The first time I got “the call” it was shortly after 2 AM. My lights were off; my TV was off; and my bedroom door was closed.
Things were silent. Things were still.
I was sleeping, until I heard feet shuffling. Doors opening. Cabinets shutting. People whispering.
I heard muttering, mumbling, and the rumblings of a conversation which wasn’t quiet enough. And after a few moments, I knew why: he had died.
My father had died.
And while that call came 20 years ago — 20 long and difficult years ago — I still think about it. I still worry about. I still stay up waiting for it.
Waiting for it to happen again.
Make no mistake: I know my father is gone, long gone, and time will not change that. Nothing will change that. But the call I worry about today isn’t for my father — it’s the one I will eventually receive for my mother.
The call that is coming far too soon.
The good news is, my mother is young. (Well, young-ish.) At 62, she is in the prime of her life — or at least she should be. Only the truth is, she isn’t. She doesn’t work. She doesn’t go out. She sleeps all day, stays up all night, and she lives alone. She drinks alone. Her entire life is, and for many years has been, lived alone. But that is because my mother is sick. That is because my mother is struggling with a mental illness — depression — and it’s consuming her. I worry that eventually, if left untreated, it will take her life.
Why? Because my mother’s depression has already cost her so much. It has cost us so much. She has become hardened and embittered. Callous, cold, and angry. She talks to no one and trusts no one, but that is because she thinks no one cares.
My mother’s depression has caused her to miss countless moments — holidays with her children and memories with her grandchildren — because it drains her and exhausts. Because her disease leaves her in pain, “too much pain.” To get up. To shower. To go downstairs. To go out.
My mother’s depression has left her a shell of the woman I once knew. I know it, my brother knows it, and I think my mother herself even knows it. Her depression has robbed her of any desire to live. She constantly reminds me that she “is done” — just done — with the day, the week, the month, or life.
With her life.
So she spends her days locked inside her dimly lit apartment drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, sipping on shitty beer, and binge-watching Netflix alone.
And on the rare occasions when we do speak — when we have a meaningful conversation on the phone or I am able to drag her out of the house — she tells me she nothing to live for. She reminds me she is old and not well and has nothing “keeping her here.”
Of course, that is not true, and I try to remind her of that; but my words are not enough. My love is not enough.
She needs medical help, but she refuses. She is “not sick,” she is “not crazy,” and she “doesn’t trust doctors.” Or so she tells me. So goes her excuse.
Meanwhile, I run through the many possible scenarios of “the call” I will inevitably get. The one from paramedics when she drinks herself to death. The one I from the cops when she medicates herself to death. The one from her landlord, telling me she is not answering her phone or opening her door, and no one has seen her in days.
They will ask me if I have seen her, or at least spoken to her, lately, and when I say no, they will call the police.
They will break down her door.
How do you help someone who cannot help themselves? How do you save someone who refuses to save themselves? How do you prevent suicide? Can I really stop my mother’s inevitable suicide?
The truth is, I don’t know.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is anything I can do, and all of the mental health tricks I’ve learned as a suicide survivor and advocate myself seem to be failing when it comes to her. When it comes to my own mother and my own family.
So I sit and worry. I sit and wait. I sit and pray — to God, to Allah, to whoever the hell will listen — and I hope for a miracle.
It hurts that, in many ways, the mother I knew died many, many years ago. But still, I keep trying and calling and hope to hell she will let me in before all is lost. Before it is too late.