In 2006 I booked a weekend alone at a resort on the beach in Santa Cruz, California. The entire purpose of the trip was to do something I had been working on for quite some time: forgive my mom. I had spent 15 years being incredibly angry with my mom and I realized my anger was only hurting myself, not her. They say not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. In this case, she was already dead and I was trying to punish her by not forgiving her. I felt like if I forgave her it would somehow condone her actions or let her off the hook. For years I fought the idea of forgiving her but alas, I realized it was in my best interest to finally forgive. I was neither forgetting what had happened nor excusing it either. I was simply forgiving her.
That Saturday morning I went to the store and got a helium-filled yellow balloon and headed to the beach. I laid out a comfy blanket and pulled out a marker and began writing on the balloon all of the things I was forgiving my mom for doing. Committing suicide, planning for me to find her, a worthless goodbye letter, leaving me without a mom, being selfish, etc. The balloon was completely full and I truly was forgiving her for each of those. I said a prayer, stood up, and released the balloon. In that moment, I was forgiving her for each of those injuring actions and I felt freer than I have ever felt. The power of forgiveness is life giving, really. My anger was gone.
This fall, nine years after that balloon flew away; I started The Gift of Second. I have been reading a lot of stories from people that have experienced a suicide and have also interviewed a handful of others for the video section on here. There seems to be a common theme I hear in everyone’s story: empathy. Empathy for their loved one’s hopelessness, depression, and desperation. Empathy for their loved one who was hurting so much. I understand this empathy and I express it for everyone else except my mom. A weird thing has happened this fall for me. For the first time in nine years, I am back to being extremely angry with her for taking her own life. Angry with her selfishness. Angry she was so intentional in her actions that day, knowing her ten-year-old daughter would be the only one to find her lifeless body. Angry she left me without a mom at the time a girl needs her mom the most. Angry she took the easy way out. Angry she didn’t care enough about her family to get the help she needed. Angry, angry, angry!
As a result of my anger towards my mom, I have found I have become angry with myself as well. Angry for being angry. Angry for still caring. Angry I am not ‘over this’ yet. Angry for not moving on. Angry for starting a website to help other people and apparently being the only one that does not empathize with the one that died. I’m angry. What is wrong with me?
Did I truly forgive my mom 9 years ago for her actions? Yes. Did I mean it? Absolutely. Then why am I angry all over again when I thought I had moved beyond this stage? Welcome to grief! I am a licensed therapist and am still learning first-hand the ins and outs of suicide grief.
I am learning forgiveness is not a one-time thing, it is likely an event that will happen over and over and over again. It’s not neat and tidy, it is messy. It is not without pain, the sorrow is real. Forgiveness needs to happen when life brings about waves of emotion and then triggers memories and feelings I thought I had worked through. Forgiving my mom for her suicide will happen many times in my life, not just that one time on the beach when I let the balloon fly.
So, for today, I am giving myself grace. I will not shame myself for being angry. I am embracing the anger because I want to give myself value, the same value she robbed me of when she took her life and forced me to question my worth for decades after. I am right where I need to be; angry. And I am okay with that. I am not okay with her suicide and her choice to leave a small child, but I am okay with validating how I feel today, working through grief when it hits and never discounting the raw emotion attached to her suicide. She took her life, but she didn’t take mine. I will live fully. The good, the bad, the anger. All of it, I will live!