On April 15, 1997, I received a call that changed my world. I answered the phone to hear the voice of Mrs. Crow, a neighbor of my family growing up, still my parents’ neighbor, in Indiana. She had never called me before, so I definitely had no clue why she would be calling now. She asked me, “Is someone with you right now?”
Puzzled, I responded, “Yes, my two sons and my husband are home with me now. Why?”
“Is your husband in the room with you?”
“No, he’s upstairs. Why?”
“Tell your husband you need him to be near you right now,” came her mysterious reply.
So I did. He was upstairs. I stood in the stairwell and called, “Mike, will you come here, please?” He came without a word, looking curiously and with concern at me. I returned to the phone. “Mike is in the kitchen with me now. Is everything okay? Are my parents okay??”
“Your dad asked me to call you. He’s fine. Your mom is dead,” Mrs. Crow replied.
“What?” I gasped. “We saw her just last weekend! She seemed fine, then. What happened?”
“Your dad found her in the garage, with the car running and the garage door closed. The EMT’s came, and did everything they could, but it was too late,” Mrs. Crow said heavily. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
Dazed, feeling surreal, I said the only thing that came to mind, “Yes, will you pray for my family?” I was the only Christian in the family, and I knew that Mrs. Crow’s family were all believers, from conversations we’d had.
“Yes, and I’ll ask my church’s prayer chain to pray, too,” said Mrs. Crow. “If you need anything while you’re in Indiana, all you have to do is let me know. I’ll cook, I’ll clean, just ask.”
Mike was watching my face closely during the whole conversation. After I hung up the phone, I looked at him. “Mom’s dead.” My mind was too numb to add anything else just then.
I took a shaky step towards him; his arms came around me, strong, supporting. Then I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I was empty. Couldn’t cry. Couldn’t take in anything else. Was afraid to take it in. Tried to push the thought away. My mom is dead. The pain was too much for me. I felt choked every time I tried to breathe.
Two days later, we were in Indiana with my dad and siblings, and it was definitely spring. The air was raw, cold, sweet. The pain of breathing it in somehow made the numbness of Mom’s death easier to bear. I took deep breaths; the pain of the cold air meant I was still alive. Walking to the back lot of Dad’s property, I kept taking deep breaths, kept savoring the proof that I was still alive, that there was some part of me that could feel. I could see the daffodils preparing for their big day as the foliage stood, bright green, tall and proud, the fat red buds clear evidence that the trees were on the verge of popping out their leaves. My soul was drawn to the growing life; it was more real to me than Mom’s death. And my heart resonated with being around growing, living things to offset the choking numbness of grief.
It was years before I would allow my heart to let my mind know the truth: my mom had committed suicide. I marvel at the difference between my mom and me. She sought death through breathing carbon monoxide in the car. That day on the farm, I sought life, painful as it was, through breathing in deeply the green, cold air that promised a hard-won beauty and abundance of life. Quite a succinct way to sum up my journey since then: deep pain followed by increasing fullness of life.
Brooke Fossell has long been captivated by the power of words and story. She has been learning to embrace her own story, along with her femininity, longings, and voice. Married for 22 years, she has four teenage sons. She enjoys walking (preferably outdoors and near water), writing, reading, and coffee dates with her husband.