Thursday, October 22, 2009

Suicide Changes Life

Wanting what I couldn't have developed into idolizing what I didn't know. Everything my mother was intrigued me. I was so little, but I knew too much. The truth is at seven years old, I really knew very little, but I already had seen so much. Every moment with my mother was like an emotional adventure. There were no guarantees and I never knew when I would see her next. The only promising sign that she was coming was the sound of her keys in the front door of my grandparent’s house. That sound. I can still hear it, but only in my head.

The last time I saw her, she came over unexpectedly which was not so unusual. She was there to visit with her Mom for grown-up reasons and so I didn't get too much time with her. I still loved seeing her. She always smelled the same. She never looked the same. She always had something different on. "Cool" clothes, long earrings that I only dreamed of being allowed to wear, cute and sexy outfits. I never wondered why she cared so much about herself and so little about me. I knew she was a "dancer" and it made sense to me, as told to me by her, that she had to look good if she wanted to make money.

Whatever time she had left over for me was always good enough. That day it wasn't much. I was doing a great job of being my doll's mommy when I heard parts of her conversation with my grandma. Something was wrong. She and her boyfriend were fighting... blah blah blah. Same problems, different boyfriend. The details didn't matter too much to me. The last time I had spent the night with her she had told me again about how things were going to change. They were getting a bigger better house and they were going to get married on Valentine's Day. Then I could come live with her. She always told me these fairy tales. I loved her no matter where we lived, even if it wasn't together. She told me because she needed to believe it. I know that now.

It was already time for her to go. Nothing seemed any better or worse than any other day. She was in a hurry and had to go. I got a hug. I felt satisfied with her smell left lingering on me for a short while. Back to playing with my doll.

I had complete and predictable discipline during the day when my grandma was home and trying to balance her meticulous housework and getting some sleep before she went to work at 5. My grandpa worked Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and got home around 3 in the afternoon. He would begin his yard work and take me outside to play while my grandma got ready for work. The evenings were filled with sweet manipulation because I was Grandpa's little girl and I always got my way when Grandma was at work. The next morning was a Tuesday and so I woke up to both of my grandparents. This day there was new tension in the house.

I heard my grandma on the phone earlier, but hadn't paid much attention. I started listening to the grown up conversation she and my grandpa were having as I was getting my cereal. They were talking about the quick visit Mom had paid the day before. They were talking about what people they could call... who might know something or have heard from her. I decided I belonged in the conversation and asked what had happened. My mom was missing. Missing. That word was new. I had gone weeks at a time without hearing from her before, but she had never been missing.

Knowing that I just seen her in the last 24 hours, it seemed ridiculous that they would call her missing. Missing is what kids on milk cartons are.
Grandma explained that Mom's boyfriend, Geoff, had called and he hadn't seen her since they had been in a fight on Sunday night. She hadn't been to work. He had called anyone who might have seen her or been with her, and no one had. Taking in this kind of information is hard when you have a big girl mind at 7 years old. As many ideas as I was getting, my grandparents had their own agenda of worry. I was quickly being hustled around the house because there were phone calls to be made and things to consider. My questions were not so welcome anymore; likely because there were no answers.

I have never heard our phone ring so much. I heard "missing persons report" among the same questions and answers I had heard all morning on every other phone call. Each phone call was met with anticipation, eager for my mother's voice. A disappointed shrug and a disheartened head shake let me know she was not the caller. I guess people started running out of questions and answers and the phone quit ringing. The day grew into evening. My grandparents were talking like I wasn't there, discussing what I might be thinking or feeling, seemingly unaware that I could tell them if they would just ask me.

We would be participating in a normal daily activity, talking about anything that wasn’t my mother and then abruptly, one of them would have a new consideration. These contemplations ranged from uneasy worry about horrifying what-ifs, to encouraging, self-assuring explanations of how and why she would be okay. Neither of them could remain functional for long and they finally started talking about how to protect me from all of the uncertainty. They wanted me to go spend the night with our two elderly neighbor ladies, Blanche and Carol. I didn’t want to go. Why did I need to go somewhere else? It wasn’t going to make anything better or worse.

It was already getting late when my grandma made the phone call to ask Blanche if I could come stay the night. I liked the company of these two old ladies in moderation. I spent every Wednesday evening over there, watching Highway to Heaven and drinking my ginger ale in a cocktail glass while Blanche and Carol sipped liquor in theirs. Why did I have to go spend the night on a Tuesday just because my Mom was missing? The only way I was going to go was if my best friend Sebrina, who lived up the street with her grandparents as well, could stay with me. I don’t remember the details of why not that night, but it was decided that the next night would be spent with Blanche and Carol, Sebrina included.

