That word is the word I couldn’t say for months after my son was found dead in his apartment. I physically couldn’t say it. My mouth could not get the sounds out. Eventually, I was able to say it but it was still such a bad, horrible, scary word to me. Ryan would not have done “that”!!! It was an unbelievable thought.
Over the past ten years since his death, I have read a lot, talked to a lot of people and learned a lot about suicide. I still don’t know anything. Suicide seems to mean different things to people. I have come to live with it as a part of my life.
We are trying to decrease the stigma of suicide. We now use different vocabulary and it is always changing as well. People do not commit suicide, they die by suicide. I like that. It takes the crime out of it. I really do not think of my son as having committed a crime but as having tried to end the pain he was in at that time.
People think about suicide for so many different reasons that there should be different words for different reasons. (I think). There are some who are depressed or have had somethings happen in their lives that have made a change and don’t want to live anymore and plan their deaths; some who are angry or sad in the moment, most often under the influence of drugs or alcohol and end their lives and there are those who are ill and want doctor’s help to end their lives.
I truly believe that if my son had told someone about his thoughts, his drug use that he would have lived; that he wanted to live. That is why I believe in talking about suicide in the hopes of others talking about it as well. I don’t have answers but I am always open to talking and sharing my story as a mom who has been left behind by suicide. I have also had suicidal thoughts due to the trauma, so I know what that is like as well. It is scary when thoughts come into your head without your control.
There has been much discussion on the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I cannot comment on that because I have not watched the series and I won’t be watching it. There are still some things I can’t watch. But I am happy that it has brought a lot of discussion on suicide to the media. I have learned that talking about suicide doesn’t cause suicide.
I haven’t had a phone call from mom for a few days now. I don’t jump when the phone rings. Last week was a different week. There were daily calls to me at work and sometimes up to five in a day. They were all similar. She wanted out. She wanted out of there now. She wanted her own apartment. She wanted to go to her reserve to live. She was going to escape and go into the bush. She was going to kill herself. She was angry. I was no longer her daughter. I was mean for locking her up in there.
I wondered if the record would ever change or if the needle was stuck and would just keep repeating that for awhile until it got bumped and jumped to a new song. Just never know with dementia. So this week is quiet and we’ll have to see what tomorrow will bring.
I time my visits to mom for when I know she will be in her best moods; just before dinner and then leaving before dinner is over or on a weekend when I can take her out to the restaurant or to church. It is a constant guessing game. My stomach is tense as I approach the doors to the Lodge and step inside each time.
There is comfort in knowing that she is socializing with other residents now, and has visitors and friends. I am focusing on the good visits that we have when she is happy and laughing and I can kiss her good-bye and tell her I love her. And she tells me she loves me.
My mom always loved walking. She especially enjoyed walking in the bush all by herself. And she loved walking on the frozen lake. I find that I am now enjoying those same walks and thinking about her as I walk, remembering the days when she was healthy and able to enjoy the walks. I always felt it a privilege when we walked together and we have walked together many times during the last few years.
These days, as she is in the Lodge and at times phones me three to five times in a day and is angry and accusatory, I have to remember the walks. I have to remember her as a healthy person and pray that she will get peace and that I will too.
When I am older and if my health falters
and my mind wanders, my memory fades
always remember how much I love you
that will never change
there may be times when I am angry
and accuse you of things not true
just remember that it is not the real me
it’s the illness talking
and if there comes a time
when I call you by the wrong name
just remember that you are a part of me
and you always will be
I don’t have a great memory and at times it worries me. Will I get Alzheimer’s disease? Watching my mom lose her memory has made me think about how important our memory is and how we go about our lives not thinking about it usually. We all forget names, misplace things, forget appointments or walk into a room and forget what we were going there for. Some forgetfulness happens with aging but Alzheimer’s is not the normal for aging. It is a terrible disease. Sad to watch someone you love struggle to remember things and people, how to do routine tasks and even how to talk or eat.
When I wrote “The Cedar Canoe,” my mom’s dementia was still in the early stages and I was still in denial about it. I wrote and I quote myself: “in the end memories are all we have left, and all we become.” That is what I believed at that time and there is some truth to it; my ancestors are memories to me now. I didn’t even think at that time that my mom would be robbed of her memory.
I have often wished I could forget the horrible things that have happened to me; the night I stood outside my son’s apartment waiting for the forensics people to bring his body out. And there have been many other memories I would like to wipe away. But when I really think about it, those incidents are a part of me and who I am. I am fortunate that I have my memory. I don’t want to forget those people who were part of those incidents. I never want to forget Ryan, the sound of his voice, the feel of his hair, the smell of him. Those are still inside me and I pray they stay there.
They are making great strides in Alzheimer’s and dementia research and are now saying that there may be a cure in a few years down the road or that they will at least be able to prevent it from happening. I hope so.
It was a back lane that was dirt. The houses not too big or too small of all different shapes and colours. Ours was at one end of the lane, small with white stucco. A larger house was across the street and beside us our neighbours tore down the house and built a larger brick house.
Lots of children lived on the street and on the next one behind us. My best friend lived there. The children on the streets all played together, outside on the street, in our yards and in the bush behind our street where the hydro line stretched out. We also had our squabbles with each other but, anger never lasted long, because we needed each other.
When the girls got together, we skipped double dutch and played hopscotch drawn in the dirt on the road. When boys were included, we rode our bicycles, played hide and seek and cops and robbers or tag. I wasn’t much for road hockey but at times had no choice.
Our dog was never tied up. He followed us wherever we went. He chased and barked at every car that drove by. He fought with every dog that threatened him, even though he was tiny, mostly chihuahua. He loved us.
We made forts in the trees, in the back yard, in the snow or wherever we could. We made roads and drove our toy cars. We made clothes for our barbie dolls. We made our own games with themes and plans. We were all actors in the playhouse. We played until our mothers called for us to come in because it was getting dark.
It is still up and down, but the ups are more often than the downs. It is a different part of her journey and mine as well. She still asks me why she is there and when she will be getting out. I tell her the truth now because that seems to pacify her. I tell her that her memory is not good, that she has a disease called alzheimers and the doctor feels she needs to be in the Lodge.
Last Saturday, while I accompanied her to lunch, my husband hung some pictures up on the wall in her room. They are still there. The pictures that we put on the dresser have all been taken down and put away. The clock that was on the dresser was taken down and put away. We will slowly hang more of the pictures, that were hanging in her living room, on her walls.
She is socializing more with the other residents and sits in the lounge. I’ve taken her out for lunch and my cousin has taken her for an outing as well. I’m hoping to take her to church on Sunday. She receives phone calls because her phone is now connected in her room.
I see other family members visiting their loved ones and there is support there between us. We are all going through similar experiences; that helps. When she was at home, at times it felt like there was just her and I locked in a strange dream. I now see a lot of caring people and it is good.