That Makes Sense

I dreamed of you last night. You were younger than you were when you died. Not by a lot though. You were like you were before you got sick. You were being silly and a little bit of a sarcastic trouble maker. You were teasing your brothers at dinner. They were the age they are now though. Not the age that they were when you died, or the age you were in the dream.

You noticed. You turned to me, a laugh still on your voice, and asked me: Why am I only 12 years old? Why aren’t I older, like I should be?

Why am I only 12? Why am I sometimes 5 years old, or a baby, or 10, or 16? Why?

I smiled at you and said simply that it’s because you’re dead.

You are whatever age you are in our minds when we are thinking of you, when we dream of you and remember you.

Sometimes you are 16 and at the end of your life, angry and sad and unreachable. Other times you are that little boy who held my hand and sang silly songs as he walked beside me grinning as I laughed at you. Sometimes you are even what you never will be, the young boy grown into a man.

You looked at me and suddenly you were 16 again. Dressed like you were when I said goodbye for what I didn’t know was the last time. You shrugged, like you did a lot back then, and you smirked and said that it makes sense. Since you’re dead.

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Dear Willie,

Willie,

There are days that I think about your choice. Days like today when, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get you out of my head. I try, trust me, I do. I don’t want to feel this anymore. I don’t want to see your face in my mind and miss you like I do. It doesn’t matter though, it doesn’t make any difference what I want. This is how it is and you are gone and I do remember and it hurts.

Did you have any idea how that one split second of a choice would ricochet through everyone’s lives? I don’t think you did. I know that your mind was too consumed with it’s own pain and torment to think beyond what you thought was the solution to ending your own hell. When you did speak of how you thought your death would affect us, it was with the certainty that your mind conjured up in your illness. The certainty that not only would we get over it, but that our lives would be better without you here. It wasn’t a pitiful, sad “you’ll all be better off without me”; it was a simply spoken belief that your mental illness was not only going to destroy your life, but ours as well. Making sure that it didn’t happen was something that you felt you could control.

You were wrong though. It’s not better. I can’t say for sure if it is better for you in some way though really. I don’t have that faith or belief that you are “somewhere better” so that’s a bust as far as I’m concerned. You aren’t still living in a mind that was tormenting you everyday with a developing mental illness that you did not want to stick around to see where it would end up. So maybe in that way, it is better for you. I don’t know though for sure. I do know that it’s not better for those of us left behind to try to pick up the pieces and move on. I do know that from that second that you chose to step off and not make that day just another “dry run” of suicide, so many other lives have been altered in a way that they can never be any semblance of the same.

Your choice was yours to make. It affected more than just you though.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time.

Words that start fairy tales. Stories that we all heard and believed at one time. Words that began journeys that, no matter what hardships, always had a happy ending. Words that I would hear when I was a little girl and they would take me away to places filled with magic and castles and wishes that came true. Words I used today that made me sad.

Once upon a time life was different. It was full and warm and just so much that I can’t find words to capture just how much it was. My house was loud and busy and I loved it. My boys were everything. My calendar was bursting with a schedule that was work and play and friends and obligations and so much that I look back and don’t know how it all worked. But it did work, wonderfully. Not always, but mostly…and I never thought it would change. But it did change.

Long before that though, once upon a time, life was different. It was hard and painful and sad. It was also happy and full of smiles and little boy kisses and hugs that made me forget about the horrible day-to-day of the marriage I was in then. My days were full of juggling diapers and breast-feeding and pregnancies and work and I loved it. My nights were full of fights and tears and pain that tore me apart and made me scared for what was ahead. I never thought it would change. But it did change.

Many years before that, once upon a time, life was different. I was young and tormented by my thoughts and feelings. I was too young to have the memories of hurt that I did and I didn’t want those memories. So I pretended they didn’t exist. I pushed away and I fought with myself and I tried everything I could to feel anything other than what I was feeling already. I didn’t see how things would ever be any different from how they were. But things did change.

Once upon a time life was different. It wasn’t how it is now. I’m too old and I have seen too much of life to believe anymore in fairy tales and happy endings. I’ve also been here, in some manner or another, enough times to know that even when it feels like things will never change, they do. There are days, like today, when that is the only thing helping me keep it together when all I want is to let it all fall apart.

To reach out or not?

I see the posts online. They are sometimes from friends and other times they are from people that I don’t know personally. A friend of a friend and their post pops up on my social media feed.

They always make my heart jump a bit and cause my stomach to do a little flip. The posts that ask for help or understanding or thoughts of peace or just simply anything that might make a difference. It’s the sharing of “I need help” that I can feel and understand.

I read the postings of desperation and frustration. Someone this person loves and cares so deeply for is hurting. They’re struggling and many times fighting for their life within the hell of mental illness.

I read the words and I remember that feeling. I can remember how badly it hurt to watch someone you love and feel helpless to do anything. To feel alone. To want to reach out, knowing you need to but not knowing how. Or not being able to for so many reasons that make sense inside the vastness of your own turmoil.

So I read these posts and I am silently applauding that this person has taken this step because I know how massive it is to do that.

I read, and I want to reach and hold out my hand and connect. To say I know, I’ve been there. It’s hell and it feels insurmountable but there ARE people who will be there to support you while you are there for your loved one. There are people who can be there for you, to hold space for you. I want to tell them that they are never the burden they might think they will be. I want to say that even if I don’t know them personally, I know them in a way because of this shared experience. That even if all I can offer is a shoulder to lean on in the virtual world, I’m there and so are others. Or to help them see that someone is there to listen if they want to say the things that are inside of them that are eating them up and that those demons are quieted – even if only for a bit – when they are let out into the light of day.

