where the writers are
Beside Suicide’s Door

Today I’m posting a guest blog by Laura McHale Holland because she has so much to share with us. Suicide is something hard for most of us to talk about. We don't want to even go there - especially when it involves the mother of young children. I appreciate Laura's honesty, and I am sorry for her pain, although I cannot know what she feels. Her poignant mother memoir speaks for itself.  

I was a two year old waddling behind my sisters when we came home from a neighbor’s Halloween party and found our mother hanging from a basement beam. Several decades later, I wrote a memoir, Reversible Skirt, about my formative years. Except for the epilogue, the book is written from a child’s point of view. My objectives were to give voice to a little girl whose very identity was stolen by events following my mother’s demise and to enable readers to experience what it was like to grow up in the shadow of such a tragedy.

Except for my sisters, I don’t know women whose mothers committed suicide, leaving a gaggle of preschoolers behind to grow up with a void where a mother’s love should have been. But I’m sure I’ve met a number of them over the course of my life. I may even be acquainted with such a woman right now.

And therein lies the rub.

We who share this terrible sisterhood tend to keep it hidden. The subject of suicide brings up strong feelings not just for the person who broaches the subject, but also for those listening. To merely tell the truth about my mother means I have to consider not just my own emotions, but also the discomfort it stirs up in those I tell. As a child, this was not something I could handle. Being secretive became habitual.

Which brings me to my silent mother, Mary Agnes, whom I knew throughout my childhood as a black and white photograph on top of my grandfather’s bedroom dresser. With her suicide, she slammed an impenetrable door in my face. On this side are questions without answers reverberating endlessly, leaving slivers in my soul, festering too far beneath the surface to reach. Suicide. What a cowardly act, I think, but then I reproach myself for my lack of compassion. I know not the extent of my mother’s misery; I cannot judge; she left no note, no clues.

Some wise people say we should be grateful for all the experiences life has brought us—good and bad. I am grateful that my mother gave me life and that she didn’t decide to take my sisters and me with her into death. But the fact of her leaving with such force and permanence, no, that’s still not cool with me.

And I fear that when my book is published, I’ll be doing a meet and greet in a bookstore someday, or visiting a book group, and I’ll feel off key as a read a passage or two and answer questions. Why dredge all this up when life in the present is so good? I’ll wonder. I hope that when those feelings hit me I’ll remember how writing that book set the lost girl inside of me free, and it is her mission to speak to the hearts of those kind enough to listen to the story of one long-ago abandoned child.

Maybe her story will help some future parent discard the thought of suicide should it come to mind during a particularly trying time. And who knows? Maybe on the other side of that door, my mother will be listening too, for, you see, I know the door will never open, but I will forever be longing to connect.

Thank you, Lynn, for asking me to join the conversation at The Story Woman blog.

Laura McHale Holland is a writer, editor and occasional storyteller living and working amid the beauty of Sonoma County, Calif. Her memoir, Reversible Skirt, is under contract with RockWay Press. For more information, please visit http://lauramchaleholland.com.

The Story Woman encourages all daughters and sons to write a "Mother Memoir" to become TellTale Souls.