It was a sunny Saturday morning, and I was sitting down to do some light reading.
The next thing I knew, I was being informed of the first of two personal tragedies in a matter of two weeks. Overall, I experienced the loss of my mother, then a friend and colleague who was helping me cope with my feelings.
Somehow, I’m still standing. And to say that my heart is broken is an understatement. But you don’t really know how resilient you are until you find yourself on the other side of tragedies like these.
Vibrations from my phone interrupted my reading session. The Caller ID said “Westfield, Wisconsin” but it was an unfamiliar number. I, in an already annoyed state because I get a slew of spam calls on a daily basis, reluctantly answered.
It was a call from a Marquette County Sheriff’s Department deputy.
“Your mother committed suicide,” he said, my mind suddenly in blur. He spoke more, but I was fixated on that lone statement.
A memorial service, countless phone calls to grieving family members – some didn’t even know how she died – and various therapy appointments later, it’s still as surreal as the day I heard those words. I realized I’ll never be able to hug her or tell her I love her again.
I’m surprised I even got through planning the memorial service. That was its own monster.
I was bombarded by hugs and suffocated by meaningless small talk. A more introverted soul, I found myself escaping to be alone. To think. To weep. To bask in the anger. To panic.
The next thing I knew, it was a Friday afternoon and I was staring at a marshy clearing adjacent to my three-story apartment building on my balcony. I was trying to find my mother in the brush, trying to feel her version of peace – her essence, as if she was one with nature now, like she had always wanted to be.
Then I got a Facebook message from my colleague Amber’s boyfriend, David.
She had been in a car accident and rendered unconscious and was hopefully recovering in my mind in the intensive care unit of an unknown hospital in Madison.
Amber was going to recover because I needed her. I needed her to help me grieve and reconcile the loss of my mother.
We had been starting to hang out more, and were fortifying our bond with deep conversations about life, gender, politics, etc. I had just gone out for a drink with her a week earlier, and she let me spill from the deepest reaches of my subconscious into her compassionate ears.
That’s what made her great. I was intimidated by her intelligence and relished in her positive attitude. There were times it seemed like she couldn’t catch a break, but she was strong. She was a fighter.
Her talent knew no bounds, and it was my hope to end up at least half the woman she was in a year. She was a rarity and a diamond in the rough.
I had worked with Amber only nine months, but time has no bearing on friendship. Ours was to be lifelong.
Unconscious doesn’t mean dead, I thought. She’s alive. I knew it. Because I couldn’t lose another loved one. No, not another one. Please God.
Hours passed after I let my editor, Scott Girard, know about what had happened. He let other colleagues know, and they did some digging of their own.
When Scott called back, he was shakily trying to make out the fact that what Amber endured was serious. But serious didn’t mean critical. The optimist in me was feigning for all of my attention at that point. It helped to envision her making sarcastic comments at her attending nurses.
And then, another phone call. This time, it was 11:30 p.m. Scott called me again, this time his voice grave.
“Is she dead?” was the only thing I could muster.
“There’s no brain activity.”
First, I experienced a bout of shock and denial – very similarly to when my body started to shake upon hearing the news of my mother’s death. In both instances, I couldn’t form coherent sentences or words.
My heart shattered into a million more pieces – I didn’t even know it could break more than it already had. The shards of glass became sand.
My mother and I had a complicated dynamic, but we were going to heal. She was going to get treatment for her mental illness. She was going to get better, not blow her brains out with a firearm. At 63, she still had so much life to live.
Amber was only 25.
Like a dam bursting, the tears came and kept coming. Scott’s voice faded into the background. In my already fragile state, everything that held me together was no more. Time stopped.
The wound already so deeply embedded in my flesh was ripped open again, but this time it had widened.
My cries turned into wails. I wept at how the universe, seemingly indifferent to our feeble existence, anyway, could take a soul like Amber’s so early. I wept at how my mother, who was self-aware enough to get herself the help she deserved, took her life.
Somehow, I’m still standing.