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A Letter to Myself After My Mother Died, When Everything Seemed Hopeless


My mother died of a brain tumor on May 27, 2005. I have cerebral palsy, and she had cared for me all my life. I was 37 years old. Three months after her death, I tried to overdose and end my life. This is my letter to myself that night.

Dear Denise in August 2005:

I know everything seems hopeless. There is no light that you can find, not even a glint, and no one understands what your mom meant to you. You two spent the last 37 years together, never apart for more than a few days. She was your best friend, your caregiver, your advocate. Taking care of you with such devotion was her choice, and Dad supported her in it. She brought you all the way to this point. You thought breast cancer would take her when you were 7 and again when you were 30, but she survived and took care of you until just seven weeks ago. You have a nice, safe home with sister next door and a job with which you can support yourself. You were so lucky to have these two people as parents!

You have done so much no one thought you would do. I know you could not have done all this without Mom, but you cannot give up now. It would tear her apart if you ended your life, just because she’s not here to hold you up. It would negate all that she did, and make the naysayers think they were right: her hold was too tight and now you are going to fall. Please don’t make that be her legacy. She made you strong — use that strength to live!

You have to take what she taught you — go with your gut, fight for your rights and laugh at life, even when no one understands why you think it’s funny. You are a grown woman, it is time to grow up and find your life, apart from Mom and Dad.

I will not lie to you — the next few years are going to be rough, but you have to hang on. You can get through this! Focus on the things you love: music, literature, writing and laughing. Yes, you will laugh again. You will go to concerts and feel the music resonate in your bones. And when the lyrics remind you of her, your eyes may well up a bit, but you will smile. You will know she is there with you singing along, like she did in the car. You will get lost in the worlds of fiction and find kindred spirits in the memoirs of others. You will write a memoir of your own, when you are ready, when the elephant’s foot of grief raises a bit off your chest. You will remember all the words Mom mispronounced, all her silly sayings, and smile at least once a day. You will learn new things, such as how to fold origami with your feet (yes, I’m serious!) make beautiful cards and paintings, too. You will even get to be an English teacher, like you have dreamed since you were 14!

One day you will reconnect with your friends from elementary, high school and college, the ones who remember Mom and her fierce, hilarious spirit. You will remember her with them and laugh, and they will make new memories with you too.

Sister will take care of you with awesome dedication, and one day, when you feel strong enough, you will move back closer to where you grew up, just down the road from the mall where you and Mom spent so many weekends in the 80’s. You will leave this house, no longer sleeping in the room where her physical body gave out. The walls of this house will have soaked up your tears, and you will make a new start. You will live!

Please, just go to bed, sleep all you need to. Cry, cry, cry. Tomorrow, tell Sister you need to see a counselor or therapist. Be persistent in finding someone with whom you can talk. Oh, and most of all, don’t ever be ashamed of having these thoughts. You have lost the most important person in your life, and you deserve to feel pain, anger and confusion. You also deserve to live a great life, to be happy, to have fun, to make a difference for others like you have always wanted. You cannot help people if you aren’t around!

You know Mom; she is never going to really leave you, and she will show you she is with you in such magnificent ways.

I’m begging you to give yourself a chance to experience all that’s ahead of you!

Peace, love, and courage!

Your 47-year-old Self

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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