This Story Continues…

armtats
Photo by Anna Yarrow

Our two arms together say everything.  So different and yet similar.  Here she is at 16, tender skin with battle scars.  There I am, with my semi-colon tattoo I got when I didn’t know what else to do, how else to support my girl when she didn’t think she wanted to live. I just couldn’t believe the story was going to end this way!  Spoiler Alert:  The guy doesn’t get the girl in the end.  But I do.  Get the girl.  At least for now.  For a little more time.  And I’ll settle for that.

When I brought Lili home from the hospital at three days old, I knew then that I didn’t have a clue about parenting.  How was I going to keep this tiny human being alive?  I’m embarrassed when I see these photos of her first day home.  The first one is of me crying, looking like a child myself, holding her.  The second photo is me, back in my hospital gown (that’s right, I changed BACK into my hospital gown even though I was at HOME) and got right into bed.  I wished I could have stayed at the hospital, where the nurses knew what to do and I was supervised at all times.

  • From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I loved Lili.  That was the first thing I said when the doctor placed her on my chest: “I love her.”  I look back at the early years of raising her and I ache over the mistakes I made – some big, some smaller.  But there were also shining moments too, where my natural instincts to nurture and protect and supply entertainment were present.  Parenting has been a humbling experience to say the least.  One that has broken my heart open and brought me to my knees many times over.Lili was just three days into her 15th year when her dad and I made the impossible decision to sign custody of her over to strangers.  Before he signed on the dotted line, her dad looked up at me, hand shaking and asked “Are you sure we’re doing the right thing?”  All I could say was “I don’t know.”  But I knew that we couldn’t keep her safe anymore.  Lili was clinically depressed and anxious and her self-harming behavior had become extremely dangerous, and possibly life-threatening.

    The year leading up to this decision to send her away, and the first several months of her being gone, were the hardest time of my adult life.  I fell apart.  I would see friends at the grocery store and turned away to avoid conversation.  I sobbed when friends posted pictures on Facebook of their daughters dressed up for homecoming, celebrating “normal” milestones that we weren’t having.

    I couldn’t make sense of what was happening in my life and I certainly couldn’t control it, so I had to surrender.  I didn’t do it readily or gracefully.  In fact, I was a wee bit rebellious at first.  I was advised to “do my work” by the therapists at the program Lili was in and let her do hers.  I hated when they would say that!  I was sad.  I was grieving.  My daughter was gone.  I was angry.  I didn’t want to do any “work”.  And truth be told, I was fucking exhausted.  I needed a break.

    I spent 3 months in Santa Cruz on the beach.  I went to yoga, I spent time with my other kids, and I started to “do my work.”  Which meant excavating some old territory that I really would rather not have looked at, like my childhood and my marriage(s) and mistakes I made as a parent.  As a mom, I’ve had to sit in the fire of my own guilt and shame around choices I’ve made, even as I understand that I was doing the best I could.  Rough terrain.  Although there were many days of darkness, my mantra became:  “I trust the universe” because even though my life seemed tragic (to me), I wanted to believe, needed to believe, there was a greater reason for what was happening.

    While Lili was learning more about herself and getting honest, I was taking a long look at my life and noticing what was and wasn’t working in it.  She and I are both at turning points in our lives.  After 20 months of hard-ass work, Lili is graduating from her program and coming home and my marriage is ending.  My divorce is final next month.  I’ve done this as consciously and kindly as possible and I’m proud of how Andy and I have both shown up, with a few bumps along the way, but mostly, with open hearts, love and respect.

    When Anna Yarrow said she had some sessions open for her Spirit and Bone project, I was excited to have a photo representation of this potent time.  The words “Spirit” and “Bone” are strong – and sinewy and bloody – kind of like the past couple of years.  Gritty.  And Lion hearted.  The hero’s journey down into the abyss and back up again.  I have grieved what I thought I knew, who I thought I was, what I thought the future held.  I am more open to what actually IS now, and I look forward to welcoming my daughter home – who she has become, what she is showing up as and beginning this new chapter in my life as well.

    trees1bwE
    Photo by Anna Yarrow

The story doesn’t end here…

 

"The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn't"
“The semicolon is used when a sentence could have ended, but didn’t”

This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time and had no idea how to start. It’s about a subject that is sensitive and personal. It’s about Suicide. I personally know a lot of people who have chosen to end their lives.

Everyone had different circumstances and methods – some had Aids related dementia, some were chronically ill, others were clinically depressed (despairing in a darkness that no light could reach), some were a complete shock and some were unfortunately hinted at and worried about before the actual deed was carried out.

When my mother’s partner Fred was experiencing a soul crushing depression three years ago, I wrote to him and asked him to live for his son and grandchildren – telling him that suicide was not a legacy he would want to leave his grandsons.  Advice I gave from personal experience.

I was 25 when my maternal grandfather hung himself.   In his goodbye note he misspelled my mother’s name. He took his life on his wedding anniversary and his body was the first thing that my grandmother saw when she came downstairs to make breakfast. Every night after that, for months, I would wake up at 4am with heart palpitations – hyperventilating, unable to breathe.  Only a trip to the emergency room assured me that yes, my heart was strong and I wasn’t dying of a heart attack.  Just suffering from an overly sensitive nervous system.  I wish I had known then about grief and how it can manifest in the body and how we can experience the phantom symptoms of our loved one’s illness or death.

I have no wise insight into why people commit suicide or how I could have prevented anyone I knew from taking their own lives.  I do know that the people I knew were in a personal hell that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I also know that I can’t force anyone to want to live. It doesn’t work that way although I wish it did.

Fred hung himself from the garage rafters and my mother found him as she pressed the garage door opener, returning from church.  In his note he asked for her forgiveness.  He ended his story.

It’s been a tough year for me and I haven’t felt able to talk about it much.  Mostly because it didn’t feel like my story to tell.  My daughter has been struggling with anxiety and depression.  At times she’s struggled with wondering what the point of it all is.  This has rocked me to my core.  She is my heart.  My moon.  My love.  My life.  I’ve been stretched to my parenting limits and stretched some more.  The gifts that have come from these several months are still unfolding but already I am grateful to experience first-hand the tenderness of strangers, the circle of tribe, the ties of blood, the howling fierceness of mother love, the tempering of my will, and the sweet grace of surreneder.

The semi-colon movement was brought to my attention by my husband.  The movement is for anyone who has ever self-harmed or has tried to commit suicide.  On April 16 they are asking people to draw a semi-colon on their body in solidarity with them.  A writer uses a semicolon to continue a sentence and uses a period to finish one.  The semicolon is a sign of hope. The sentence doesn’t end here.

PS – the picture above is my new tattoo I got today.  Whenever it started to hurt, I thought of my girl and all the pain she’s been through and put all my love for her back into the ink.  The story doesn’t end here…

 

For Bill, Joe, Ives, John, Sarah, Frank, Stephen, Tim, Mary, Fred, and everyone everywhere who just couldn’t bear one more day and all those who loved them.