Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Good Mother. Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010.

“All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother." -Abraham Lincoln

My best friend, Abrihet, is from Africa. And she is the most amazing woman I have ever known.

Abrihet is a mother of four, including one child with special needs; she has a demanding full-time job in the medical field; she runs a non-profit organization to raise money for medical care in Africa; she is working on her Master’s Degree; and in her “spare” time, she runs marathons. She’s deeply religious, always smiling, and on top of it all she’s beautiful.

Abrihet grew up in one of the most impoverished areas of an impoverished continent. As a child, she witnessed and experienced atrocities and acts of violence that Americans only see in movies like “Hotel Rwanda” and “Blood Diamond.” These life experiences don’t even seem real to us, yet Abrihet lived them, and so did her mother, “Mama.”

In Africa, Mama lived a life of sorrow; she watched eight of her babies die, and only Abrihet survived. Her husband deserted her. When Abrihet and her husband came to the U.S., they were able to send for Mama after several years, and Mama lived here most of the time.

Although she never learned English, it didn’t really matter. Mama communicated with us through smiles, touches, kisses and hugs. Like Abrihet, Mama was always smiling, always showing concern for others. And Abrihet was always quick to attribute any of her own positive qualities to the way Mama had raised her. Both Mama and Abrihet could blame traumas in their lives for being angry, selfish, even violent people, but instead both were bestowed with huge hearts of love and a strong spirit.

A few days ago, Abrihet sent me a shocking e-mail. Mama had died suddenly during a trip to Africa, only a few days before her planned return to the U.S. Mama was only in her late 50s and had been in good health. Abrihet was shattered, and she and her husband were catching the next flight to her homeland in Africa.

Last night we held a memorial service for Mama at church. Everyone was sobbing. The absence of Mama was palpable, and everyone expressed their concern for Abrihet. “Abrihet lives her life helping other people,” said one. “And now the one who takes care of her has been taken away.”

Every day on the Suicide Attempt Survivors board, I communicate with people who want nothing more than for their lives to end. Some of them actively work to end their lives; others simply pray when they go to sleep at night that they won’t wake up.

There is an irony here, a mystery. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can still ask – why, fate? The universe? do people like Mama die, while others who believe they want to die live, despite overdoses and razor cuts? Many suicidal people have told me that when they see a deceased person on TV, they want to “trade places” with someone who is finally at peace. But being in the church, surrounded by weeping people, I imagined how much harder they would be weeping – how much deeper their pain would be – if Mama had taken her own life.

Both Mama and Abrihet were fortunate. Mama had a daughter she loved, and Abrihet had a mother she loved; this mutual love allowed them both to survive unimaginable emotional traumas. Now Abrihet faces life without her mom, but it’s clear her mom planted the seeds that will allow Abrihet to face whatever trials may come.

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