Eileen Vorbach Collins began writing to confront her grief. Her stories have been published in a number of journals, and she received the Diana Woods Memorial Award for Creative Nonfiction. Eileen is honored that her work has been selected for the Gabriele Rico Challenge Award and publication in Reed Magazine.
I laughed at the Saturday Night Live skit about suicide. If he were inclined to off himself, Fred Flintstone would commit Yabba-Dabba Do-icide.
Once, at work when I could not disengage from a talkative client on the phone, I wrapped the cord around my neck and mimed hanging myself to the amusement of my colleagues. How cute was that?
When my daughter first began showing signs of depression, I engaged in some parental espionage, snooping through her things, reading her journal. I’m not proud of this, but neither am I ashamed. It was clear that she was in trouble. I worried about the darkness of her poetry, the rage in her prose. She’d already caused blips on my radar with her macabre drawings.
“They all go through that,” said a friend.
“They’re all drama queens at that age,” said another.
She was so young then. Only eleven. Shouldn’t she still be drawing unicorns and gardens bursting with primary colors? Oceans with white foam surf and perfect Maxfield Parrish clouds? I commented once on a series of small canvases, painted black with angry red mounds and streaks in gruesome relief, slashed through with an X-Acto knife. Told her I found them disturbing.
“Spoiler alert, Mother,” she snarled, rolling her eyes at my untrained ones. “Art isn’t always pretty. I suppose you’d prefer I drew some wide-eyed fluffy kitten or a pretty mermaid.”
She was right. I would have preferred that.
Reeling in the aftermath of her suicide, I wondered how I would survive. How would I fashion any semblance of a normal life for my son? The details of her death filled my thoughts and I recounted the story over and over to anyone who would listen. My monologue always included that her last words to me were, “Love you too, mom.” I had to make sure they knew it wasn’t because she hated me (although as a teenager she’d write in her journal, on more than one occasion, that she did).
I became numb to the well-meaning responses as friends edged toward the door, needing to escape.
“She’s in a better place,” they assured me, as they sought exit for their own better place, anywhere far away from my recounting the events that led up to my daughter’s last days on the planet.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” promised the acquaintance known to have a full-blown panic attack if her manicurist had to cancel.
“We’re strong, we’ll survive this,” whined the woman who came to offer comfort and spent an hour crying about her failing marriage and impending change in financial status, until I finally, firmly, led her to the door.
Noticing that my clothes were getting looser, my son brought me a plate of food. “No thanks hon, I’m not hungry.”
“Mom, please don’t do this. Please don’t do what Lydia did.”
Is that how I looked to him? Like I was contemplating taking my own life? How frightening that must have been for an already traumatized twelve-year-old. I accepted the food and promised, “I’m just so very sad, sweetheart, but don’t worry. We’ll get through this.”
I didn’t know then that it would take a lifetime. Or that I couldn’t do it alone.
Read more of "Two Tablespoons of Tim" in the print edition of Issue 153.
Suzanne Rico's Commentary
Well written, brutally honest, and totally relatable, “Two Tablespoons of Tim” is a mirror of the strangeness of our thoughts and actions in the midst of grief. Traditionally structured, the story pulls the reader along on a journey we fear to take—the death of a loved one by suicide—into a world colored by poignant sadness and then, surprisingly, laughter. In the end, the author does a beautiful job of tying the title back into the last line of the piece, impressing upon the reader a lasting, powerful image of loss.
in conversation with
Ching Ching Tan
Is there a precise moment when you decided to write this piece? What happened?
I have never decided to write a piece about Lydia. It just happens. I’ll think of some small specific moment and it takes off from there. For example, another essay, “Magnetic Memories,” wrote itself while I was lying in an MRI machine. I went home and put it on the page. “Love in the Archives,” which was published in Lunch Ticket, came one morning when I was drinking coffee from Lydia’s 4-H mug.
Describe the process of writing this essay.
I was looking at social media. There are a few Facebook groups that I follow on occasion that are for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. I seldom post anything but it’s a way to not feel alone; to not feel like I’m the only one in the world carrying this pain. There are so many of us. The newcomers are so raw. Their sentences are fragmented. They use a lot of question marks: “WHY????” Then there are the ones, like me, who are past that. We know we’ll never have answers. I just thought about how it was for me those first months after Lydia died. How I wondered when I would be able to breathe. “Two Tablespoons of Tim” wrote itself in about thirty minutes. I contacted Alice and Bonnie to ask if they’d mind if I submitted it. They both laughed when they read it. They both cried too. Once I had their okay, I wrote the second draft and sent it off to several places. I cried when I got Reed’s response. Someone outside the club that no one wants to join read it and saw worth.
How do you describe the relationship between grief and writing?
I’ve been to grief counseling. About five years after Lydia died, I completed a master’s in pastoral care. I’ve participated in and facilitated bereavement groups. Still, writing is how I process my grief. Reading what others have written is also helpful.
Humor is present and surprising in this essay about grieving your daughter, and yet it is critical to the piece. Talk about how you use humor in your writing and how to balance humor in an emotionally overwhelming narrative.
It’s impossible to evoke her without remembering how she could make me laugh. She had a sharp wit, a gift of words. She was described by her high school advisor as being “master of the scathing retort.”
Also, I don’t want to write sadness exclusively. For years I’d been afraid to share my writing for fear people would think I’m looking for sympathy.
Just recently, I got a note from a friend with whom I’ve shared writing for the past year or two. It was a brutal criticism of a short essay I’d sent him. He said, “When are you going to get off the fucking grief train? Give us a break!” He went on to tell me about how he’d grieved for his dogs but after a few years had gotten over it.
I was shocked and hurt by his rancor, as he’s always been encouraging. I think he’d reached his limit with those stories. (He writes thrillers and humorous flash fiction.) It’s clear to me, though, that we need the release of a good cry as much as we need to laugh.