I’ve tried to write this tribute a thousand times. In my head, as I put it on paper, the words never come as easily as I would like and never seem to do her justice. You asked simply, “Tell me about my mother. I never got to know her.” Laura, it is a huge task because I never got to know her as well as I would have wished either. I empathize because I lost my mother at an early age and wish I had time to know my own mother better. I do know where your question comes from.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, specifically the week of September 10th and I feel led to write about the woman who prevented one suicide and possibly a second, one at the cost of her own life. I need to write it for both you and for me…maybe more for me. I remember that terrible morning…and still feel the sense of loss accompanying it. I can only imagine the loss you feel and the hardships that go with that feeling.
Laura, I have suffered from clinical depression for the past forty years…this year. In the spring of 1977, I had no idea what was causing my anxiety and despair. I feared I was just going “crazy.” Had your mother not interceded in my “craziness” I may never have been diagnosed, or worse, may have followed through with a terrifying, soul-searching debate involving myself and a pistol. It was she who consoled me, quieted my tears and suggested I go to my doctor. Suggested is not a strong enough word but the only word I have. She gave me a fighting chance, one I have not squandered…yet.
I remember her deep laugh and somewhat gravelly voice due in part from too many Virginia Slims. It was a different time. A pixie in stature and butterfly in personality, she never-the-less cast a huge shadow over all those she touched…and not because of the awards she had won but because of the person she was. As a second-year teacher, I was terrified of her until she disarmed my fear with her laugh…and her care for an immature, twenty-four-year-old child. Your mother was never too busy to give council. She was a mentor, a friend, and a mother figure.
I remember so many conversations, many involving you. I remember those first few years of my career, dutifully reporting to the storage room behind the lab that contained her “very cluttered” desk. Asking questions, trying to understand how electrons could be both a particle and a wave, or how I could have such a good life and feel so depressed. She, teaching me right before I had to teach a class that could have cared less about quantum mechanics or why all objects fall at the same rate regardless of mass. Somehow making it all understandable to a history major masquerading as a physical science teacher. Until the afternoon after I had fallen apart. The afternoon after my conversation with my pistol. She cried with me as I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain what I was feeling…despair, hopelessness, and desperation, not realizing she was living on the other side of suicide until a morning when it was too late.
She was proud of you, that you can be assured. More importantly, she would be proud of you now. I remember an impish or elfin little freshman from so long ago…so much the image of her mother I now realize. Your mother was so very delighted and content to have you close by. Lugging a huge musical instrument from class to class, from our conversations I realize, as a grown woman, you have been lugging around a huge burden all your life. In some ways, the same burden your mother carried around, never letting on.
Your mother was a loving person and person who was loved…by students, her teaching peers, and her administrators. She was respectful to her classes and her classes were respectful of her…not to say she didn’t believe in tough love in some, necessary situations. She looked for the best in people and I believe she was rarely disappointed. In many cases, you get exactly what you look for, something we should all remember. The most important thing you need to remember about your mother is that she loved you and she was proud of you. I believe she is proud of you now and the sacrifices you have had to make. You have been a loving and dutiful daughter. She would also be sad because of those same sacrifices and would tell you to unburden yourself.
Laura, your mother had a very profound effect on not only me but everyone she mentored, and most assuredly those students she encountered. I am saddened you didn’t get to know her as well as I did as an adult, but I’m also confident she taught you lessons you don’t even know you learned. I believe the best way to learn about your mother is to consider the “metaphorical” mirror. If you gaze into it you will see more of her than you realize. I believe you are a lot like her…in the most positive of ways.
With love, Don.
This is National Suicide Prevention Month. To learn how you can support suicide prevention, please use the following link: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and you feel you have no one to talk to please call their life line at 1-800-273-8255
To read more from Don Miller please use the following link to his author’s page: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM