Kathleen Hoy Foley
From a very tender age I took my mother extremely seriously when she threatened to slash her wrists, stick her head in the oven, or issued equally horrifying hints, alerts and menacing vows to kill herself. My mother’s frequent clarion calls for rescue repeatedly sent me scurrying to her side in a sweaty, driven panic to save her life--I always arrived just in the nick of time. The suicidal pronouncements that froze my heart and induced such primitive panic began long before I learned to tie my shoes. And not until arthritis turned shoe tying into a fumbling workout did an ominous truth click into place: my now-elderly mother was still a drowning woman refusing rescue from the dark, swelling vortex of her suicidal depression. And I was still her faithful prisoner drowning right alongside her.
Reality rose like a bitter sun: I could not prevent my mother’s death wishes. No amount of devotion, support, or tough love had or ever would ease her self-loathing. I was never going to be able to stop my mother from destroying herself. In truth, only she had that power.
Killing oneself is a profoundly personal deed with tentacles snaking far back into the deadened, muzzled silence that refuses to give up its secrets easily, even to its victim. My mother’s wrist bore the thick, angry scars of a serious suicide attempt. The threat of her impending death was a daily echo in my life reverberating outward from the hidden chamber of her emotional agony. She had no intellectual or cultural access to her own why, therefore, no effective means for resolution or healing. She endured the burden of emotional pain without protest or analysis, as if her hell was permanently chiseled into the stonework of her life.
As loved ones—as rescuers—we demand in-depth answers for acts of suicide. We ask why? Why? Why? But we are outsiders, barred from the secrets concealed in another’s soul making those profoundly mysterious, deeply individual reasons unavailable to us. The details of why will remain forever unobtainable to us. For we can never truly grasp or fully understand the gravity and force of another’s tormented pull toward self-destruction.
Still, our guilt and terror insist that we plan for the worst so we will know exactly what to do if…god forbid… We memorize lists of red flags and telltale signs. We cart around a directory of hot lines, mental health clinics, and phone numbers of anyone we might call in an emergency…god forbid. And should an energetic tsunami of dark emotions, insurmountable circumstances, and upsetting events coalesce at the wrong time and overpower our loved one and suicide becomes a reality, we grieve not only their death but our failure to prevent it. As if the ultimate power to prevent another’s death belongs to us.
So we badger ourselves for answers--what did I miss? What could I have done? We curse ourselves for not knowing the solution to our loved one’s emotional agony. We condemn ourselves for failing to see what our suicidal loved one so carefully hid. We blame ourselves for neglecting to see what we now know was right before our eyes. How could I have allowed someone I deeply cherish to fall into such despair? We torture ourselves because we believe we should have known. Over and over we criticize ourselves for what we did not know as if we are mind readers, body language experts, students of voice analysis, trained psychiatrists and skilled detectives all rolled into one. But we cannot be all those things—we are just regular people doing the best we can, loving the best way we know how.
In truth, we would do anything…anything in our power to prevent a loved one’s self-destruction. And that is just it…we would do anything. We would do anything…if we could. But we can’t. If we could, we would. If we could have, we would have. This is truth we must accept: we are powerless in the face of another’s determination.
In-depth answers are available to us, but not from our loved one. The difficult questions we would ask them are the same difficult questions we must ask ourselves. Within our truth lies the truth we seek from our loved one, because we are all connected to the universal truth. We all bear wounds and darkness. When we join forces with our courage and look deep within, when we generate the strength to uncover what cowers in our own dark—what keeps us from evolving fully into our light—we will have our answer. To understand the darkness in another, look for the darkness in yourself. You are powerless to heal anyone else. But you possess the power, the strength, and the ability to heal yourself. It takes work. It takes time. It takes focused determination.
Be among the healed. When you walk with the genuinely healed, you radiate powerful light from within. You become part of the universal energy of light, of healing. Light has the power to penetrate the tiniest fissure. Light has the power to lift, to illuminate.
You can align yourself with the light. You can be a light in the face of darkness. You can be a beacon of light and possibility for your loved one, even if your loved one is in spirit. This is what you have the power to do.
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