m At one point in my therapy, my psychiatrist asked me whether I ever thought about suicide, I replied that there were times when I could think of nothing else.
"Have you ever attempted it?" he asked.
"It would devastate my family. I can't do that to them."
I had seen surviving families of suicides, witnessed the agony they went through, wondering if they did or said something that triggered the fatal event, berating themselves for not realizing the seriousness of the situation, even when a professional therapist had also missed the signs. No matter how miserable I was, I wouldn't end my pain--couldn't end it--because I cared.
Years later, I saw a wonderful demonstration of how caring about someone or something can get a person through deep depression. My father had died unexpectedly, and my 89-year-old mother was despondent. After 64 years of marriage, her world had collapsed, and her life was suddenly empty. She woke up crying every morning, and despite the efforts of her four children, she lost interest in everything. Then one day my sister said, "Maybe she needs a pet."
Mom had had small dogs for many years when we were younger, and it seemed like a good idea at first, but we realized she was no longer able to walk a dog, and too frail to be out in bad weather. She was never a cat person, so that wouldn't work, either. Finally my sister came up with the solution.
Mom's face lit up when the four of us presented her with a large cage, complete with all the accouterments needed to care for a songbird, and a bright yellow young canary whom she promptly named Petey. My sister put on a CD of classical music and Petey went to work, singing his heart out. When we all applauded at the end of the piece, Petey flapped his wings and bobbed his little head in response.
From that day forward, there was a change in Mom. She still woke up crying every morning for several months, but now she didn't linger in bed. The first thing she did each day was to clean Petey's cage, give him a small tub of water for his bath, clean drinking water, fresh seed, and a crisp piece of lettuce, for which he'd thank her by gently pecking on her finger. We also noticed something touching: whenever Mom entered the room, Petey greeted her with a song--which he did for no one else--and brought a smile to her face.
As time went by, Mom began to enjoy taking care of her flowers, watching her TV programs, sewing and knitting and getting back into social activities.
Caring had brought healing.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.