Our beautiful mother died unexpectedly last week.
I’ve wept over that first sentence for at least half an hour before finally writing this second one. My head and heart are overflowing with so many thoughts and emotions I’m not sure where to begin, except to say that we loved her more than she would ever know.
Susan Ann Hetherington was her birth name, and at the age of 17 she became pregnant with me. She married her childhood sweetheart, our father, immediately after they graduated from high school. Two and a half years after I was born, she gave birth to my brother and best friend, Jeremie White.
From the beginning she made it her life’s mission to be the best wife and mother imaginable, and her efforts were noticeable to everyone who knew us. She was a fantastic cook, a wonderful homemaker, and it was obvious that she loved us deeply.
To the outside world, we seemed to be a happy and healthy family – and initially, we were. None of us had any inkling that a dark mental illness would creep in and eventually destroy our beloved mother’s life, along with the majority of her most cherished relationships.
Mom was loving, sensitive and deeply compassionate, but for whatever reason, she was a tortured soul and suffered from an invisible sickness that we couldn’t see, but we could certainly feel.
To neighbours, friends and strangers she was calm and kind, but with us, her temperament was wildly unpredictable. When we realized she needed psychological help, we tried to get it for her, but she would fervently reject the idea every time. She was mortified by the thought that anyone might think she had a mental health issue, and categorically denied the possibility.
Her verbal abuse became increasingly frequent as the years went by, and her illness not only went undiagnosed and untreated, but was exacerbated by alcohol, prescription pills and an overall neglect of her physical well-being.
It’s been intensely sad not to have the close relationship with her that we craved as much as she did. Her untimely death has been devastating since we never stopped loving her, and we never gave up hope that her tragic quality of life, and our weakened connections with her, would improve.
But we simply ran out of time. At the young age of 65 her lungs gave out and she died peacefully in her sleep. It still doesn’t feel real.
Our mother adored Christmas and she loved to give presents. On her behalf, and in her honour, I would like to offer this reminder as a gift for anyone who needs to hear it: mental health is the absolute foundation for physical health, and we should never feel shame when seeking help for either.
We love you so much, Mom, and we always will. Rest in peace beautiful angel – you touched countless people throughout your life, and your story is already helping others to heal.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com