Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Memory of Valerie

ON JUNE 14, 2005, my best friend Valerie killed herself in the bathroom of her psych ward room two hours after I left here there. I've detailed the events surrounding that terrible day in my essay, "This One's On Me" published in The Moment I Knew Women's Anthology. (See sidebar.) Having lost a loved-one to suicide has its own brand of agony. There is so much to sort out and come to terms with. 

A few weeks ago, when I spied the book, The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff-Mack perched on the library's shelves, I was intrigued.

The only normal I know of is a setting on the dryer dial, I've always joked.

Still, I liked the title and went ahead and brought it home. The book, co-authored by Tamara Jones, details the relationship Stephanie had with her husband Mark, the older son of the infamous Bernie Madoff. Mark's decision to end his life in December of 2010 left Stephanie a widow with two small children.

According to Stephanie, Mark and brother Andy knew nothing of their father's improprieties until the day Bernie confessed. They cooperated with authorities but guilt by association forced them to go into hiding.  They became pariahs, living under constant threat of a lawsuit or indictment. After Bernie went to prison, things began to improve but Mark still had it in his mind that his family would be better off without him. He died on his second attempt.

There were many things I had to just ignore while reading this book. For one thing the writing style wasn't impressive, just okay. Also, I found the family bickering unpleasant. Stephanie's perpetual grievances with her in-laws and her constant need to justify her actions grew tiresome. I don't think readers needed to know all of this. For instance, Stephanie was beyond livid when Bernie insisted she sign a prenup before marrying Mark. And later in the book, she's upset with Mark's first wife for...some reason. Apparently I did a pretty good job of ignoring it. And we get a mega-dose of Stephanie's disapproval of her mother-in-law, Ruth's decision to stand by her man.

Despite all of this, I found the connection I was looking for when I read:

People assume that the loved ones left behind after a 
suicide yearn to know why, but that's not my main obsession. 
What if? 
That's the question I ask myself again and again, 
trying on and discarding every possibility. 

And by what if, she means, "What if I would have... called sooner? Not left at all? Made sure she wasn't alone? Appeared more compassionate? Said something different?" The scenarios are endless. As if by some slight alteration of reality our loved one would still be here.

People speculated that Mark Madoff's suicide was proof that he was complicit. Stephanie sums it up beautifully by writing, 

His death was proof only of his pain.

Thank you for reading this. I'm sorry it's such a downer post. I'm not really down, just contemplative. The older I get, the more mysterious life seems. But the cliche is true. All we have is now so shake off this sadness and have a wonderful rest of your day. 


  1. Grace, This is a very lovely and poignant post ending on a beautiful, life affirming note. My sympathies to you for the loss of your friend.

  2. Oh Grace, thank you for sharing this. It touches my heart and gives a insight to those 'left behind'.

  3. This is very sad. Luckily I have not lost one to suicide, but I have lost friends to disease, strange events, and I don't think I handle loss well at all. I often wonder about the families of people like many ... it is too sad altogether. I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for sharing this with us. xx

  4. This was a beautiful post. I am sorry for your loss. My brother committed suicide "His death was proof only of his pain" pretty much summed up his suicide note. I wish he'd have called me but deep down I know there was nothing for me to do.

  5. I'm so sorry about your friend who took her own life. It sort of startled me when I was scrolling through blog feeds since we share the same first name. A friend of mine recently took his life (this past December, a week before Christmas) so I have a lot of questions and thoughts on these things myself. We hadn't been close in years, he was the Husband of my closest friend from high school...we all three spent just about every waking moment together for several years. In the last decade though, as people do, we all grew apart and our lives became very different. It still shook me up quite a bit when I learned of his death and I think about him and his family often.

  6. It is through our pain and reflection we can come to understand (we hope). I now understand why you commented the way you did on my last post...time to change the self-talk even if I am kicking myself to move forward.

    Your essay, Grace, will stay with me shook me to my core and I still cry thinking about of the best if not the best in the book. I have felt the pain of loss but not from is very different for those left behind and I don't think we can even begin to understand it unless we have gone through it..Thx friend for sharing and caring!

  7. I've been on both ends of suicide attempts. Unpleasant all around, but sadly enough often a fact of life that begs discussion. For me it was about loving myself enough to want to put an end to the pain.
    Good post.

  8. I have been involved with someone who tried repeatedly in various ways, but never succeeded. He has been troubled his entire life. This is a burden to all involved and for a very long time thereafter. I am no longer with this person, but the memory of seeing him in the hospital is as fresh as when it happened. This post brought back the "What ifs" to me too. But, it took a long time to realize there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent what happened.

  9. Grace, what a wonderfully written, and touching post! Steffani's statement about "what if?", and "proof of pain" are so true. I am very sorry for your loss. I know one can never seem to find the right words. Sometimes in times of great stress, it helps a great deal to be able to share your thoughts and feelings, just to have someone that will listen.

  10. HI Grace, I wanted to read your "This one's on me essay" but can't find it.

  11. Oh Grace! I'm so sorry for your loss. I've never lost a loved one to suicide, but I have lost many, many days of my own life to severe depression. My life now is a "what if" that proved that surviving my depression was the right choice.

    Hugs to you!

  12. Grace, so sorry to hear about your friend. My father in law took his own life three years ago. no warning. a blow that has left a gaping hole in our family. His pain must have been immense to have left this world by his own hand in the manner in which he did. We, the survivors are left to wonder and press on ... Thanks for the post.

  13. Amy, here is the link to The Moment I Knew on Amazon. If you've got a Kindle, it's only 99 cents. (Downloading a Kindle from Amazon onto your computer is free and takes 5 minutes.)

  14. Oh the 'what if's' in life. We will ponder that question in many of life's is not healthy to remain there long. I remember you sharing this story before...I tried to tell someone on Mother's Day..."I wish I could tell you the pain of loss gets easier, I can't. I can tell you the pain grows different though."

  15. There's so much to think about here. You're so right - the what ifs can be totally endless. At some point, you need to just know did the best you could - that everyone really does the best they can - at least at that point in time. So much is just beyond our control. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend several years ago. As a side note, I just read a book called Silver Girl for my book group (no idea why I and these ladies would choose this book!). I think I lost about 20 IQ points in the process. Anyway, it was a fictional parallel of the Madoff story. It was an interesting story in that you really see how the whole thing affected her.

  16. Dear, dear Grace ~ Some how I missed this post and it is heart gripping. The 'what ifs' in life can really get us down. There is not one thing that we can do to change things and those two words haunt us.

    All we can do is take each day as it comes, looking for the beauty and joy in each one, learning as we go along.

    Love and hugs to you,


  17. Oh Grace, I am so and the book are right...the question is what if? I had someone close to me kill themselves and it is difficult because your feelings are such a jumble of what if, grief, anger, and much much more. Please know that I am praying for you and your friends family. (I really do mean that) and know that the God of Love and compassion will bring comfort to you and to their hearts.


I LOVE your comments! Thank you so much for being here.