Aaron and I met in the music scene over a decade ago. Thanks to the powers of social media, we have stayed in each other’s sights over the years, mutually respected acquaintances with loads of friends in common. 

In 2019, two years after starting this project, I got a FB message from Aaron, wanting to share with me a piece they wrote about the suicide of their mother, that was published on Medium.com. I remember being shocked that this person I had known on the periphery for so many years, shared such a similar painful life detail with me. It truly further proves the fact that we really have no idea what grief another person may be going through or what wounds they may be reacting from…UNLESS we are willing to have the level of discomfort that these conversations usually create within us. 

I clicked the link and remembered the title hitting me in the chest; “A message from Mom” and my eyes immediately became misty. Underneath was a black and white photo of an old spiral notebook, with an old price tag in the top right corner, and then on the front cover, scribbling from the police department, Aaron’s mothers name and the words: Deceased and Suicide. 

In the piece, Aaron described the feelings that bloomed while seeing their mothers journal for the first time, reading her words, trying to make sense of her mental space at that tender and scary moment in her life. Reminding yourself to breathe with every page you turn, looking for that one little puzzle piece: the Why. So many of us suicide survivors have done it, I did it with my brothers journals. As I read on, I was immediately transported to those intense feelings of fear, grief, longing for one more chance to hear their voice, read their words, and take a peek into what was happening both in our loved ones minds, and hearts. Anyone who has been in that space knows that deep down we hope to possibly find that one clue only we understood or secret message that had been between us and those we lost. It gave me such a new view of this person I had known on the peripheral all these years. I saw Aaron being present for their younger self as they wrote about their feelings. It’s amazing to me how by reading someone’s vulnerable story, my own puzzle pieces, while they are not ever going to be “found” – the hunt for them feels more valid and I immediately felt seen. 

During their shoot, Aaron gave me the same energy that I felt when I read their piece. I saw the young child part of them when they spoke about the early years with their mother. I saw of course grief, sadness, but also curiosity, wonder and a level of maturity and fortitude that I have only experienced with people who have experienced this type of loss. 

I found myself waffling between being so protective and sad for young Aaron, who had to worry and navigate the well-being of their mother at such a young age, to seeing the adult in front of me, showing such compassion, love and curiosity for the struggles their mother must have gone through to be in that space. It was a tender and loving example of the moment so many of us have as we get older, when we realize the humanity and fallibility of our own parents. 

“My mother lost her dad tragically in a plane accident.” was the first thing Aaron told me when sitting down for their session.”

“I remember letting myself feel whatever came up in that moment. After my brother died, I remember reading somewhere, (in the BOOKS and PAGES of literature I read about suicide that first year) that the EFFECTS that a close family suicide death has on the BODY, is likened to being in an airplane accident. And in making the connection, I immediately thought – she kind of already understood what her child would be feeling…”

Below are moments from Aaron and my session that hit my core, and also felt familiar. Sentiments, experiences and moments that someone else may be able to resonate with in connection to their own situation or story…like it did for me. – M

In Aaron’s words:

She started having manic episodes, and we never really knew what we were coming home to. When I was about 13, in 1987 – for me it was about mood management. I would wait up to hear the garage door open, so I knew she was home safe. She would take off with a 5th of whiskey, and there were no cell phones, no way of knowing if my mom was coming back. I actually wrote a song about it, its called Complicate

I spent a lot of time trying to manage her moods. Telling her about my days, putting a positive spin on it to make her feel better or happier. There was never anything in the house weaponized with her. It was more about making sure she was going to come back. Making her promise to come back when she would leave. 

“Do I want to place mental illness and suicide all on her shoulders:? Or were the alcohol and pills because she was trying to manage the different societal things being put on her and it was all just too much?” 

I was at my dad’s hours for two weeks, when she took her life. So I wasn’t there to find her. She had taken valium and been drinking. My step dad was with my two brothers, and drove the car into the garage, and found her in the station wagon.

My grandfather called my dad. He took me for a drive down to the Mississippi river. I remember after her told me, my brain went static, like white noise, while he held me.

The funeral was an open casket for just us family, and I don’t even remember knowing how to feel. My great, great, great aunt was alive still, and she said I could come see her anytime and stay if I needed it. Which seemed so surprising of an offer from her but also such a kindness.

At the cemetery, as we were all standing there as her casket was lowered into the grave, a storm blew in out of nowhere. Wind and rain swooped in and we all had to leave.

When I went back to school, I knew people knew, but no one really brought it up. In retrospect, I actually spoke with some of my friends from that time and they all said that no one really knew WHAT to say. There was a level of adultness I had because of that. 

I’ve done some things for myself to keep the memory of my mom present. To not make it about her absence. So for example I will take my daughter to a bookstore, and tell her to pick out some books she wants. Then I will buy them and tell her they are from her grandma. So she knows the love is there. We keep them alive because they were here to love us. They were here because we are here! We exist because of other people.” – Aaron

Closing words

That last part – hit me in such a lovely way. I ADORE this way of remembering people. It is so very true, that love never goes anywhere, it is still here, and all around us because WE are here, to tell their stories and share their legacies. 

Thank you Aaron for sharing your story, for sharing things about your mother, your grief journey and the glimmers of light and healing you have found along the way. The project and my heart, both have so benefitted from you sharing with us. 

I want to impart the last statement Aaron made before we wrapped their session. I asked them, if they could tell anything right now, to someone who may be either struggling similarly, or having a family member who is struggling and they don’t know what to do, what would you say?

“Words have a lot of power, and ALL situations are different. There is a lot of good, professional help out there. I think erring on the side of showing people help is better than not. I am not mad at my mom. She had agency. I didn’t want her to do what she did, but I understand it.”

Thank you so much Aaron, for being newest member of the Faces community. – M