This column was published by Bay Area News Group in February 2011
When Brian Walker was ten years old, he came upon a scene he had never seen before.
“I found my mom smoking,” he said. “I didn’t know she smoked.”
Still, it wasn’t the smoking that sent a chill through the young boy.
“It was her face. She seemed numb,” he said.
Walker, who is 22 and lives in Pleasanton, said his mother died the next day from a fall from a second story window onto a concrete surface in the backyard. Exactly how she managed to fall remains a mystery. Perhaps an accident, perhaps suicide, whatever happened quietly haunted Walker for many years.
“I was the only one in my family to see my mom alive on her last day,” said Walker, his brown eyes softening.
Walker explained that his parents were divorced, and he and his brothers had spent the night at his father’s house.
“By some fate, I’d forgotten a project at my mom’s house,” Walker said. “So she brought it to my school.”
Standing in front of Walker’s friends that October morning minutes before the bell rang, Nancy Walker bid her son farewell for the last time.
“Have a great day today,” she said, “I love you.”
At age ten, his friends surrounding him, Walker wordlessly raised a hand in a curt farewell. What he did not do was say three simple words to his mother he wishes he said that morning.
“Words are not meaningless,” Walker said. “They have power and can create things both wonderful and monstrous.”
The three most magical words are I love you, he said.
After the death, Walker’s world was different. His friends seemed afraid of saying the wrong thing around him. He watched his older brother struggle with the loss of their mother, while the youngest brother grew up not remembering her.
“Through it all and for many years I told everyone I was fine,” Walker said. “I wanted to be stable, someone I thought my mom would be proud of.”
But, of course, Walker was not fine.
“The hero always manages to utter those three words right before their loved one quietly fades from this world,” Walker said. “But I was no hero.”
Walker had watched his mother spiral into depression, yet did nothing to help her. If he could turn back time, he would put out that cigarette and ask if she was okay.
“I would have sat down with her, hugged her, and told her I loved her,” he said.
After graduating from high school, Walker felt many pressures build in his life. As his sense of guilt finally began to emerge, he began to act recklessly, and in desperation he turned to his father.
“A lot was happening in my life,” Walker said. “I asked my dad to tell me what he knew about my mom’s death.”
His father reassured his son that she had not killed herself, that the fall was just an accident. These words, along with hearing from others that there are easier ways to kill oneself than jumping from a window just two stories high, allowed Walker to realize he had been needlessly blaming himself for a role he did not have in his mother’s death.
Since then Walker has found a purpose and stability in his life.
“The universe is not kind and we cannot rescind our mistakes,” he said. “But we can learn from them, make peace with them, and live our lives.”
Nancy Walker’s death was twelve years ago. Since then her son has learned much about life.
“I think she would be proud of me,” he said.