By Dennis Lowery
My mother called me the day before she killed herself.
I’d like to say that I remember every word of our conversation.
I’d like to believe that it was chiseled in my memory forever—the sound of her voice something I could call up against the dark thoughts of how I miss her… how I wish she could know my three daughters that were born after she died and been a longer part of my oldest daughter's life. I’ll always carry the sorrow of how they will never know her.
Her life had not been easy and she was recovering from health problems complicated by a stroke but seemed to be making progress. I’m sure we talked about how she was doing and in closing I’m sure she said something like “Love you Denny, give hugs and kisses to Daphne and Karen” (my wife and then 5-year old first daughter). I had no idea… no clue that it would be the last time I would talk with my mother.
When world-shaking events take place and you see or hear of it the first time… you remember that day and details of where you were, who you were with. Who said what. You remember.
But I can’t. It was just a call.
You see… that call from my mother didn’t come on a life-rattling day… hers was the day before.
On Monday August 30, 1993, I got the call I do remember. Shock is too thin a word. The hardest hit to the most sensitive part of a man doesn’t come close to conveying how I felt when my brother told me my mother had shot herself. She was only 61.
A death like that is a void that never fills. Part of me still hurts at its emptiness.
One of my clients told me something that surprised me though I’ve heard similar statements of appreciation before from those I work with… but not with the depth of meaning behind this one. It touches on something I feel about my mother’s death.
“You have helped me fight my demons and win, (because you showed me the way with your kindness and patience and most of all, your compassion!!!). How do I ever repay you for giving me a reason to appreciate what I do have and look forward to what the future will bring?”
Profoundly touched by that I replied,
“I gave you only what you deserve… the people that do care for you do so because of who you are. You’ve earned their love and respect because you have fought your demons… and while doing that you give to and care about and for others. That’s not a character trait that mysteriously appears… that is something that has to be there all along. That’s a strength that is a wonder to behold and with you telling me you’ve ousted those demons… that’s the best “repayment” I could ever hope for. The future is a bright one… brighter still because you will be part of it!”
You may be asking yourself, why am I sharing this with you?
This woman has dealt with challenges and adversity that most people never face. And through it all strived to provide for and take care of her family as best she could. Though in the twilight of her life she still cares and gives to others. The circumstances of her life weigh heavily on her. The regrets and recriminations we heap on ourselves can sometimes be too much to bear. That sense of futility… that your life just does not matter… can overcome even the strongest of wills if they are fighting the battle alone (even when that feeling is not reality). But it doesn’t have to be that way.
She reached out to me to help write her story, to tell about what her life was and how it became that way… to share what she learned so that others can gain understanding and perspective for their own lives. Bringing up the past so it can be written about can be painful… but I know that it can also be cathartic and carries with it a power to heal and resolve lingering issues from the past.
In a TIME magazine article by Mary Pols titled:
The article starts with a question, “At what point does an individual’s grief move from the chaos of misery to a vessel of wisdom worth passing along?”
It’s a question that a writer of memoirs needs to ask of themselves as it pertains to the intent of the book… and I think it’s important to discuss that question with the person being written about. It’s about context. There are lessons and those universal truths to pull from even the most tragic of lives. Crafted into a story that in itself becomes a form of redemption for the person the book is about.
That is what I wanted my client to understand… I wanted her to know her life was not a waste and that sharing her story was important.
A redeeming quality of humanity is that there are those who work through challenges and adversity—never letting them bring their life to a permanent stop. The beauty of the human spirit shines when people continue their lives—despite heartache—despite obstacles and tragedies—despite when their life takes a serious wrong turn for whatever reason. Their stories resonate strongly and can be the catalyst that enables someone they don’t even know, a reader, to carry on and not give up. That books have changed lives goes without saying. Most, if not all, of us have been moved by something we read. Stories that lift those who need help and move them to take a step forward, then another, and another—ultimately making their way to a better attitude, better place and better life. Countless books have done that for people.
My mother had a difficult life—it was hardscrabble for much of it. She must have felt she just could not go on. How I wish she had someone that touched her in some way to make her feel she could carry on—telling her that her story and more importantly her life was worth completing to its natural extent. I failed to do that as her son… but I’m blessed that in some way her compassion and the spirit that existed in her before its final surrender lives on as part of me. And that spark has helped me with my writing and publishing and those efforts sometimes make a difference in other lives. I think it might have helped save a life.
Life can be hard and is very often a grand experiment… for those of you who have led or lead lives in difficult conditions… and have ever thought of someday telling your story… pursue that and make it happen. Don’t give up and never surrender.
Stories and books can make a real difference in people’s lives. If you have a story in you… write it… let it be told… let it live. Let yourself live.
My new friend, who told me what I’d done for her, is living proof of what that means.