Ties: Finding Forgiveness After Decades of Guilt

Her unfortunately named shrink, Dr. Dye, had dispensed the psychotropics of the time, the pill for every ill: Thorazine, the antipsychotic; Nardil, the antidepressant; Lithium, the mood stabilizer; Valium, the sedative. And she had had shock therapy; there was a lot going on in her head.

Still, I needed to know what happened, and I repeatedly asked my dad whether there was a note.

“Your mother wrote a lot of notes,” he always said.

She did. There were “Drink your V-8!” messages left in my brown bag lunches and “Gail looks like a fresh devil! (ha-ha)” on the backs of photographs. There were letters about what we’d do together one day, words that gave me hope. But what kind of note awaited me? I contacted the medical examiner’s office again. Six months passed before I received an answer.

“Ms. Eisenberg,” the man said, “I’m calling to let you know that the suicide note is ready for pick up.”

I’m calling to let you know your dog is groomed, and ready for pick up.

I’m calling to let you know your picture is framed, and ready for pick up.

Your dry cleaning is done, and ready for pick up.

The odds were against it: A majority of those who commit suicide do not leave a note. Still, I knew how much she’d yearned for a chance to explain herself to the son she felt she had abandoned when she’d given him up for adoption in the 1950s. I hoped she wanted to leave me a note as much as I needed to find one.

The last time I saw my mother alive, she stood before me in our apartment in Rockaway Beach, Queens, with her wrists wrapped tightly in white bandages. In full makeup and a teased strawberry-blond wig, she looked like Charo. I worried she’d succeed at what she’d twice attempted and continued to threaten. It haunted me. I cared, I loved her, I wanted her to live, to get better, to be happy. But I was also embarrassed by her and sick of her.

“Go ahead and do it already,” I yelled.

At least, that’s the way I remember it. We were fighting, and I left the apartment. For decades, I’d wondered how my mother died and whether, by daring her, I was an accomplice in her death.

Anticipation gave way to amazement when I saw my mother’s familiar handwriting — the triple-underlined words, errant dashes and exclamations, a circled phrase and an equal sign — her death sentences.

My Angel, I tried so hard not to do this.

Those words assured me of my mother’s love. Mom had forgiven me. And now I was free to forgive myself.

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Source: New York Times

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