Dear Wynonna and Ashley,
I lost my momma in the same way you lost yours. When I heard Naomi passed on Saturday and read what you wrote about losing her to “Mental illness,” my heart sank for you both. That night, as I was going to bed, I said a little prayer for each of you because I remember what it was like that first night. I remember wanting that nightmare of a day to be over but also knowing that once the clock struck midnight, the day I last saw, spoke with, and touched my mom would be over as well. There would never again be any new days with her, no new memories made, no more hugs or laughs. What I had experienced with her up until that day was all I was ever going to have with her. I was only ten years old but regardless of how old you are when you lose your momma, especially in this way, it rips your heart, and everything you know, to shreds.
I spent the day on YouTube watching some old interviews with Naomi as she disclosed her journey with depression and anxiety. The torment she experienced sounds horrifying, lonely, and debilitating. I imagine your journey with her over the years has felt scary, helpless, and exhausting. When I have clients in my office, sitting across from me on the couch with their wet tissues in hand, they will often whisper that they feel relieved their loved one is no longer in such physical and emotional agony. They feel relief that their loved one is no longer tormented by pain that a therapist or prescription couldn’t heal. Mostly, they feel guilty for feeling relieved. They speak to the relief of no longer dreading walking into another suicide attempt, fearing middle-of-the-night phone calls, or the dread that comes from multiple unanswered texts. Mental illness is a thief to everyone involved.
I have had the luxury of grieving my losses to suicide (there have been multiple since my mom) in private. I have never had news outlets updating details of the final days and moments leading up to the death for all the world to read and scrutinize at the top of every hour. Neither of you, unfortunately, are afforded this same space. I encourage you to share only what you are comfortable sharing. When it comes to suicide, people have all sorts of inappropriate questions and morbid curiosity, none of which you are required to answer. What happened in those final days, or even the years leading up until May 2nd, is your story to share. Or not. You can share as little or as much as you wish with your inner circle or the world at large. You owe nothing to anyone. You can talk about suicide in any way that feels right to you. Too many fellow suicide-loss survivors and mental health professionals alike have so many rules and suggestions on how you “should” talk about suicide but I disagree with them. Nobody gets to dictate how you talk about your own experience or how you express your grief. It is yours and yours alone.
Some of your closest friends and family members will disappear. They will be uncomfortable and not know what to say so they will say nothing. They will stop coming around. And it will hurt. It will be another profound loss at a time when you needed them most. And yet, there will be new people that you never knew or are barely acquainted with and they will show up for you in ways that will be vital to your survival. These people are gifts. They are the ones who sit with you and listen. They let you share the same raw emotions for the 100th time. They are the ones that will catch the snot falling from your face as you uncontrollably sob. There are people out there who really step up for others in times like this. Lean into them because you will need them.
Right now, everything is incredibly painful and raw. Pain that feels like only a substance can soothe. It’s so easy to reach for the bottle or drugs, food, etc. Those vices work because they work. But only temporarily. My encouragement is not to reach for the bottle. It’s always empty at the bottom anyway. Instead, call a friend, find a therapist, join a support group. Whatever it takes, get the support you need. There are not enough substances in the world to take this pain away. Besides, the road of substances is rarely gentle to those who traverse it.
Suicide causes a lot of strong opinions for people and their opinions are not your truth. Whether you are heartbroken, angry, relieved, traumatized, in shock, anxious, depressed, or all of these at once, it is okay. These, and so many more feelings and emotions, are all valid. Don’t censor or diminish your pain because others are uncomfortable with it. Your whole family might experience completely different emotions and opinions and that’s normal, too. We’re not robots.
Finally, a lot of suicide-loss survivors experience guilt for not saving their loved ones. Others experience shame as they feel they were not enough to keep their loved ones alive. Both are common. I won’t try to take this away from you as you wrestle with it in your own way. Just know you are not alone and my hope is one day you see this was never about you or me.
From one daughter to another, my heart aches with you both. I’ll be thinking of you on Sunday, your first Mother’s Day without your mom. One day at a time. One minute at a time. One breath at a time.