Still Tuesday… still the longest Day of my life yet… still no phone call from Mom. Evening worry turned into night time exhaustion and brought bedtime with it. I had no more thoughts to think and I was tired of seeing everyone so upset and so confused. Sleep came easy and morning came quickly. The distressing atmosphere remained, but little was said. The night had brought no answers. Grandma was getting ready to take a shower with me to get ready for the day. I sat unfeeling on the steps, with my night gown still on, my towel in my lap, waiting for my cue to get in the shower. The phone rang; the first phone call of the day. All the anxiety in the world suddenly captivated my previously unfeeling heart and I just HAD to answer the phone.
“Hello, who am I speaking with?” the man on the other end asked.
“This is Shawna.”
“Shawna, are you Cathy’s daughter?” was the next question.
“Yeah, yes… I am.”
“Shawna, this is Detective (somebody).” “Can I speak with your grandma or grandpa please?”
“Yes, hold on.”
Grandma was already coming in the bedroom door, with a questioning look on her face as I yelled upstairs for my grandpa to pick up the phone. I am not sure if she was questioning why I had answered the phone, or what had been said since. Either way, my Grandpa had already picked up the phone upstairs and so I hung up the one in my hand. My grandma reached out her hand, never asking me anything. I took it and we went up stairs together. Grandpa sat in the kitchen chair, not saying much, still listening to something being said by Detective Somebody. Grandma pulled out the kitchen chair on the next side of the table and sat down, pulling me onto her lap as she did. We sat together and waited. It was only moments I’m sure. Moments of that special time… that never ending time that feels like an eternity in just moments. I saw the color drain from his face. The last thing he said into the phone was, “Ok, Thank You,” and he was shaking before he could hang it up. This time he didn’t shake his head. He nodded and slowly the words fell out of his mouth.

“Cathy’s dead.”

I felt like the life had been sucked out of me. The thoughts suffocated me. How could my so perfectly imperfect mom be DEAD? I hadn’t even considered this option. Missing… missing was not dead. I cried. She could have run away. I cried harder. She could have been in an accident.The tears came so fast I felt like I was drowning. She could have been kidnapped. She could bemissing, but she could not be dead. I was hyperventilating and crying. If I cried hard enough it felt like I could cry the pain away. I remember my grandpa trying to hush me the way you hush a crying baby. Trying to tell me it would be okay, when he knew it was not okay. He got me a little glass of water and told me to take a drink. I cried harder. My Mom could not drink water anymore. Why would I want to drink water? I knew it would make my grandpa feel better if I drank the water. I picked up the glass. I realized the whole kitchen looked like it was under water. I cried and cried and cried.

A temporary reprieve from the crying came. It was long enough for me to hear my grandpa explain that Mom had killed herself. She had hung herself in a shower… in a hotel room… by herself… with the bed sheet… no note.
Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Not MY Mom. I cried. I screamed. Nothing stopped the pain. I hadn’t even accepted dead. I surely could not accept that she had made herself dead. No way. I kept insisting it wasn’t her. It was a mistake.
“She had on her unicorn necklace,” he said.

Someone put it there. She was in trouble and had faked her death. Surely a stripper could get in enough trouble to need to disappear. Any minute she would call and tell us where she really was.
Now that other kind of special time came… the time where an eternity is gone in moments. So much crying and talking. Pain swallowed me up and I ran out of things to think. I sat waiting to be told what to do, because there was no feeling left in me for me to decide for myself. There were calls to be made. Plans to be made. Maybe it was a good idea if I went over to see Blanche now so they could “take care of things.” I didn’t want to go see her. I couldn’t. She was waiting for me and it was time for me to go over there. Somehow I put one foot in front of the other. I made it down the stairs. I got outside the house. I looked back at the house and wondered what “plans” meant. I made it to the sidewalk and there they were. Those words. Right out of my Grandpa’s mouth and into my head. Cathy’s dead. I looked at Blanche’s house. It looked like it was under water now. I looked at all of the houses and I knew all of the people in them. I knew I was supposed to walk to Blanche’s house. I knew I was. I couldn’t. I had to tell someone. I looked to my other neighbors’ house. I ran as fast as I could to their door. I rang the doorbell as many times as I could. Everything looked like water now. My friend’s Mom opened the door and before she could even ask me, I told her, “My mom is dead.”


  1. Shawna - I want to write something, but this is too powerful for any words that I could muster. I simply want you to know I have read this and I think you are AMAZING.

  2. Oh Shawna, no child should ever have to experience such heartache. Your children are blessed to have you as their mom...I agree with what Jennifer said.

  3. Very, very powerful writing, Shawna. It tears the heart - as well it should.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. As painful as it was, I realize that I have found insurmountable strength from experiencing my mother's weaknesses. Being a parentless child has its hardships, but having faced my life without them has taught me to look for answers. I appreciate that you all read this.

  5. This would've been a moving post to me regardless, but it is more so because I too have been altered forever by the devastation that the suicide of a loved-one can bring. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  6. Just ran across your blog, and this post broke my heart. I'm so sorry for what you've been through. I pray you are healing.

  7. Very moving, and very uplifting. I am glad i took the time to read it. thank you.

  8. Wow... even at such a young age you endured something that not very many older people have experienced. You were and still are a brave woman. I couldn't imagine being able to have enough strength to write about something so painful as this. This is already my third or fourth post in one days reading of your blogs. I have so much respect for you...