(Trigger warning: the topic of suicide is discussed below.)
So, I’ve been listening to a lot of Nick Drake lately. Something about the moody broodiness of his music sets my sluggish mind at ease.
Sluggish why? The lazy heat of summer, the discombobulation of coming back from days of camping and sailing, the messy house that I can’t clean without slipping on my own sweat, the dark new moon wandering aimless on its cycle . . .
Summer vibes tend to bring on a sense of restless stultification, for me. It’s that season where everything is happening, fast: lots of picnics and plans and barbecued hot dogs and an endless need to find a source of cool water. So much going on around every different corner, whether it’s a festival or a market or a friend’s party.
Along with this, a sense of wanting to lie relaxed and free, doing nothing at all.
I always listen to Nick Drake, it seems, when time wants to stand still. And paradoxically, time stands still when I’m in the midst of facing tough transitions.
When my marriage of 14 years dissolved a decade ago, I remember listening to Nick Drake as I drove away from my old house with a truckload of items from my previous life. His music made me feel so melancholy and yet alive, poised on the edge of my unknown future.
The same has occurred this summer – my kids are growing up into adults and moving away (or getting ready to). I’m heading into another year of transition, as my partner and I decide how to navigate our home life and our future together. I’m asking myself a lot of serious questions about what I want to do with the rest of my life into elderhood. It’s pretty “middle-passage” stuff.
Nick Drake never made it to his middle passage. He died at the age of 26, by his own hand. His music betrayed a deep sense of poignant woe that turned out to feel, for him, unendurable, even though it blessed the world immeasurably.
Whenever the topic of suicide comes up, I always think of mothers.
A mother has only one job and that is to keep her child alive, until eventually he learns to keep himself alive. And to keep himself alive, he must want to live. So, for the mother, I imagine a child’s suicide must be the worst kind of failure (even though it’s obviously not her own fault).
Nick Drake’s mother describes finding her son, known for his bouts of crippling depression, after he took his own life by a massive dose of anti-depressants: “I never used to disturb him at all. But it was about 12 o’clock, and I went in, because really it seemed it was time he got up. And he was lying across the bed. The first thing I saw was his long, long legs.”
I think about how well and intimately the mother knew those legs, from when they were kicking inside her womb, to when they were running around a field playing rugby in youth, to this moment when they were stretched out on his bed, never to walk again. The excruciating intimacy of knowing your child in both life and death.
I imagine what it must be like to have nothing left of your child but early memories, photographs, and a legacy of renowned musical albums. Does she listen to his music and understand him better, from his playful, thoughtful, sometimes despondent lyrics? Does she feel his soul, breathing life into her own?
Of course, all this brooding leads me to reflect on the suicide of my own sibling, B.
Waves of grief wash over me every time I think about this person that I knew from my childhood, someone who experienced an eventual anguish so deep it was impassable. Someone that nobody really knew, perhaps – especially at the end. I thought I knew B, but I didn’t understand them at all. I certainly didn’t try to know them as well as I could have.
But after someone decides to leave, the resulting thoughts and recollections tend to feel futile. There is nothing to be done. I feel, in myself, Nick Drake’s mother. Sometimes I’m visited by a vision of the shape of B’s hands, or one of their many facial expressions – and there is nothing to do at all, except sit with it.
Yes, it has been a year of transitions. And these transitions will push me forward into the next phase of my life. From deep in motherhood into menopause. From holding space for my children to holding space for my own creative projects. From summer into early fall.
Through the change – the crazy-making of it, and the stillness of it – I’m thankful for the accompaniment of Nick Drake, who couldn’t know how his poignant magic would be felt long, long after he decided to leave.
And I say a prayer for his mother.