05/21/2012 06:26 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2012

Thoughts on a Mother's Life -- and Death

I didn't know Mary Richardson Kennedy, but I'd met her several times. And before I'd met her, I'd heard of her. At the time, I was married and drawn into a group of women, mainly Hollywood wives, who'd formed an environmental lobby. They spoke of her in terms designated for saints. She was a striking beauty, generous of spirit, vivacious, an intellect and a wonderful mother. Her husband, a veteran speaker (his shirtsleeves always turned up just so, at the elbow), spoke of his activist wife and his many children and the family van -- their lives carefree, enviable. I finally met Mary at the kind of party where bulbs flash every few seconds and the famous faces outnumber the civilians (me) and in a sea of glitter, she, without makeup and hair extensions, outshone the rest. She just seemed so... together. Fierce, gorgeous, a rosy picture of healthful living. What was I? A mere observer, an outsider. Irish roots, sure, but I was no Kennedy.

In the ensuing years, I'd heard of Mrs. Kennedy's troubles, marital and otherwise. I didn't pay a lot of attention, and never connected the dots to my own life. I was up to my own crises and saving graces, herding my rambunctious boys instead of hobnobbing with movie stars and still-wives. But there were more of us now, women entering our 40's who were experiencing the kind of life changes that seem never to end, but only to morph.

Mary, the woman I'd heard about, read about and talked with had been everything I aspired to, and not because of her husband's name. But, finally, the doting mother, the caring volunteer, the environmental architect -- the woman who had it all -- hung herself. Depression, I've heard, is anger turned inward. I want to say this to women, especially to mothers who've lost themselves, gone through a bad marriage, a bad divorce and are worried about raising imperfect children and being an imperfect parent: Be angry instead of depressed. Be vocal instead of quiet. Be yourself. Be crazy without going crazy and for God's sake stop punishing yourselves. I've been struck by depression (mine looks more like hyperactivity, hypervigilance), I've seen it in my family, in our women. Her death feels unacceptable, yet I understand. Christmas card memories are haunting. Four kids, far away. I hate that one of us died alone.