What is death but an escape from life? A last breath to depart a world we never chose to walk, a final look at a life wrecked with pain and strife.
That’s been my mantra as I’ve pondered my time to die. And it’s this Friday. For the last 35 years I’ve scheduled my death. 3 June. The day I die.
It’s the same day my mother died. I was 8 years old. I can’t remember anything that happened on 3 June 1981 prior to the news of her death. I don’t remember anything in the days before. I remember walking down the driveway of our small home, which I think was painted a shade of yellow. A happy shade. I remember the rose garden in the front of the veranda where I spent hours playing by myself, imagining I could fly. Running with my arms open wide between the tall, manicured bushes with their distinct aroma and taloned branches that always surprised me when I made contact.
I remember not knowing why our house was filled with people and wondering why they wouldn’t let me in to say hello to my mother. I usually saw her first from school everyday. I arrived home before my brother and I would sit on her bed and recount my day, tales of games I played with friends, books I was reading, or other nonsense that consumes an 8-year-old mind. This time I was shut out.
I remember walking to the next-door neighbour to phone my father to tell him to come home. I never asked why we couldn’t use our own phone. I remember coming back and waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Asking what was wrong but not really fearing the worst. I don’t recall terror or fear. Or even worry. It felt like a game, I had tasks and I had to complete them, my naïve, childish mind hiding what as an adult would have sent fear and impending sorrow.
I remember directing the ambulance down the driveway, like an aeroplane guided by a uniformed employee. And I remember leaving to go and buy lunch, unaware that I was being sheltered from watching my mother’s lifeless body being wheeled from her bedroom where at 10:30 that morning she had taken her own life.
Empty pill bottles, tissues and letters were left alongside her. Still there when I returned and was finally let into my home. My home, that felt like a tomb thereafter. The house where my mother died. The letters said sorry I think, but they didn’t matter, nor her two rings wrapped in the tissues, one for my brother and one for me. All that mattered was what wasn’t there anymore. She had finally walked away, something she had been threatening to do and no one took seriously. Least of all my 8-year-old naïve and childish mind.
I remember crying, and rage. Ripping up pics of her I had in my room were my first instinct. Then terror. I think I locked myself in my room until my brother came home. I remember seeing him run down the driveway, his 13-year-old mind knowing what she had done, and the fear that had consumed him for months before finally finding anchor. I remember his face, etched with pain, perhaps mirroring my own, as we both began navigating a world where internally we believed we weren’t worth living for.
I remember feeling my world had ended. Not knowing that in the moment of hearing about her death and the way she had died, a new script was being written that would shape my world and the way I fit into it. A world that was now scary, unsafe, and promised devastation where once there had been safety. A world that felt like you could be flung aside in a moment. A world that didn’t really matter what you wanted or who you loved. A world that suddenly felt out of control.
And the only way I could regain control was to decide to die. At 8 years old I decided to die. On 3 June. On the day she died.
I have no idea why I decided that. Perhaps I wanted to join her. A world without your mom seems a terrifying place for a child. A world where your mom can decide to leave you seems unbearable. A world where your mom can never come back seems unliveable.
I don’t blame myself for wanting to die.
But at 43, 10 years older than my mother was when she wrote her last goodbyes to the boys she said she adored, I still somehow believe I should die on the day she did. My death and the choice to end my life seems etched on my soul, and each year that I get past the day seems to be filled with regret, and relief.
I wonder now if she knew what she would do to us. Her death will always leave me with more questions than answers. But at 8 years old she changed me. And at 8 years old, somehow, she passed on her pain as she left what she could no longer bear. And perhaps, each year I want to pass on the pain of her death, because living with it feels too heavy. Too consuming. Too humiliating. Too weak. Too out of control. And the thought of my planned death feels controlled, strong and a doorway to release.
I wonder if she knew she would affect every relationship in my life from then on. That her suicide, a difficult word for me to say or hear, would forever keep me at arm’s length from those I wanted to hold onto and love for fear they might depart and leave me. Not just leave me. Her death left me feeling like I had been disembowelled and left to walk the rest of my days trying to hold my body, which keeps refusing to die, together. Leaking. Hurting. And longing for healing. That every person I’ve ever wanted to adore has the 8-year-old child in me screaming in terror. Fear that they too could rip me apart.
I wonder if she knew that her death would mean mine.
And I suppose that’s why I’m writing this. Because at 8 years old I was a victim of someone else’s pain. And I’ve lived as a victim since then. Disempowered. Terrified. Wounded. Weak. And 35 years later, on the day of her death, that 8-year-old still seems to be the hero in the script of my life, wanting me to write the final page with the ultimate act of courage his naïve, childish mind understands. That child who wants freedom from a world that seems barbaric and torturous, wants out. And each year I have to silence him.
I wonder if she knew that this would be her legacy. Her death.
So I write this as an act of catharsis and also to speak to the 8-year-old who consumes so many of my adult thoughts. To attempt to address his rage, his terror and his will to die. To try to reason with his wails, and calm his childish, naïve mind.
Your death, little guy, is not the answer. All you will do is pass on the pain to people who don’t deserve it. People who have tried to love you despite your continued resistance and dismissal. People who kept on loving you despite your wails. Despite you desperation to escape. People who want you to come out of the room into the light and face the world and its darkness head on. These people don’t deserve the pain. Or to be punished as you felt you were. These people want to love you, despite your belief that you’re not worth loving.
Little guy, on 3 June you’re not going to die.
Your mom did and what she did is unforgiveable. Not in a religious sense. But to you. So on 3 June, you need to let older, hopefully wiser me in. And let me hold you. And tell you it’s going to be okay. That your script must change. That you need to let me live. And love. And be loved.
I know you’ll always remind me of my potential pain, little guy. That you’re terrified of what people who say they love you want to really do to you, but I need to stop listening to you, and you need to get quieter. Because what you want to do no one else deserves. You cannot pass on this pain. That would be the real weakness. Protecting them is where you’ll find your strength. Try believing that, little guy.
You need to remember to live. You died when she did. You need to wipe away those tears and start saying: “She died… oh well.” You need to stop making your anger and your fear the script of our lives going forward. And I know you’re just a little guy, but you need to somehow hear this. Because on Friday I want to live. Really live. I want to raise my gaze to the world from Friday on. I want to embrace people and let them in. I want love and be loved in return. I want to feel again. To live. To find the reasons to stay alive, and not wallow in the reasons not to. I need you to let me go. She let us go, and you need to stop holding onto that.
You’re okay, little guy. Look, you’re still here. 35 years on. When you promised you wouldn’t be. And if only you would look you would see so many reasons to stay alive. You’ve had so many moments of complete and utter bliss. Experiences that could have fed your soul if only you hadn’t refused to stop looking at your pain. You need to lift your eyes, little guy. Lift your eyes from that empty lifeless bed and see the life-filled forty-three-year-old man in front of you, who wants to be free. You need to let him celebrate life.
She’s gone little guy… oh well. Now live.
This post was written after reading Matt Haig’s book called Reasons To Stay Alive. This is the first book I’ve hugged after reading. I highly recommend this book, especially if you suffer with suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety. Hopefully this post will inspire others to choose to live, just as his book reminded me of why I should.