My mother called me the day before she killed herself.
I’d like to say I remember every word of our conversation.
I’d like to believe it was chiseled in my memory forever. The sound of her voice something to lessen the pain of how I still miss her. How I wish she had been a longer part of my oldest daughter’s life and could know my three daughters born after she died, could read the stories I’ve written of them and about being their father and how my life’s become so much more than I ever imagined.
I’ll always carry the sorrow of how my daughters will never know her.
When world-shaking events take place, and you see or hear of it the first time… you remember that day and details of where you were, who you were with and who said what. You remember. But that call from my mother didn’t come on a life-rattling day, and I don’t. It was just mom calling to chat, probably asking about my—then only—daughter, soon to be five-year-old Karen.
That Saturday, August 28, 1993, I didn’t know I would never talk to her again.
Two days later I got the call I remember.
Shock is too thin a word. The hardest hit to the most sensitive part of a man doesn’t come close to conveying how I felt when my brother called me at work and told me my mother had shot herself the day before.
She was only 61.
But it gives me context.
One of my clients told me something once that surprised me though I’ve heard similar statements before from those I work with. But not with the depth of meaning behind this one. It touched on something I feel about my mother’s death. She—my client—said, “You helped me fight my demons and win because you showed me the way with your kindness and patience and most of all, your compassion. How do I ever repay you for giving me a reason to appreciate what I have and look forward to what the future will bring?”
Moved, I replied, “I gave you only what you deserve… the people that care for you do so because of who you are. You’ve earned their love and respect because you’ve fought your inner battles, and while doing that you gave to and care about others. That’s not a character trait that appears… it’s something there all along. A strength that is a wonder to behold and you telling me you’ve ousted those demons… that’s the best ‘repayment’ I could ever hope for. The future is bright; brighter still because you will be part of it!”
You may ask yourself why am I sharing this with you.
This woman—my client—had dealt with challenges and adversity most people never face. And through it, all strived to provide for and take care of her family as best she could. Though in the twilight of her life she still cared for and gave to others.
The regrets and recriminations we heap on ourselves can sometimes be too much to bear. That sense of futility… that your life just does not matter… can overcome even the strongest of wills if they are fighting the battle alone (even when that is not reality). But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The past can be painful to write about. But I know it can also be cathartic and carries with it the power to heal and resolve lingering issues from the past.
In a TIME magazine article by Mary Pols titled:… The best memoirs of loss and tragedy teach us universal truths. The worst just teach us suffering. The article starts with a question, “At what point does an individual’s grief move from the chaos of misery to a vessel of wisdom worth passing along?”
It’s a question a writer of a memoir needs to ask as it pertains to the intent of the book It’s about context. There are lessons and those universal truths to pull from even the most tragic of lives. Crafted into a story that becomes redemption or healing for the person the book is about.
That is what I wanted my client to understand; I wanted her to know her life was not a waste and sharing her story was important.
A redeeming quality of humanity is there are those who work through challenges and adversity and never let them bring their life to a permanent stop. The beauty of the human spirit shines when people continue their lives—despite heartache—despite obstacles and tragedies, despite when their life takes a dangerous turn for whatever reason. Their stories resonate and can be the catalyst that enables someone they don’t even know, a reader, to carry on and not give up. That books have changed lives goes without saying. Most, if not all, of us, have been moved by something we read. Stories that lift those who need help and move them to take a step forward, then another, and another…. making their way to a better attitude, a better place, and better life. Countless books have done that for people.
My mother had a difficult life; it was hardscrabble for much of it. I never realized how dark her thoughts, how tired of it all she was. How I wish she had had someone that touched—reached—her… to convince her life was worth carrying on. I failed to do that as her son, but I’m blessed with her compassion and the spirit that existed in her before its final surrender lives on as part of me. And that spark has helped me with my writing and publishing, and those efforts sometimes make a difference in other lives. I think it helped save someone.
Life can be hard and is often a grand experiment. For those of you who have ever thought of someday telling your story, pursue that and make it happen. Don’t give up and never surrender.
Stories and books can make a real difference in people’s lives. If you have a story in you… write it, let it be told… it can make a difference.
My client who told me what I’d done for her, is living proof of what that means.