The first Mother’s Day after Tom died was just a few months after he passed, and our loss was still fresh in the minds of our community. I awoke to a knock on the door, and when I opened it, there was a planter filled with a variety of yellow annuals (yellow being the color we adopted to remember Tom, but that is another story), a gift I later learned was from one of my students who was also a friend of Tom’s. I recall a few cards from students acknowledging the mom-like role I played in their lives, but, of course, nothing from Tom. Just a silent reminder of all that was before and all that never will be.
When Tom died by suicide, it felt like the ultimate parental failure. Even after more than two years of counseling during which I have come to understand how depression and anxiety impact the brain and after re-reading his suicide note hundreds of time where he reassures me his death is not my fault, there continues to be a pin-prickly, nagging voice inside my head telling me I somehow failed him. Did I push him too hard? Did he feel unloved or unsupported? Why was my love not enough to save him? Often, I can temporarily silence the voice by asking, “Is this true” or “Is this helpful,” phrases taught to me by my counselor. But in moments of weakness, exhaustion, or self-pity, or near holidays, his birthday, or his death anniversary, the voice’s volume increases to a deafening roar, and I emotionally implode.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I can hear my negative self-talk surrounding his death becoming louder, and I struggle to make sense of celebrating the day when it feels so closely tied to what I perceive as my greatest failure. Yet, when Tom died, many shared withlme stories of his kindness and service – inviting a bullied student to join him for lunch, helping a teacher clean up her room every day at the end of the school day without being asked, buying a pop for a friend and sitting under a tree and chatting, just to name a few. In his last year of life, he bottle-fed three kittens with tenderness and patience unexpected from a 15 year old. Many have shared with me how his humor, thoughtfulness, and listening skills provided light in their lives. So, in his life, he lived with compassion for others which means I must have done something right. (Not to take full credit, of course, as Tom was surrounded by family members who loved and raised him.)
As I look towards this third Mother’s Day without Tom, I dread what the day will bring. Even though our surviving son, Tim, will acknowledge the occasion in his own way, it will not be enough, because my mini-me is no longer a tangible presence in my life. How sad for both of us that this day feels forever changed and is no longer a day of celebration but a day of regret and pain. So, I must choose to look at Mother’s Day in a different way as I move forward.
On this upcoming Mother’s Day, what will I celebrate? Beyond my thankfulness and love for Tim, I will celebrate the sixteen years of the precious time I shared with Tom. Our heartfelt chats and his warm hugs. His humor. His intellect. His artistic ability. The lives which have been saved since Tom passed through prevention training and one-on-one chats. Instead of mourning Tom’s death, I will celebrate his life.
(C) Kimberly Starr 2017
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