On motherhood, mental illness, and the importance of memory

I’ve spent the last week or so creating this new website of mine. When at last I thought I was satisfied with the overall look of it, I realized it was time to put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard, in this case. What do I say? Where did it all begin? I could say it began in 1993-94 when my mother floated the idea of she and I co-writing a book about her experiences with major depression. She had nearly died in the Spring of 1992 after an intentional overdose. In fact, the doctors said she should have been dead, but she woke up after three days in a coma – and had a story to tell.

We talked in vague terms about the book. She thought I had a knack for writing. I demurred feeling that my writing skills were mediocre at best, but we kept the dialogue open. Maybe someday.

Fast forward ten years. Mom’s depression comes back, and with a vengeance. We thought we had seen the worst in 1992, but it turns out we had not. This time she does not survive. I was five months pregnant at the time with her first grandchild. I remember talking to a well-meaning friend over the phone a week or so after I had returned to work and I’ll never forget what she said to me.

“The baby never has to know about Grandma.”

I was stunned. Of course I would want my child to know his grandmother. Not only was mental illness a part of who my mother was, it was – and still is – an important part of our family’s medical history.

I kept a notebook on my bedside table those first few months after her death. My writing was raw and painful, full of rage at times, but getting it out just before bedtime helped clear my head for sleep. The process would start over again every morning – realizing that what happened really did happen and wasn’t a bad dream. I never thought I’d see the other side. But as the months wore on and I became a mother myself, the intensity of my grief faded and a new normal began.

Then one day, when my oldest was four, he padded out to the kitchen where I was loading the dishwasher and asked, “Do I have a grandma?”

That’s when I knew it was time to tell my mother’s story for her.

Mom – Summer 2002 in Maine, the year before her death.

6 responses to “On motherhood, mental illness, and the importance of memory”

  1. I’m so happy you are doing this, Jill. ❤️


  2. Jill, you are so courageous to share your story. I pray it is a healing experience for you, Tom & Bill.


    1. And Don 🙂 Bill is my brother from another mother.


  3. I love that you are so real!! Not to mention a great writer!!


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