The day my mom attempted suicide I immediately hopped on a bus from New York City to Virginia to visit her. It had been a nearly a year since we had last spoke out of my own resentments around her not protecting me from the sexual abuse with my father. I knew she wasn’t doing well but I didn’t know how bad she had really gotten. In my family we are all pretty intuitive and a few weeks before her suicide attempt the universe sent me a sign. My cousin had a dream we walked into my parents’ house and found blood on the floor. When she told me the dream my skin shivered. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dream was a premonition and sure enough, it came true.
When I walked into the hospital I immediately had a lump in my throat and my heart was racing. It had just hit me. I was visiting my mom in a mental hospital because she had attempted suicide. I didn’t know what to expect but I wanted to see her regardless of how long it had been. I wanted her to know that I loved her.
My cousin went with me for moral support and we walked through two heavy beige hospital doors to the psych ward where she was. She walked up to me with a bandage wrapped around her wrist and looked happy to see me. With a half-smile on her face and a wrinkle in her forehead she showed me her room. As we sat down, a man walked by in his robe completely nude and pissed on the floor in front of us.
“I don’t belong in here”, my mom cried. It was heart-breaking to see her there. She was right. She didn’t belong in there but she was safer in there than at home.
The day my mom attempted suicide she waited for my father to leave the house. She went to the kitchen, found a razor, walked to her bedroom, sat down on her bed and cut lines down her wrist. She said she couldn’t feel anything. She cut her wrist so much that she needed a blood transfusion. No one knows how long she was alone bleeding before my dad got home. He tied a sheet around her wrist and called the police.
My mother had lost complete hope in her life purpose. In her words, she felt like a burden to our family and she was right. In our dysfunction we didn’t know how to help her. We didn’t know how to be the family that could get her the help she needed safely without shame or fear. My dad would just call her crazy and threaten to take us away from her.
For years she was terrified to leave my dad out of fear losing us and compromised her mental health because of his threats. Her health declined and she went into a deep depression. Isolated in a house with no car, no money and my dad’s abuse it’s not a surprise she wanted out. My father had broken her down to nothing and constantly told her no one wanted her and she was better off dead.
After I visited in the hospital I went to my parents house to speak with my dad. It had been at least a few days since she was admitted in the hospital and my dad left her room untouched exactly how he found it. Blood-drenched sheets, blood spots on the floor including the razor she used.
“Why didn’t you clean her room for her?”, I asked.
“She’s stupid. She did that so she can clean it up”, my dad replied.
I couldn’t believe it. My fists were clenched. It took everything in me not to kill him myself.
I cleaned her room and changed her bedsheets. I threw out three big black trash bags filled with the dried up bloody sheets, comforter and the razor she used. I wanted her to have something special to come home to and my dad could have cared less.
About a month later my mom was released, she got on a recovery plan and had weekly therapy appointments. She was put on some medications for depression and schizophrenia. She was assigned a caseworker who got her into a mental health day program where she could be a part of a community of people who also had similar mental health concerns. Some months passed by and she got a job at a fast-food restaurant and started working again. It was the first step in her reclaiming some independence from my dad.
Suicide is a misunderstood topic. There are so many misconceptions and ideas of why a parent commits suicide. The most common question we can ask is “Why?” but that’s a hard question to answer.
The layers behind why someone commits suicide or wants to commit suicide are complex. Severe depression or other mental illness is a huge factor. Other reasons could be substance use, history of trauma, loss, chronic pain and in the case with my mom, domestic violence and abuse.
There is a shame when it comes to hardship and tough times. It’s not easy for anyone to really ask for help nor is it encouraged. Society has influenced us to be independent but not resourceful. We are taught to hide our emotions and our struggle. Mental illness carries a stigma that if you are suffering mentally you are crazy which is just not true. It’s not always safe or welcome for someone to openly share their struggles or find resources readily available.
We need to do more for the people in our lives who are struggling. We need to hold space for them and ask the questions, “What do you need?” and “How can I support?”.
We need to be an ear and listen without judgment. We need to gently influence them to find safety in seeking out mental help without feeling ashamed.
When I look back at mom’s story, my biggest regret is I wish my mom had more support by her side. We didn’t take my mom’s mental health very seriously and in some ways abandoned her as a family. She deserved more and no one was really there for.
It’s been years since her suicide attempt. Three months before my father passed away this year she left him. She found a room for $400 and got on her feet. It was the first time she had ever been on her own and she was so happy to finally be free.
I talked to my mom about this story recently and it was emotional for her to open up about it. She lost feeling in two of her fingers where she cut herself. She still struggles with depression but doesn’t experience feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts. She wants to be around for as long as possible and feels more at peace not being with my dad.
Her leaving him has reminded her of the little things she once loved like reading, painting her nails and coloring her hair.
Ever since my dad died, we reconnected and our relationship has been better than ever. I let go of the idea of what my mom should be like and have moved into acceptance of who she is now and is becoming.
When she was in the hospital she colored me a butterfly that I still have to this day. It reminds me of her journey and how she survived.