But I don’t reach out. Why? Because although I can offer understanding or support, I feel like I can’t offer the hope this person needs. When someone is looking for “it’s going to be okay ” I can’t give that. I can’t say that the fear that is so huge that they can’t or won’t even admit it to themselves, is unfounded. I am aware that the ending to my son’s story embodies the very thing they are trying to ensure won’t happen in their loved ones life.

I’ve sat before with other mothers going through this journey and have reached out –  and seen the look on their faces the question of how my son is doing now came up and I answered. When I had to tell the truth that he didn’t make it. That despite everything, he still chose to end his life and that he’s gone.

So I stop myself when I want to connect and support and offer understanding. And I don’t know if that’s the right choice or not.

Can she make a difference?

I was in the kitchen at work a few days ago and a couple of co-worker were having a conversation about her new position coming up in a different field of work. She is studying to work, eventually, in the field of mental health services.

I walked into the conversation just as she was expressing how excited she was to work in the mental health field. How she was looking forward to making a difference and changing the system. She bubbled with enthusiasm about how she couldn’t wait to be a part of “fixing the system and changing how people get the help they need”.

Blink. Blink. Combine some deep breathing and serious willpower and I was able to not lash out at her comments. I had no idea that my reaction to her remarks would be so strong and was surprised at where they came from. Where they were hiding is more accurate for how it felt to me. The anger that I felt and the frustration that came up was fast and violent.

I tried to be calm and polite and not appear personally invested as I attempted to add my two cents. Not sure I pulled it off but the gist of it is simple.

She won’t change the system. She won;t fix it. She won’t change how people gain access to resources and she certainly won;t make a dent in the structure of mental health services. The system is unfixable on a core level. That’s sad and maybe fatalistic, but, I believe, it’s the truth. She can bring all of newly educated professional knowledge of resources and studies and what treatment option should be available and to what demographics and won;t make any difference in the day-to-day access or execution of services for a person needing help.

She will start fresh and excited and ambitious and she will, all too quickly, come to see that if things could be changed by that, then they would have been, long ago. But they can’t be changed.

I watched her face as I said a milder version of that and saw her shock that I wasn’t just agreeing with her and telling her that yes, she would, and wasn’t it exciting??!! She smiled nervously and said that she just wanted to try and that she knew she would make a difference.

Yes, I assured her, you can.

Not to the overall structure, but on a personal level. You can touch someone with your compassion and your desire to help. You can be the person who a family looks to and sees the face instead of the machine of mental health services. You can hope that one person or one family will feel that you made an impact and that you made their journey maybe a little easier or the answers a little lighter to bear. See the trees and not the forest. You can look at the small victories and see that those are all you will ever be able to get or give…and you can feel great about them. Go in with that for your hope and your expectation and you will might not burn out so fast or too often (because you will eventually, make no doubt).

I have seen the jaded and tired defeat in the faces of experienced caseworkers and nurses; of ministry employees and hospital staff; of counsellors and therapists and psychiatrists. All of them knowing they could offer nothing more and that so much more was needed. I have seen the optimistic cheerfulness of the young counsellor as she patted my son on the back and knew, really knew, that she had done all she could and that it was all going to be ok – because she so clearly believed that the system was “working”. I saw the pain on her face a week later as she explained she was taking a leave of absence after the death of my son the day after their appointment.

As one social worker explained it me a couple of years after my son died; The ship is going down and there’s no way to get more lifeboats. All we do is rearrange the deck chairs and hope for the best.

 

As it is

After four years, there are days, most days now, that the grief sits there in the background and just, is. It’s not loud of intrusive or front and center. It just is there. After four years, I’ve gotten used to that actually. I’ve learned to live with it even. I wish it wasn’t there, but it is, and I’ve started to find out what life looks like with it there. Not like there’s a choice anyways, it’s not like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and not be conscious that my son is gone.

After four years though, there are days like today. Still days like today. Days that it doesn’t just sit there. Days that the hurting isn’t just in the background. After four years there are still days like today that I have to keep fighting all day when the grief and the realization of what is real sweeps over me throughout the day. Like waves that appear from nowhere, they hit. I’m not sure why, there’s no reason why today should be like this. It just is.

After four years I’ve come to understand that days like this just are. I may wake up tomorrow and the grief is back in it’s usual place, quietly residing and just there. Or I may wake up and not know how to get out of bed again. But I know I will get up, as always. After fours years, I have come to know that I just have to take what comes, as it is. It’s not like there’s a choice, anyways.

 

Storytime

Time moves along and life goes with it. It’s been just over four years and I have been looking back differently this past little while. Looking back in a way that also look forward.

I have been going through old writing, organizing and sorting them as I try to combine computer files. It’s been stirring up a lot of feelings and it’s been forcing me to look back at some things that I have been very successful at shutting out the last couple of years. Remembering isn’t always a good thing I’ve discovered. I’m also seeing that to heal, you have to face things. I’m not a fan of that concept. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop it from being true.

I came across a writing today from many years ago. A journal entry from when Willie was just a couple of weeks old. A picture actually of a handwritten journal entry that I made for him. A recounting of his birth. I did it for all my sons and I guess I had taken a snapshot of his to keep with his journals that I photographed before I took them to the hospital to be reviewed. I read it over and it hurts to remember that time. Not just that time but the loss of all that he was, and ll that he’ll never be. It also made me think though about the rest of his story. His too-short life and the tumultuous last few months of it before his suicide. A life is, after all, a story. After almost an hour scrolling through blog entries and writing drafts, I realized that I have no account of that. There are bits and pieces of it told in numerous posts and writings, but nothing that captures that journey that saw him move from a pre-teen boy to the 16 year old tormented by his mental illness who saw no hope to stay in this life. Nothing written to tell his story’s end. I also realized that needs to change.

It’s time to put it all together.