“Every mile is two in winter.” George Herbert
The cold, dark days of the winter months can be a breeding ground for despair in some of us. I’ve battled a recurring low grade depression for many years. I never know when it will reappear but it often shows up in the fall when the days starts to get shorter. When a steady rain settled in for nearly two weeks, it didn’t take long for my mood to turn as dark and gloomy as the clouds above me.
In my “right” mind I know I have a lot of positive things going on in my life and many, many things to be grateful for. Nevertheless I am quite capable of allowing my thoughts to take me on a steady fall into a dark, somber place.
I was concerned enough about my frame of mind to reconnect with a counseling service I visited a few years ago during a rough period. The experience had been very helpful. I once again needed a professional to help me see things more objectively and guide me out of the hole I was digging for myself.
Since I have a family history of depression I knew it was especially important to nip my attitude in the bud. My mother died 15 years ago in January shortly after learning that my father would not be coming home from a hospice facility. She came to the heartbreaking decision that her life was no longer worth living and she ended it. In the two years leading up to her death I tried to get her help numerous times but she repeatedly rejected therapy and medications. I have often wondered if there wasn’t more I could have done to help her find a way out of her misery. She couldn’t see that her situation was not hopeless. My mother was lost and couldn’t find a light at the end of the tunnel.
My mother wasn’t always depressed. After she married my father in the late 1940’s, they settled into a sweet little home, complete with a white picket fence, and began building a life together. She was a Cracker Jack secretary for 18 years. In the evenings the two of them would often write pop songs together. My mother wrote the lyrics and my dad composed the music on his piano. She was a very intelligent woman who often had political editorials published in the old, Minneapolis Star.
When my mother became pregnant with me she quit her job and settled into the life of a stay-at-home mom. Her heart was set on having a little girl and when I was born it seemed all of her dreams had come true. I became the center of her universe. I was my mother’s living doll and she was having the time of her life. She enrolled me in tap and ballet classes, signed me up to appear on the old TV show Romper Room and saw to it that I joined the children’s choir at our church. She spoke often of her deep faith in God.
So what on earth went wrong? As the years went by my mother began to suffer from untreated depression. I believe her negative thoughts took over and convinced her that a life spent trying to be a good, honest wife and mother didn’t account for anything. She felt abandoned and shortchanged. Her perception of reality no longer recognized the concept of hope for a better tomorrow. She had succumbed to the belief that her darkness would never lift.
My mother missed out on a great deal in the 15 years since her passing. She didn’t have the chance to see my outgrow my youthful defiance to become a daughter who today deeply respects her many words of wisdom. She never got to see her grandson and granddaughter grow-up to become adults she would have been so incredibly proud of. Her only child missed out on a lot too. She wasn’t around during the countless times when I needed my mother and no one else would do.
Each April a single red tulip still manages to bloom in my mother’s long ago abandoned flower garden. I like to think it’s her way of reminding me what she tragically lost sight of. I hope I’ll never lose faith that spring will indeed come again.
Karen Gaskell is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.
If you or someone you know is suicidal, call 800-SUICIDE. This article first appeared in the 2009 December / January issue of The Phoenix Spirit.