I debated about sharing these words.
Once typed, the words are out there in the world for anyone to read. And it’s a story that isn’t really mine to tell. I’m unsure if my words can capture the true essence of all that this story has become because this story remains to be finished. It’s a story of a Mother and Daughter. It’s a story about family, sickness, forgiveness and mistakes. But mostly, it’s a story about love.
How easy it was for me to judge the Mother, how quickly I made up my mind that her actions were unjust, or not right, or how many things she could have handled differently. But I guess we all feel that way, as outsiders looking in on the intrinsically drawn notions of family dynamics, most that we know nothing about. I’m trying to be better, to give her the benefit of the doubt, to appreciate that this Mother was doing the best that she knew how.
We are all so keen to distinguish someone else’s faults and struggles. Judging gives us permission to pat ourselves on the back knowing that surely to God; we would have handled their burdens with more grace and style. We would have had all the right answers at the most opportune moments.
This Mother loved her Daughter. She loved her when, as a three-year-old, she cut off most of her hair on the day before family portraits. She loved her at bedtime when she begged for “just one more story.” She loved her more every day when she thought it would be impossible for her heart to stretch any more than it already had.
Then this daughter hit the teenage angst years. This Mother believed that it was a stage, reminded of a not-so-distant memory of her own teenage rebellious streak. So she did nothing but let it play out. It was obvious to anyone who entered the house that something wasn’t right. This daughter was always hiding in her room, disengaged from anything remotely social. When asked, the mother would roll her eyes and excuse it as typical teenage behavior. Did she think it was normal? Why didn’t she demand that her daughter come out of her room and engage in normal family discussions? But there I go, judging again…
One day, to the utter amazement of this distracted Mother, she got a call from her daughter’s school. The guidance counselor shattered this Mother’s awareness to the core. Was she aware her daughter had been cutting herself? No, of course not? What did that mean “cutting herself?”
There were razor blades, skin, scars, and bleeding. Why on earth would a kid intentionally cut up their body? Emotional pain or perhaps they wanted attention, and they were unable to cope with pressure. Wait. What?
There were referrals to mental health providers, psychiatrists, therapists, and counseling. Everything changed. This Mother finally woke up. She raided her daughter’s room, her life, and privacy. She now realized what had been going on behind that closed door. Why hadn’t she done it sooner?
Finally, this Mother talked with her daughter and cried with her. She pleaded with her and wanted answers the girl wasn’t capable of giving. She wanted to know the how and why? She didn’t understand how her daughter with everything she had, and a life of endless potential would take her beautiful body and carve it up.
The Mother got mad. She felt guilt, shame, and denial, but mostly anger. Instead of reaching out to her daughter, she bottled up her emotions and became mad. This Mother dragged her daughter to months of therapy. She took her to sleep studies with a doctor that was positive that everything would be fine as long as this child would just get an adequate night’s sleep. Progress was nonexistent, but the Mother continued on this path because there were no other options. This Mother did all of this alone.
It was months before she told anyone what was happening at home, and even then she mentioned it only briefly. People never heard the depths of how deep this had run into her veins, and her thoughts. It robbed the mother of sleep and peace. Why didn’t this mother reach out?
The doctors didn’t help. It was apparent when the mother found the daughter bleeding and full of pills one morning. The daughter no longer wanted to live. She saw life without hope, and wanted to be dead. Yet, even at the hospital, the Mother didn’t reach out. She didn’t demand that her daughter stay and get help when the psychiatrist deemed her fit to go home. She didn’t plead for a different medication, or deeper therapy.
No, instead she traded her sleep for what the doctors thought best. She camped out, night after night in her hallway listening for any sound from her daughter’s room. The mother listened for any clue the daughter may be thinking about ending her life again. This Mother was a frazzled mess of short-term memory problems and extreme fatigue. The guilt gnawed at her soul. This Mother allowed her daughter’s illness to poison the entire family until one day it stopped. Not because she didn’t care, but because she cared too much. She cared for her work that was being unfinished. She cared for her entire family that was being neglected. She cared for a mind without the stress and a conscience without guilt.
She cared enough to sleep in her own bed again, to laugh when things were funny and sing along with the radio. That mother told her daughter that she was no longer going to stop living to try and keep her safe. She was no longer going to wait for the day the daughter killed herself. She was going to live her life. The mother realized no amount of waiting could stop the inevitable. Either the daughter was going to live or she wasn’t, but this Mother wasn’t going to give up her life anymore. Wasn’t that the worst possible thing a person could say to a suicidal teenager?
The strangest thing happened. The Mother began living again, and you know what? Slowly, the daughter did too. It took years. They took some steps backward. The Mother joined a support group of other parents facing the same issues. The Daughter found a group of teenagers for support.
Even now that things are looking up, I still can’t help but to be critical of the way that mother handled everything. I try and remind myself that she did the best she could, but sometimes I’m still critical about the details.
Such is life when you are unsure of the entire story, especially one that is still ongoing. I know I was hesitant to write these words because it wasn’t my story to tell. It was only half mine. I am that Mother, and that is my Daughter.
This story isn’t finished, not even close. My Daughter still has her whole life ahead to live. We both do, one forgiving step at a time.