new family (dad, stepmom, step-sister), adjust to a whole new way of living, grow up without my mom, and wrap my head around being a kid whose mom didn’t believe I was worth staying alive for.
It was a tragedy for other people for sure, but for me, it was life-altering and life-defining.
Pardon the melodrama, but this was a really sucky place to be in the summer before entering seventh grade.
I want to spin this in a positive light, saying how though life was hard, God swooped in and made me all better, and now I can tell you how you too can be healed and happy like me.
Alas, that post ain’t happening. Because life is more complicated than that. Here’s the real story.
All the memories I have of her, even the few good ones, are jaded because they all end the same way: she dies. I’m not really mad at her, because honestly I am just done. Over it. Not willing to let her and her actions hold me in bondage any more. (Yet here I am, still writing about her. Ugh.)
She didn’t have siblings. Her parents are dead. My only sibling, my brother, is also dead. So there are no family reminders of her. I don’t live anywhere near where I grew up so there are no geographical reminders either.
I don’t miss the real person of her, but I certainly and completely and daily miss the idea of her. I ache for what I never had. Even people with the crappiest family situations seem to at least have a mom or someone who has their back.
When I say I miss the idea of my mom, here’s what I miss: someone who calls to chat for no reason. Someone who wants to know the details of my kids’ lives. Someone to call when I’m sick or sad or mad. Knowing what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. I have many, many good friends who fill this role for me, but it’s not the same. I forever worry I’m a burden to them, because I know they have their own lives and families.
I am not an unhappy person. My life is wonderful. If I would have had to order a life from a menu, I would have chosen this one (except I would have also checked the “bestselling author” and “fast runner” boxes).
So God has been kind to me. The ashes are few and the beauty is abundant. But the mess is always visible. It’s like a room with improper feng shui. Something’s just not quite right. And I think it’s the wound, the thorn in my flesh, the broken heart, the ache in my soul for understanding, for acceptance, for attention, for a parent will always be a part of me. Maybe we all have this emptiness, this longing for more. Maybe it’s God we are yearning for. For me, though, I’ve always associated the emptiness with losing my mom.
No amount of “pray this prayer”/ “claim this scripture”/ “read this book”/ “ten ways to recover from childhood trauma” is ever going to fix what’s broken with the deepest parts of people’s souls, including mine. Yet life does not have to be dictated by the past. Life is up to us. The pain and the beauty, the relationships and the longings, they will all happen to all of us, no matter what. We decide what we do with them.
*This post is part of the “This is My Story” series. To read more of these powerful stories of finding grace in the midst of the mess, click here.
JJ Landis is the author of “Some Things You Keep.” She is a librarian in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and three children. She blogs about parenting, marriage, and getting through the day at jjlandis.com.
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