I don’t get tired of describing her….bright red hair, spunky, small hands, a bit eccentric – and so loving. I can think back now and hear the sadness in her voice. The sadness that would swallow her in the dark and tell her she was all alone. The sadness that prompted her to tell me to “Never kill yourself – you’ll go to hell”. The sadness that engulfed her some days so much that getting out of bed seemed impossible. The sadness that eventually killed her – took her from me and left me with so many questions. No, I didn’t see it then. She would tell me things about some of the abuse she suffered from her husband and how she cried out for Jesus. I witnessed the breakdown of her and her daughter over how the rest of my family treated them – like outsiders. But I didn’t know then how very lost she was. She did everything she could to lift me up. She made me feel pretty and smart and loved. Other than my parents she was the one that came to my Baptism and my first piano recital. She would be the one to come pick me up in her bright blue Firebird and make me feel “cool” even if just for the amount of time I rode in her car. She brought me the book “Makeup for Blondes” to help me learn how to apply makeup the right way (nix the makeup line.) I still have that book.
The day it happened was surreal. I was 12 years old – I hadn’t seen Sue in about 2 months. I wasn’t sure at the time what was going on. My family wasn’t very forthcoming with anything. My Uncle Danny and cousin Suzanne came to the house to tell us that Sue shot herself. My mom asked if she was ok. They looked at us like we were crazy and said…”No..she’s dead!”. I remember mom calling my dad – Sue’s brother. She had written many suicide notes according to the police, lit the house on fire, put a towel under her bedroom door, played Christian music on her radio then took a gun and shot herself in the stomach. I honestly don’t know if she died instantly. I never saw the notes. I never saw the letter that I knew she wrote to me. All I know is that I lost a woman that I loved dearly.
The next thing I remember is the funeral. I don’t remember the feelings before the funeral or any of the conversations until then – just the funeral. We walked in and I can remember the smell of the lilies – to this day I can’t stand the smell. She was laying in her casket…so still and so pretty. Even in death she was stunning to me. My dad went out on the funeral homes porch and cried. I went out and tried to comfort him. I told him that she was ok and was in Heaven. It didn’t really comfort him – he just cried more. I felt defeated. My family sat in the back pews. I didn’t really understand why then but found out later they didn’t want to sit next to my uncle or anywhere close to him. Three months after Sue’s death he moved in with his new wife – to the same house where she took her life. Very telling.
I don’t remember what was said at the funeral, or her being buried. Just her in the casket. For years she had threatened so many times to kill herself before – with aspirin or anything on hand. My dad or someone else would go to the house, wait her out, and be there when she emerged from her bedroom promising that she didn’t really mean it. But this time…the final time…she didn’t call anyone. She just ended it. My family blamed medications (she had just survived cancer). I blame ignorance by others and society and depression. I understand now that she didn’t really want to die…she just wanted it to end. The hatred, the doubt, the sadness – all of it to end because she wasn’t living.
For a while I didn’t want to tell people that I named my first daughter after her. Her full name was Lydia Sue Poole Smith. I didn’t want people to think that it was wrong to name my daughter after a woman who killed herself. It became Sue’s identity for a while – the woman who killed herself. But now…my daughter Lydia is a radiant woman – just like Sue. Sue’s identity was not how she ended her life but by the impact she made in her life. I do not believe that those who take their own lives go to hell – honestly that is ridiculous (although growing up in the Bible Belt it was a question). I know that she is finally okay. I have stopped blaming myself for not calling her (yes even at 12 years old). She was in so much pain – a pain that I too have felt but did not want to leave others with the same questions that she had left.
She was an amazing woman. I only wish I could let her know now how much she impacted my life in such wonderful ways. If she could have only seen that – but the sadness…that dark devil…wouldn’t let her see it.
Mental illness is real – we like to push it to the background and believe that if we are “strong enough” that we can beat it. We can ignore it all we want – but all we are doing is allowing others to suffer. Sue was a wonderful loving person – but she is dead now because she never could see it. She had a veil of darkness that clouded her judgement. A veil that could have been lifted with treatment and understanding. I want to lift the veil – then we can ALL see the light.