Now comes the last forgiveness—my mother, who killed herself when I was seven years old. If I had killed myself when my child was that young, I have wondered, would I feel guilty, looking back from beyond life?
I think that I would, most definitely. I would see that what I did created so many unintended negative consequences in my child’s life.
Would my guilt be right, though? Certainly, the consequences were very real and very terrible, at least in the life of the little girl left behind—me.
Before she died, she had instructed me that if anything happened to her, I was to go to our next door neighbors. One morning when my father was away I went into their room and found that I couldn’t wake her up. So I went to the neighbors.
Much later, I realized that a lot of my father’s guilt probably had to do with the fact that he had left knowing that she was likely to commit suicide. Maybe struggling with her mental illness was simply too much for him, and he decided that, rather than trying to save her, he would just leave her to her own devices.
My mom was what is now called ‘bipolar,’ but it was called ‘manic-depressive’ back in the fifties when this happened. Manic-depressive is a much more accurate name for the syndrome, as it involves alternating buckets of tears and gales of laughter.
I remember standing by her coffin. My mother appeared to me as if she was still alive, only asleep. I watched my father take her wedding and engagement rings off her finger. They weren’t much. The engagement ring was pretty poor and pathetic, in fact. They had very little in those days, my parents. I know how the ring looked because my dad gave it to me, and to this day it is still on my finger, my link with my mother lost in time.
My mother and I used to love to go to old movies together, usually musicals from the 1940s. (There must have been a revival house in Ann Arbor where we lived.) After the movies, we’d always go to the local drugstore for a hot fudge sundae. (I describe the special pleasure of these moments through the eyes of the main character in my novel “Little Town Lies.”)
All of these years, I have borne deep in my heart anger at my mother for what she did, but it has come time for me to put that burden down. She couldn’t help it, and not only that, my father couldn’t help her.
In those days, there was no treatment for her illness. Perhaps he knew that he could not keep her in this life, and simply faced the fact that he had to let her go.
I’ll never know, but I do know this: I forgive her and I forgive him, as I have already forgiven the stepmother who followed her as my father’s second wife, and put me through such hell .