On April 27, 1998, my good friend Pam, the mother of my goddaughters, killed herself violently while on the phone with her therapist. I came home to a message from our priest, asking me to return the call as soon as possible. Before I could do that, someone else called me and told me Pam had killed herself. I was stunned. Apparently, I spent the first minute yelling a four-letter word. Still in shock, I quickly returned the call to the priest. She told me she was out of town and asked me to tell my goddaughters what had happened. I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around what had happened, so I could not imagine what I possibly could say to them.
It was a horrible night. I had spent the day at the oncologist’s office with the family of my godsons, as their father struggled to live a little longer with his leukemia. In light of that, Pam’s relinquishing her own life was mind-boggling. As I tried to find my goddaughters, Pam’s ex-husband called me from South Georgia; he, too, was shaken. Then her sister called and screamed at me, thinking I had known this was coming and hadn’t bothered to tell her or their mother.
As a matter of fact, I kept asking myself, “Why didn’t I know?” I am a practicing clinical psychologist. I kept feeling very responsible, wondering how I could have failed to see this was imminent. In retrospect, and after comparing notes with others, I realize Pam had withdrawn more and more, driving people away. Each one of us thought we were the only one she was upset with, pulling away from. None of us realized that she was cutting her ties, getting ready to go. After her funeral, her therapist said he was surprised by the number of people who attended and were clearly in distress. He had viewed Pam’s life only through Pam’s eyes and, according to her, there was no one.
The first year was the hardest. There were financial, legal, and emotional problems to deal with. Neither of my goddaughters was very trusting. Their father had moved away when they were very young, and now their mother had left. Like me, they blamed themselves, and wondered if there was something they could have done to prevent their mother’s death. That actually helped me to understand that I had to model self-acceptance and self-forgiveness for them. Doing that for them helped me begin to heal myself.
But it is never really over. It now has been 12 ½ years and sometimes we miss her so much that it brings tears to our eyes. So many things have happened that we wish she had been here to share with us. And as much as I have cherished being mother to the girls, and now a grandma, I guess I always will wish Pam had been able to do it.