by Tracy Stimpson

Music is a very important part of my life. 

My love of music comes from my mother; it was one of the few things she did to help raise me.  You see, my mom suffered from mental illness.

I was born in ‘67 and back then there was no word for ‘postpartum’.  All I know is that people tell me that my mom was fine, became unexpectedly pregnant with me, then changed mentally.  I wasn’t the firstborn, I have two older brothers.  The big shock to my mom is that 10 years after my middle brother was born, she became pregnant at 43.  All I know is that I never got to see the vibrant woman my mother once was; I only saw my sick mom.

Mom used alcohol to battle her depression.  Every day, she would wake up very early and pour herself a rye & ginger and light up a Cameo menthol.  That is what she did all day, drink and smoke.  For the first two years of my life, I have been told that we had a nanny that used to take care of me.  Dad had a good job in the government but we weren’t rich so I don’t know how he afforded it.  From 2 until school age, the neighbour across the street would come over every day at noon to see how mom was.  When you drink all day long every day, you build up a tolerance and can be functional for a while.  Auntie Nancy would come over at noon and if my mom was too out of it, she would take me to her place.  After 5, it was school then babysitters.

The only interest my mom seemed to have was her love of music.  While she drank and smoked, she would listen to her music and sing along.  Her favorite was Engelbert Humperdinck.  Every time “The Last Waltz” would come on the stereo, she would pull me up on her lap.  With her arms around me, we would rock back and forth and sing along to the song.  45 years later I still feel comforted when I hear that song.

The last words my mother ever said to me were “mommy doesn’t feel well, why don’t you crawl in with your father”.

As we only had a 3-bedroom house and my middle brother was in the other room, I snuggled with my dad while she took my room.  I was 7.  When I awoke the next day, I found it strange that mom was still in bed.  As I said before, she was an early riser.  I tried to wake her with no success.  I told my dad that mom wouldn’t get up.  Now that I am an adult, I realize just how caring he was.  As soon as he walked into my bedroom he knew she was dead but he held it together and lied to me.  “Mommy isn’t feeling well, I’m going to get Uncle Roger to pick you up so we can take care of her.”  I was whisked away before the ambulance arrived.

A full bottle of sleeping pills is what this poor woman took.  So sad with life that she ended hers at 51.  I don’t really miss my mom as I never spent that much time with her and I was so young when she passed.  I wish I could have gotten to know her before her depression set in but I guess it wasn’t in the cards.  We will always have the Last Waltz and I cry a little inside every time I hear it.

Mental illness is a real thing and affects many people, including their families.  If you know someone who is suffering with metal illness, be there for them, love them, show them that there is so much in this world to live for.