Wendy shares about a painful time in her life; the time her mother ended her own life. Wendy was only twelve and the oldest of five children.
It was an early morning on April 16, 1975, when Wally found his beloved 31 year-old wife, Linda, dead in a pool of her own blood. He screamed, then closed and locked the bathroom door behind him, trying to hide the scene from their young five children. Frantically pacing the floor, Wally asked his daughter, Wendy, to watch the kids and not to let anyone, under any conditions, open the bathroom door. While in his pajamas, Wally ran quickly to his Bishops house down the street to get help.
Shortly, after Wally and his Bishop returned, Marjean, the Bishop’s wife, swooped up the children to take them safely to her home. Wendy was just twelve years old. She was her mother’s right arm in taking care of her ten year-old brother, Cary, seven year-old sister, Marie, four year-old brother, Drew, and her baby sister, Annie, barely one year old.
Just six months earlier, Linda had suffered cardiac arrest and had been recovering from it ever since. At first, it was easy to infer that their mother died of a heart attack, certainly it was more humane to those who could not understand. But it wasn’t too long before one of the kids, the Police chief’s son, told Wendy what really happened. “She shot herself,” Brad said authoritatively, to which Wendy angrily countered, “No, she had a heart attack!” Then, Wendy went home to find out the painful truth.
The pain Wendy felt was devastating, to say the least. Without her mother there, and being the oldest child, the responsibility fell upon Wendy to take care of the kids. Her father, hiding his pain, hid behind his work and church calling. He was silent. This was about survival now. The incident was never talked about, not ever. And Wendy never had anyone to talk to about this, so she put on a mask, and as two separate faces, she was the person she thought the world wanted to see, a girl, keeping it together with the wide confident smile, AND she was the scarred little girl who cried alone in the bathroom and in dark places, who greatly missed her mother. She didn’t want anyone to know of her pain, and certainly not her shame. Wendy suffered in silence.
To make matters worse, it was just two and a half months later that, at a 4th of July celebration, Wendy watched as her father met the woman he had seen in a recent dream. She was nothing like her mother. In fact she was the opposite. In negotiation with Wendy’s father, Jane confessed that if they got married, she would NOT be a mother for his children. She didn’t like children; only the child she already had. But, Wally had a plan for that; a nanny! But that would fall through when Jane and Wally got married, and Wendy and her siblings would have a motherless mother to take their mothers place.
Jane’s eight year-old daughter, Sally, took to Wendy’s dad like he was her own. Special privileges for the step kid, when Wally’s children needed him so badly. Why couldn’t he see? Wendy wondered. Why couldn’t he see how this situation completely alienated the children he loved and the children who loved him? Now, with Jane and Sally in the picture, he was even more busy; too busy to notice himself not noticing at all. Or maybe he had just left the old and now buried himself in the new. Maybe this took his mind off of a terrible past he so desperately tried to forget.
As time went on, Wendy cleaned, cooked, changed diapers, did dishes and was a good mother to her siblings. She desperately missed her mom. And now, who would be a mother to her? She experienced the pain of such trauma through emotions of anger, fear, confusion, helplessness, loneliness, guilt and sorrow. She knew what darkness was. She knew what emptiness was. She knew numbness too. But she wore the mask that hid her real world; her crumbled painful motherless world.
It wouldn’t be until 36 years later that Wendy would begin her healing journey with the help of a therapist she could trust. She was given the assignment of opening the wounds and sharing what she had never dared to say for all those years. Bravely, she took her mask off a little at a time and found compassionate people to tell her story to. Eventually her sharing turned into a natural curiosity to find answers, and an investigation was launched, where family secrets brought to light, were discovered… secrets that, in some way, may have sealed her mother’s fate. But through her healing journey, Wendy has come to understand many of the actions of her mother, her father, Jane, the step-mother she resented, but mainly, Wendy got to understand herself.
Commentary- Whenever a parent’s actions intentionally or unintentionally cause an unsafe situation within the family unit, children can be deeply affected. This is especially true for those children in their formative years. Children thrive on safety and security. When this is interrupted and something “bad” happens, often, it is the child/children who blame themselves for the “bad” and carry that shame in silence. Given that children, being black and white thinkers, tend to blame themselves and internalize much, it is easy to see why Wendy thought herself unlovable, even though love had nothing to do with this. It’s confusing to a child. This doesn’t make sense to a child, let alone an adult who is able to think more abstractly. But usually, people who take their own life are so focused on their own suffering in the moment, they are not really thinking about other people and the outcome of their actions. In their own internal pain, and own perceived unworthiness, they have just convinced themselves that the world would be better off without them, and they call THAT love in the moment. Generally, they don’t think of the pain they are causing others. They rationalize that, somehow, this will bring relief to all.
When one is scarred with the shocking death of another, especially one who is so close to them, a plethora of issues arise. For one, it is almost impossible to face a death of this magnitude without facing one’s own mortality. It’s frightening. Death is something we would rather not think about. Oh sure, we know it exists, but it’s CLEAR out there in the future at the end of our life, isn’t it? Not necessarily. Another thing. When a parent prematurely passes from a disease, it’s common to wonder if we share the same programming as them. In other words, one might ask themselves, “Will I also die from (fill in the blank disease) that my parent died of? This thinking tends to create increased stress and strengthens the possibility of it happening, at least in our imaginations. And that creates a vicious cycle of anxiety and fear. Not fun.
But lastly, when someone we love takes their own life, this makes it easier to consider the same thing for ourselves, when times are hard. Linda, Wendy’s mother, not only took her own life, but Wendy made an attempt, and so did the youngest child, Annie, when she was thirteen, exactly 12 years to the day her mother died. A parent has great influence and responsibility. When the adult we love so much makes an attempt to end their life, this act can make us contemplate it as well. After all, we have learned so much from them, and they are still teaching us long after they are gone.
Unexpressed and unprocessed emotions can lead to patterns of suicidal attempts and reckless behaviors in order to get the attention we need, but can’t directly ask for. If one can’t talk or if no one is listening, the risk increases. It’s great that Wendy got to talk to someone who could help her when she did. Feeling safe enough in her life now, It was her time to get it all out.
One day on Wendy’s healing journey, she was asked by her mother, in an after-death communication about sharing their story. And Wendy did. She wrote it in a book called, Hope After Suicide. I have been blessed to meet Wendy’s at a writer’s conference and blessed to have read her book. It offers a poignant story of deep loss, but with it, the transformation of a helpless and hurt twelve year-old girl to a wise and healed woman. Oh, how proud her mother must be!
Today, Wendy is free. She has told her story. She has faced her past. This is what it takes to get unstuck from a painful experience. This is what it takes to be free again. Wendy has courageously peeled the onion back one layer at a time to reveal the truth behind pain, which is… once you experience and express your pain, you can heal it. With this experience behind her, Wendy has not only helped herself, but many survivors trying to deal with their own experience.
Like Wendy, and countless of other people who have suffered, then triumphed over their past, you can take your traumatic life stories and turn them into blessings as well. This is the secret of turning hurt into healing, making darkness into light, and in the process, making the world a better place for all. Thank you Wendy for your important part in this. It is deeply appreciated.