Randy Bacon with 7 Billion Ones in partnership with National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Missouri (NAMI) are proud to announce a major, multifaceted portrait art exhibition, story and short film series:
— It Knows No Face —
Portraits of Suicide Survivors.
Learn more HERE
I guess I just remember life starting not much before my mom died. And I remember that night. And, being woken up with a gunshot and going downstairs and finding her in the basement… and things being a mess. Then my dad came home and I ran back up and got in my bed. I didn’t know what to do. Then I remember the neighbors coming and covering up my head and taking me next door. I saw the ambulance and my mom being taken away and it still not making any sense to me... But I knew then, even at six years old, that something didn’t make sense and I was being lied to. The next morning my dad sat my brother and I down, told us to hold hands and said, “Your mom has died and she said at the hospital to tell you that she loved you.” I remember my brother asking, “Was she in pain?”. My dad said, “No, she died instantly.” And, I said, “Well, if she died instantly how did she tell you at the hospital to say that she loved us?” My dad didn’t answer, and I knew something was wrong. I knew my mom was dead when I saw her downstairs after I heard the gunshot, because part of her head was gone. Still, my brother and I were just told to not to talk about it, and it was never spoken of again. That was all super traumatic, including the funeral. My dad wanted me to touch her and kiss her goodbye and I just couldn’t.
Right after it happened, our dad took us away to California for a week, which was already weird. When we got back I had missed my first week of school in first grade at a new school, and things were just uncomfortable. I remember when everyone was making Mothers Day cards, and teachers just telling me to color an extra picture for fun since apparently there wasn’t a point in making a card for a mom I didn’t have any more. I remember that for the soccer team I was on, we had these patches that had to be sewn on to our uniforms, and I was always the odd kid out without a patch on my uniform because nobody could sew it on for me. My dad was around but not to help with stuff like that. My dad ended up starting a relationship with someone that was living with us like nine months after our mom had died, and then got married to someone who was eighteen at the time when I was thirteen, and things just keep getting weirder.
We were never allowed to talk about my mom’s death, so that was kind of the hard part. Where, now, there’s things like support groups. I remember being fourteen and asking my dad again what had happened. My dad threw the police report at me, and then I saw that it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound; which obviously, I’d figured out over the years. I had already had panic attacks and for years was afraid for him to leave the house because of what I now realize was fear of my other parent dying. When my brother and I were like ten and twelve years old, my dad would take his girlfriend and go to Vegas for the week and leave us at home with the keys to the truck for my brother in case there was an emergency. I was always terrified that my dad would never come back. I had panic attacks and suffered with depression, but there was just no one to discuss it with. So, I’d just suck it up, because there was no counseling, there was just no discussing. And, anytime I would talk about my mom, or I would ask how she died, my dad would say, “You’re upsetting me, stop talking about it, we’re not talking about it”.
Things never really got “better” in our family, so I just left at seventeen. I graduated early, moved away, and ended up going into social work. I had a lot of trouble adjusting just to being an adult, I think, because of things like never having seen anybody cook a meal; it never happened at our house, we just had fast food. So, just normal daily things, and adjusting to the lack of chaos was a struggle for me. It took me a long time to get used to. It’s been forty years now and my dad, my brother and I still haven’t discussed the suicide.
I try to take these experiences and mentor other people and volunteer so that at least I can use these experiences to help other people. I’m forty seven and still just trying to understand myself. But, I think, with those backgrounds that that still leads to - whether it’s genetically or environmentally- it still leads you to have the same problems yourself...but with having gone through that trauma, that gives you the compassion to understand the same issues that your parent or whoever went through. There’s still such a misunderstanding in society, but it’s so much better than it was in the seventies.
Even now as an adult, I see the abandonment issues always creep back up in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever really feel secure in anything. I’ve just adopted the mindset of “I’m going to leave you before you leave me”... Not having closure is a big thing. When somebody leaves you all of a sudden one day, there’s just never that closure when you didn’t even see it coming. My mom did leave suicide notes, and we had two because she tried it once with pills and it didn’t work. It irritates me and I have had a lot of anger towards my dad for not talking to my mom about what was going on with her after her first attempt. I just don’t understand how her failed attempt wouldn’t provoke a conversation to address what was going on.
Not having closure from such a young age, is now just a lifelong frustration...it’s like an itch that you can’t scratch. There’s just no way to “fix” that, it’s an anger you can’t get rid of. To never know why and to never be able to know why... even with having the two suicide notes - they don’t explain why. They ramble but there’s no answers there. And to know that you’re never going to know is frustrating as hell. So I think that has always made me demand answers and want to solve things and make sure nothing is left undone or unanswered. That’s how my personality has turned out; I’m going to have conversations and I’m going to get answers.
I feel like I have stayed in toxic relationships longer than maybe it would have been healthy for me to stay in because of such an early abandonment. And the abandonment doesn’t just come from my mom dying, there still wasn’t a substantial love from my dad because he was just always unavailable. He was there physically, but he was unavailable. I could have been on fire and he wouldn’t have noticed. So, I’ve carried that into adulthood, trying to be heard and seen and make it work because that’s just all I know. I also definitely think that my brother and I both internalized some guilt about my mom dying, like maybe she wouldn’t have killed herself if we had just done something different.
I realized early on that I couldn’t think of one positive memory with my mom, I only had negative ones. I remember the fighting between her and my dad, I remember knocking on the bedroom door to wake my mom up but her being too drunk to get out of bed. I remember when my brother was five and I was three, that our mom would pack lunch boxes for us the nights before school in the morning - one for my brother to take to school and the other for me to feed myself while I was home during the day - and then she would just stay in bed all day. She would lock the door and she didn’t come out, so I was on my own all day. I remember that one day I wanted to know what a word meant, and so I knocked on the bedroom door to ask my mom. I knocked on the door over and over and over again, and she finally opened the door and screamed the answer at me. I remember thinking later after she died that if I just not bothered my mom...maybe if I hadn't bugged her during the day and just let her sleep, she wouldn’t have killed herself.
My dream for the future is to try to make some sort of substantial difference… and I’m hoping that this project will be part of it. I think there’s a plan and don’t think anything happens by accident without a reason. I want to do something big that makes a big impact on a lot of people. As far as personal dream for myself, I want to be able to defeat some of my demons. It sounds small, but I want to be able to find peace.
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