Thursday, July 26, 2012

Maternal Suicide - Part I

How might we help a child who suffers this most monstrous of losses?

Several years ago, I attended a benefit luncheon for a program for bereaved chidlren at which Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters, was the featured speaker.  All of the women at my table had lost our mothers when we were very young, and we noticed  immediately that we all speak a similar language when we are together. We had all practically inhaled Hope's book and, if I recall correctly, we all shared two major life experiences consequent to the deaths of our mothers.

First, our fathers had all remarried quickly.  Two of us had fathers who had been widowed twice, and the second re-marriages had come about even more quickly than the first.  We all shared the feeling, documented repeatedly in the book, of having lost a father as well as a mother.  I don't know whether things have changed in an era of increased attention to the emotional lives of fathers and their connections to their children, but we all related the same narrative: fathers ill-equipped to deal with the trauma of unexpected and early loss who turned to other women for comfort, children shunted aside in favor of new wives, step-children given short shrift in contrast to biological children.  I'm not whining or seeking sympathy.  These are simple facts, experienced almost identically by every woman at a table for ten.

Secondly, we had all "learned" through our early experience of bereavement that our own feelings were untrustworthy.  Again, almost identical narratives, narratives repeatedly documented by Hope Edelman in her interviews with other women. Each of us had understood our mother to be the center of the universe, someone adored by all who knew her.  Then our young mothers died, and their names were seldom mentioned again.  They were replaced by stepmothers, and our homes and lives were re-arranged. As small girls, or even, in some cases, as adolescents, we did not know to read these circumstances as indicative of adult incompetence in the face of terrible loss. We interpreted them to mean that we had been wrong about the importance of our mothers and that, contrary to our impressions, they had been insignificant to those who knew them.  Next step in our childish reasoning:  If we could be so completely wrong about something so important, we were most likely wrong about everything else.  Our skills of analysis and evaluation were completely unreliable.

I probably don't need to tell you that for those of us at that luncheon table, all of us mothers ourselves at that point, the journey back to a sense of self-worth and self-confidence had been long and rocky.

Think about it this way: Adolescents Acting Out.

Now, let's add to the mix: a child's mother dies of suicide. This has just happened in my friend Karen's community, and she and I have engaged in a bit of conversation about it.  This new dimension is so enormous that . . .  it's going to require another post.  Tomorrow.


  1. thank you for this. I need this info right now.

  2. This gives me pause to think in a new way about a parishioner family, the mother/wife died about four years ago from brain cancer leaving behind a numb husband and two young kids - now six and ten. He's a stay at home Dad, was before his wife died...he's a great dad, but the toll this has taken on him is huge - he's only recently done some of his true grieving...the death of a mom, especially by suicide, is sad beyond measure....will be sure to read tomorrow....