The RGV Moms Blog is honored to share this guest post by Wendy L. Smith. We think Wendy’s personal story and powerful advice about mental health and family well-being is an important topic to bring up during the holiday season.
I had the Fun Mom. Our house was where my friends wanted to hang out, mostly because my mom let us stay up late to watch Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and Saturday Night Live. She was also a sympathetic listener whose innate kindness invited troubled souls to share their worries. Once, a kid I hardly knew ran away from home and sought her advice on how to handle a difficult family situation. When one of my friends got pregnant in high school, my mom was among the first to know— long before I did.
She was compassionate, gracious, well-read, wickedly funny… and she took her own life at the age of 42.
The symptoms of depression were subtle and developed over such a long period that they were nearly undetectable. Her engaging smile and gleeful cackle (which my daughter and I inherited) masked a pain so deep that, to this day, I still cannot fully comprehend it. Since her death, I have spoken with countless Survivors (the term given those of us left behind) who— like me— say, “I never saw it coming.”
Depression is elusive, and the extent of its damage is realized only after a loved one is lost. Those who are most determined to die by suicide are often the best at concealing their intentions. They do not exhibit the stereotypical symptoms that we assume should be apparent, nor do they always have a formal diagnosis of depression or other mental illness. There is no obvious cry for help.
To paraphrase Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Every [wo]man has [her] secret sorrows which the world knows not.”
Often a calm demeanor belies a turbulent mind; inner turmoil is hidden behind a happy façade. I can speak with absolute certainty when I say we all have friends or family members who are spiraling into darkness while we remain unaware. Perhaps they, too, are the Fun Moms.
Suicide Survivors Loss Day is Saturday, November 19). Honor those lost and their loved ones left behind with these simple but meaningful acts:
- Practice speaking without judgement. Pause a moment to consider how your remarks will be received.
- Advocate for better, more accessible mental health services. Depression and anxiety are growing problems, but stigma and funding shortages make resources difficult to access for those most in need.
- Be self-aware and always mindful of your own emotional well-being. Help your children learn coping skills they can take from the classroom to the boardroom.
- Don’t just hear… LISTEN. Be intentional and try to find meaning in what you are hearing.
- Most importantly, never assume you know what is going on in someone else’s mind. Reach out, be kind, give hope. Be part of the effort to prevent suicide.
If you have a mental health resource to share, please comment below.