Nature can help us understand so many things about life.
My eldest child took his own life in the fall of 2011 at age thirty two. As a mother, no matter how many counselors, doctors and friends tell you suicide isn’t the parent’s fault, you can’t help but wonder what you did wrong. Didn’t I cuddle him enough? Should I have been stricter. Was I too strict? The bottom line was: I failed as a mother.
As a writer, my goals and dreams suddenly seemed trivial. Derek often called me in the afternoon when I was writing to talk about philosophy, mythology, Egyptology, Jim Morrison, whatever was on his mind. I couldn’t sit at the computer anymore, knowing the phone would never ring with his call again. I didn’t think I had a right to have goals
Our 1st Christmas without our son
The first Christmas without him was heart-wrenching. Every year I bought ornaments for each of my three children for their own tree when they left home. I couldn’t even bear to even look at Derek’s. My husband and I scaled back our decorating that year. We picked out a live tree, a black hill spruce, to plant outside in the spring in his honor.
His memorial tree looked beautiful in our front yard. The following year, it had lots of new growth. I looked forward to watching grow tall, full and magnificent.
Something went wrong
Well, the next year we had a hot summer. In July, my husband went with me to a writer’s conference in Texas where I hoped to find inspiration. When we came home, the spruce was full of brown needles and brittle branches, as if parched. It didn’t make sense. Even if there’d been no rain, how could one week cause this much damage?
I watered it every day, but it continued to drop needles, and every day I felt more distraught. I was convinced I had neglected Derek’s memorial tree. I had selfishly gone out of town. I failed to take care of it, and now it was dying. It seemed almost fitting that the tree would die under my care.
By chance, my husband saw a news article about a spruce decline in Michigan. The needle cast and branch dieback had become an epidemic, and the recent weather made the trees vulnerable to canker disease. Fungicides are ineffective. The paper stated all you can do is remove the infected branches and hope for the best.
I ran outside to look at Derek’s tree. There it was. Blue fungus right up the middle of the trunk. It had a disease. I hadn’t neglected it after all.
My son had a disease. Depression. He didn’t like medication, and you can’t force feed an adult, although my husband and I did strong-arm him into a hospital once, which didn’t make him happy with us. After that he seemed better, but it didn’t last long.
He stopped taking his antidepressants and then he quit his new job in Ohio. I was concerned and, I have to admit, angry, too. Didn’t he know better? What was he going to do now? If we rescued him, was it enabling? A counselor suggested we take him to a hospital, again, for an evaluation. We knew he’d be furious, so we headed to Ohio without telling him, prepared to do what we had to do. We were about 12 hours too late.
There’s no way of knowing what else we could have done. Maybe the doctors could have put him on different medications, but, left on his own, he might have stopped taking them. The psychic pain from his illness was simply too great for him to bear.
Nature is a teacher
My experience with the black hill spruce taught me the sad truth that, as mothers, some things are simply beyond our control. The loss of my son is an ache I will always carry with me, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t have dark days. But I understand we cannot prevent everything, and most importantly we cannot blame ourselves.
By the way, every Christmas I decorate a little tree just for Derek with all his ornaments.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, award- winning fiction about one woman’s need to tell her story without shame.
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist
2016 USA Book News ‘Best Book’ Finalist
2016 Readers’ Favorite Finalist
2016 Sarton Women’s Fiction Finalist
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.