How are you? No really, how are you? You don’t have to pretend with me. I know. I know about those days when you can’t get out of bed, those sleepless nights when you feel like you are going to explode with grief that no one can understand and everyone you know thinks you should have moved past already.
I know how alone you feel, how scared you are for your child. I know that you feel like a failure, you tried everything you could, and you couldn’t keep your child from signing up as a lifetime medical patient. I know the fear. Just deep, blind fear, mixed with loneliness and desperation into a soup that’s toxic and threatens to overwhelm you until there’s nothing left. I know you see the entire world through a lens of grief, a gray lens that covers everything else. You used to laugh, and dream, and hope.
I know about the really bad days. The days you get news that you never in your wildest dreams thought you would have to absorb, and now it feels like life will never be worth living again.
I remember those days. All I could do was tell myself to just keep breathing in and out, stay alive and just get through this day. And then the next one, and the one after that. No one can see this wound in my soul. The one with pain so sharp that it seems like it should be obvious, I’m walking around as an empty shell, just an empty shell with a smile on my face that doesn’t really fool anyone. I sat in bed and played a coloring game on my phone, for days. Just to make the time go by and keep my brain from looking straight into the things, the new truths, that ripped my soul to shreds.
And then I went for a walk with a mom who has been living with the same pain for years. She told me that she’s still living. She’s made a life. She fell in love, learned to live again. And I wondered to myself, will that ever happen? Will I ever, ever, be able to feel anything again? It seemed unlikely. I realized that I hadn’t even considered that I would ever feel better, even a little bit better. But here she was, a mom who lost her daughter completely to the gender shopping ghouls, a daughter she had not heard from now in years. And she was alive. The tiniest bit of hope began to burn. I still didn’t feel even a little bit better. But she did. I borrowed her hope.
Nothing has changed. It may never change. It may even get worse, before it gets better. The children I loved are strangers. I have no way of reducing the harm they are placing themselves under. They are legal adults, making independent decisions. I have no choice but to be at peace with that. I have no way of convincing them that I love them. They know where I am. If they want to come home, I’m here. It’s been three years now since that day when the letter came in the mail and I read the typewritten words from my daughter, saying that she no longer wanted a relationship with me.
“I wish you peace and happiness in your future”, she wrote. How could she know, when she has never been a mother, that those words would burn my soul past recognition? Peace and happiness? How was that even possible? How dare she so casually suggest that she could wound me so badly and then wish me peace?
Time went by. Agonizing days, sleepless nights, soul searching, desperate dives for more information. I inventoried my list of parenting and personal failures, assigned all the blame to myself, and then tore up the list and realized that I wasn’t personally responsible for everything that happened. I’m just not that powerful. The truth is, our kids grow up, make choices, and some of those choices can be really self destructive. At some point, we become responsible for our own lives, and as much as I would like to fix my children’s problems for them, it’s just not my job anymore.
Alcohol was my friend for awhile. Numbing the pain seemed like the only option. But when you start down that road, it’s not going to go anywhere good. So that was a brief thing.
Writing has been clarifying and healing. Getting it all down in print helps it to stop pinging around in my head like a never ending echo.
And then, one night, I suddenly realized how many people truly love me, and want me to be happy. I realized, really realized, that I don’t owe my children my future. They will not be better off if I’m miserable. It’s not disloyal to their memory to stop crying, all the time. I don’t love them less if I decide that I will have to go on living, and by living, I mean actually living in a meaningful way.
I sat by a river and listened to the birds. The same river where we used to go camping, every year. I was afraid that all I would hear was the echoes of their long ago laughter as they tumbled out of the kayak after floating the river. Instead, I heard water and birds. I felt the sun filtering through the leaves. And I realized that the beauty of the world was still all around me. No, it would never be the same. I will never be the same. The wound will always be there. It will ache. But it will also heal.
I started doing things again. Reading novels, making art, dreaming about the future. It’s not the future I thought I had. But if allow it, there can be joy, beauty, new adventures. There can even be peace.
Dear mom, just keep breathing. In and out. Just make it, make it through today. I can’t promise you that your kid will come back. I can’t promise you anything. If I could give you a three point plan for recovering everything that’s been lost, believe me I would. What I can give you is this:
Your grief is legitimate. You get to feel this pain, for as long as you need to. I’ve been there, and I’ll never shame you for it.
And: It’s not always going to be like this. Healing can take a really, really long time. But there is a road, a process. We are on it together. And I think we both deserve to be happy again.