Not the physical gifts that we think of when we see or hear that word but something else entirely.
Gifts that sometimes can’t be recognized as such until later when we look back and realize that something that seemed like a curse was instead a blessing.
From mid November until late December 2011 Willie was hospitalized for mental health issues; specifically suicidal thoughts and intentions.
During that time there were endless trips back and forth from the hospital. Visits in his room on the ward, visits in the cafeteria when he couldn’t go off site and so many long car rides with him back and forth when he was finally allowed home visits. Sitting on his bed in his ward room while he paced and talked, chattering quickly and randomly from subject to subject. Moods swinging between hopefullness at getting released to despair that he would be kept longer. I would sit and watch him, listen to him and try to get a glimpse of what it must be like to be in that mind. I would watch the way his body would move. The twitches as he paced, the way he glided from side to side and moved with such grace. Long legs and arms, all gangly and skinny – just like any other 16 year old boy…but so different inside.
The cafeteria visits. Bad coffee for me, pretzels and a Gatorade for him. Him always wanting to stay a little longer before he had to go back to his ward; locked in and left alone. Him walking ahead or behind me in the hallway…depending on the mood…never beside me.
Those car rides were at times hostile and at times insightful into what was going on in his mind. I would drive and watch him with quick glances. What his hands did…the way they twisted and turned in his lap, the way his knees jumped and the way his feet would tap; restless and anxious….his body unable to move freely so the little movements taking over. His chatter moving from subject to subject while I sat most of the time and just listened or nodded, adding the odd voice of agreement or dissent. Many times I would open up and we would talk…really talk. About choices, about life, about nothing and everything.
All the hours spent in therapy sessions with him…watching him, listening to him…trying desperately to understand him to be able to get an understanding of how to “fix” him and make him better.
Looking back now….those weeks were such a blessing…a gift of such enormity! Through those hours and hours of listening and talking and being alone with Willie I was allowed to get to know him in a way that I don’t know if I ever would have, had he not become sick. With 4 children it is always challenging finding time to spend one on one with each of them! Through this, Willie and I were pushed together, alone, for hours on end! Because of the brutality and honesty that comes of dealing with mental illness the barriers of what to say and what not to say were shattered. We shared information and thoughts and fears beyond what would have ever been deemed “ok” in a “normal” life. I shared with him and him with me about fears and hopes. How scary it is to be unsure of what comes ahead and also the truth that even if we didn’t know, we would be able to figure it out together. He would agree but always there was a closing remark of hopelessness – of knowing that his path would not be what I hoped for.
While it hurts so bad to have him gone, I know that I was given the most beautiful gift of being able to see my son for who he was. In the midst of those weeks I wished so much for them to be over…for him to be better, to be released from the hospital and to be well. I had no idea at the time that those weeks were my blessing of being given memories to hold and cherish forever.
I have recently come to the clarity that it’s easy to be grateful for the good things….not so easy to be grateful for the hard, seemingly wrong things in our life. But even those things teach us; the biggest lesson being that they just may be a gift after all and not a trial or a curse.


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