My name is Andrea Forsyth and I understand what it feels like to lose a loved one to suicide.
I lost my mother on April 15 of this year.
I understand what it feels like to be on this side of suicide…as the survivor dealing with a complex grief, dueling emotions and countless “what ifs.” But I don’t understand but it feels like for the person on the other side… the one suffering with mental illness.
I don’t understand what it feels like to have a “total loss of zest for life” or to have a “weird or improper wiring in my brain.” These were my mom’s exact words in a 2013 email she sent to me trying to describe the depression that was tightening its grip on her.
My mom died of depression. It was always there but it got so much worse over the years until she eventually became a shadow of her former self. She recognized this all too well but she felt powerless to stop it. My mom was struck by the sad irony of a song she used to love…”Those Were the Days” by Mary Hopkin…
“Just tonight I stood before the tavern. Nothing seemed the way it used to be. In the glass I saw a strange reflection. Was that lonely women really me?”
After hearing that song, my mom said to me, “I didn’t think those poignant lyrics would so dramatically relate to me. Unfortunately, I was wrong.”
In that same 2013 email, my mom wrote “I truly look in the mirror sometimes and wonder ‘Where is that attractive, energetic person? What happened to that person and can I ever get her back again?’”
My response was always “Of course you can but you need to try! You need to get help! Go for a run. Go to a yoga class. Meet a friend for lunch.” These are the kinds of things that make me happy when I am feeling down but, again, I don’t understand what it feels like to have a “total loss of zest for life” or an “improper wiring in my brain” as my mom described.
My mom knew that her life looked perfect on paper and she readily acknowledged that she had a million things to be grateful for.
Despite all this, my mom became that lonely woman in the reflection. That attractive and energetic person was gone. And she never came back. That woman was hijacked by depression. It certainly wasn’t her choice…who would choose that?
My mom is gone. I don’t want to dwell on the progressively worsening disease that ultimately robbed me of my mom and my children of their grandma…the disease that culminated in her recent suicide.
I want to remember the person she used to be…that woman she so longed to be again.
After her death, I received so many messages from my mom’s old friends and teachers.
This was one of my favorites from a former high school teacher who she kept in touch with over the years…
”She was a beyond beautiful young woman who seemed to excel at everything she did.”
This pretty much summed up my mom pre-depression.
She was drop dead gorgeous. She was funny and witty. She was athletic and super smart.
She graduated with honors from Albion College where she was the Homecoming Queen.
She obtained a master’s degree at University of Michigan in the early 1970’s when not a lot of women were doing that.
She married a handsome and successful man and together had two healthy children who in turn provided her with five healthy grandchildren.
My mom was a staunch feminist who always pushed me and encouraged me to challenge myself personally and professionally. I will always remember her proudly exclaiming “You go, girl! I am SO proud of you!” at all of my accomplishments.
My mom loved music. As a young woman, she spent her summers at her family’s cottage on Torch Lake where she worked as a singing cocktail waitress. She had a beautiful voice and she loved to sing.
She was always listening to her favorite albums from her generation…the Jackson Five, Diana Ross, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel … and she loved dancing around the house…or “boogie hopping” as she called it when she was dancing with her little grandchildren.
When I was a baby, she proclaimed Abba’s “Dancing Queen” as “our song.” We danced together to that song from my infancy through my adulthood. We danced to that song at my wedding and I don’t think I have ever seen her so happy.
A few weeks before her death, I bought her a journal. A few days after her death, I found that journal and an entry inside that said “Andrea, You are my Dancing Queen. I raised you to be a strong and independent woman and in that I have succeeded.”
In light of my mother’s love of music, it seems apropos that I am going to honor her tonight with a song. I used to be a total choir geek and she loved to hear me sing.
She would be so proud that I am standing up here in front of a crowd of people doing this in her honor … I suppose that’s a glimpse of that strong and independent woman she proudly raised.
I chose the song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell because the lyrics really spoke to me after her death… so much so that I quoted the lyrics of the first verse at her memorial.
“Rows and flows of angel hair. And ice cream castles in the air. And feather canyons everywhere. I’ve looked at clouds that way. But now they only block the sun. They rain and they snow on everyone. So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.”
To me, this verse is analogous to a life lost to depression although I’m sure that’s not what Joni Mitchell was thinking when she wrote it.
There was a time in her life, when the clouds in the sky were things of wonder, imagination and hope. But she stopped seeing them that way as her depression took over and they became nothing but gray and dreary obstacles that got in the way of her happiness.
This song is for you, mom. Thank you for giving me the best of you. Your Dancing Queen will carry you in her heart forever. Rest in peace.
by Andrea Forsyth
About the Author
Andrea is a proud parent, practicing attorney in Grand Rapids, and passionate advocate for mental health.
Pictured are Andrea Forsyth (R) and i understand founder, Vonnie Woodrick (L).