An Open Letter About Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are soon approaching and I know these days will look nothing like they should or did in the past.
I am aware of how your life has changed, how much you’ve suffered, how often you’ve felt isolated by our death-avoidant and stigmatizing society. I will not demand that you count your blessings as you stand apart from other families, and you don’t have to fake a smile.
I hope you do whatever you want, although I realize that what you really want is your “old normal” back instead of this “new normal” that you’ve had to build from the ground up. But if the darkness of a movie theater sounds inviting, please, go and lose yourself in someone else’s story for a couple of hours. If comfort food sounds good, enjoy it without guilt. If you want to stay in bed all day, I hope you have soft, warm blankets and that you allow yourself the quiet and solitude that heal your soul. If you break down, awash in grief and mourning, it’s okay. No one has the right to expect you not to. If you don’t cry, or if this day seems little more than a manufactured holiday, or if you feel numb, that’s fine, too. You might feel left out on these days. Maybe you’ll sense the difference between yourself and other parents or adult children who have not dealt with the blow of a suicide death. Your teenager won’t sheepishly offer you a card or say “Thanks, Mom” or “Thanks, Dad.” Your young adult won’t call you from college, or your adult child won’t send you a card and a gift. You no longer get to take that parent or grandparent or spouse out for a meal and buy that card or gift. It’s not fair, and I’m so sorry.
Ignore these days if that would be easier. Run errands, or keep yourself busy with small, mindless tasks around your home. You do not have to answer calls, open your door, or speak to anyone if you don’t wish to. You owe no one an explanation or an apology. If others don’t understand, consider them lucky. As many survivors have heard me say, “As long as you’re not harming yourself or anyone else, no one else gets to weigh in on how you choose to cope.”
Let no one – I repeat, no one – tell you that you should or could feel differently if you would just do this or that. Your grief is not someone else’s problem to solve. You are doing the best you can each and every day. Some days that’s going to look differently than others. That’s okay. You don’t need fixing. You are not a burden to anyone, on these “Hallmark holidays” or any other holidays.
But if you do want to celebrate or acknowledge these special days, you are more than entitled to do so. You will always be that parent, or child, or grandchild. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a noted grief therapist, lecturer, and author often says, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” Your loved one might be your most present thought, the person that’s left the biggest footprint upon your heart – both wonderful and hurtful at the same time. And now, they might be the most ignored and minimized aspect of your life. You’re a person with an unwanted but hard-earned awareness of how fragile life can be. You know the brutal and mysterious task of loving people across time and space, in this lifetime and into the next.
You may need to make space in which your living family members can honor you, or you them. Please accept or give sentiments and gestures with as much grace as you can, and enjoy the time you may be able to spend with your family members. It’s possible to remember the person that’s been lost to suicide and still be present for the ones with whom you continue to share your life. The living deserve to be honored and to bestow honor, and you’ve absolutely earned your place at this table.
You may have friends who’ve quietly disappeared, although their absence is sorely felt. But I also hope you have solid supporters – even just one or two – who accept you as you are, without forced nudges toward the future, or changes of subject, or fixations on the positive despite your pain. “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” they say. That’s all well and good if you feel that way yourself, but don’t let other people make lemonade out of YOUR lemons. If you don’t have those supportive people in your life, please consider calling the Helpline Center at 211 or 1-800-273-8255. We are here 24/7/365 and are always willing to listen to you and support you.
You’re tougher than anyone realizes, especially and including yourself. I’m willing to bet there’s nothing – literally, nothing – anyone can say or do that will upset you on Mother’s or Father’s Day the way your suicide experience did. You’ve already faced the most unthinkable, dreaded news a person can hear. Somehow, although perhaps you did not want to, you still woke up the next day. And the next. You continue to put one foot in front of the other and heal. You are good enough, scars and all.
I think of you all with so much admiration. Whether you’re in a period of hurting or hoping or anger, or of bathing yourself in sweet memories and acceptance – or any or all of that – you matter. Remember this on these coming days of remembrance and all of the other ones as well: you are not alone.
Always, but especially on May 9th and June 20th, I will be holding all of you in my heart.
All my best,