Autumn always Leaves
Several years ago I overheard my young nephew on the phone. It appeared that the person on the other line asked him if he missed his mother — his response was “no. she left me on purpose”.
This Christmas will mark 14 years since my nephew lost his mother, Melissa, to suicide.
She was 27 years old and felt like a failure because she didn’t have her life ‘in order’. Five years ago I turned 27. I spent the first half of my birthday wondering how anyone would have anything figured out so young.
For 14 years I have been upset with myself for not knowing what to say to stop Melissa from eliminating herself. In retrospect, I still do not have the words.
Dec. 23, 2001 was a weird day. My nephew was 11 years old and I was 18, home for the holidays from college. Our family had very recently suffered the loss of my mother and it was to be our first Christmas without her. Because of this, Melissa, long separated from my brother, allowed my nephew to join us for the holidays, as opposed to her normal Dec. 26 drop-off.
My brother and I took the short drive from Philadelphia to the small southern New Jersey town, Woodbury. When we arrived, Melissa greeted us from behind a chained door. It was very unlike her to not let us in. We could see a dirtied mess of an apartment through the cracked door. She brushed it off by saying it was laundry day — we couldn’t come in because she had yet to tidy up.
Readers, what you need to know about Melissa is that she had OCD – her place wasn’t dirty, even when it was ‘dirty’.
A few minutes later my nephew met us at the car — he had a backpack, a bag of gifts and his basketball uniform. He was a member of a Philadelphia league and had a game that evening.
Upon arriving back in the city, he realized he had forgotten his shoes. We went back to his mother’s apartment, but couldn't gain entry. Luckily he and I wore the same shoe size, so I gave him the basketball sneakers off of my feet.
The next day we enjoyed family time. Melissa called when we were in the car headed out for the day — she wanted to speak to everyone. I sometimes hear her voice like a skipped disc — she must’ve said “I love you” 100 times. None of us could say it back enough to reassure her mutuality.
As a family missing a vital member, we decided to break our Christmas routine and try something new. “Ali” had just been released so we went to see it. When we got home we ate dinner and took naps. My slumber was disturbed by my brother’s cell phone. I was half asleep but could make out key details.
My nephew’s favorite thing was to find commonalities between he and his dad — my brother sat him down, but before he could say anything, my nephew asked if anyone had found his mom yet.
Gently as possible, he was told of her death — my nephew said — “I hope she didn’t kill herself, she said the best time to do it would be Christmas.”
Taking that in, my brother responded, “So we have something else in common — we both lost our moms.”
I can partially remember lines from movies, I know some of my favorite songs because they're catchy, but I don’t know why I remember these quotes from that moment so directly, when I’ve done everything for nearly two decades to forget the whole thing ever happened.
Sometimes we choose to see the sun in our eyes as a vision constraint when we could simply blink and turn it into a sparkle.
My mother had an asthma attack on Sept. 26, 2001 so Sepetmeber already hurts. As Suicide Prevention Month, Melissa sits on my heart too.
If you have ever thought about setting darkness to your morning, you should know that the sun rises, even in the most overcast of days.
You are necessary. You have purpose. And you are stronger than your emotions. If anyone forgets to tell you this, know it is true anyway.