i think this is the space I need to write my story. Please bear with me through it, dear reader. It is painful for me to write, but write it I must. For some odd reason, a personal journal does not fill my needs. I have never been good at journaling. It feels too much like an obligation. I need witnesses.
i married a dear, kind, wonderful, intelligent and funny man in 1975. We waited to start our family for almost ten years because we were both the youngest children of our families, and we really thought that we should travel and study and grow up and enjoy a few years before we brought a child or two into the mix. We did exactly that–maybe not as adventurous at traveling as some, but we did get to Europe, we did canoe on a few rivers and camp and endure the loss of my parents….certainly we came to know each other well and enjoy a life that we were committed to continuing that included children. During that time I gained a graduate degree, we both worked full time, and we bought a house that included an acre of garden. We grew blackberry bushes and added such perennial vegetables as asparagus and leeks, and learned that deer and crows would not allow us to grow corn and root crops of any kind. Mother Earth News was our favorite publication and we devoured it when it arrived each month. Dreams.
I don’t remember a time that I didn’t want children. I’m told that since I was a tiny girl I played with baby dolls and later on, I babysat regularly for extra spending money. I loved kids and longed for the day that our own baby or babies would lead us into our future. This finally occurred in January of 1984 when our first son was born. I felt so proud, naturally giving birth to a strapping 8 pound, 9 ounce baby boy whom we named Ian because his name would be in honor of my deceased father.
This boy, he was something! Beautiful, healthy, bright, smart, watchful, alert, and later considerate, thoughtful, and also athletic which reminded me so much of my mother, who was also so athletic. He even looked like her when he was young. It was kind of creepy and wonderful at the same time. Well, HE thought it was creepy, but I thought it was wonderful, as if I was given a second chance to see my Mom again. He was such a gift in our lives!
He was a “gifted” kid, diagnosed at a young age and entered into the limited gifted program in his school. He took his own intelligence seriously, and we tried to respect that while also giving him balance in his life with athletic outlets and humor and emotional support. That last sentence sounds so stilted — and yet I cannot find a better way of saying it. We did what every parent wants to do and we were fortunate to be able to provide it.
High school, sports, and college followed….and as he aged we grew increasingly worried. It was so slow, so insidious….we allowed ourselves to think that he was okay, although we checked with him regularly. But he was definitely NOT okay. He came home after four years, one class shy of a degree in Biology, as a different person. It was then that we saw the mental illness that had probably been lurking–had surely been lurking–which we did not see and which he hid from us. He hid it so, so well.
Seven years after this nightmare began, our beautiful son ended his life by suicide. We were so fortunate to be in touch with him every day for the last three years of his life. We got to see glimpses of the magnificent man he was, and could continue to be…. He had dreams of becoming an advocate for making better mental health policy. He had so much to give this world, and yet an illness sidelined his—and our—best intentions.
There are few words to adequately describe the depths of panic and terror a parent feels when a child is in peril. The feeling that culminates from that is called ‘numb’. Fewer still are the words when there is nothing that can be done, even when you know you have covered every base, called every person, talked until you have no breath left and still it will never be enough. I now understand the depth of feeling a parent of a dying child feels, such as one who has cancer that is incurable. The only difference between that and our experience is that there are no compassionate doctors and nurses, support groups and 24 hour call lines. I also understand the heights of hope against the odds. Who knows? Whatever you try next might help, and so you continue.
Our son died on May 30, 2016. We got a call from a coroner’s office, asking us to come identify his body. The detectives, officers and others with whom we spoke were far more compassionate and kind than anyone we had contact with prior to that. I am grateful for them.
Today, I believe that I am through the worst of the panic and terror, although I still dream of my beautiful boy. In my dreams, he smiles and laughs and wants to reach me and he does. This grief thing, it feels as old as time and yet as new as sunrise….but beyond that, it feels familiar. I have lost my parents and yet I believe that they are with me still. I have lost my son but he continues to reach me. There is hope.
Its just not as shiny and new as it seemed back in 1975. But it’s there.
Grew up in Royal Oak, MI, graduated 1971 from RODHS, graduated 1975 from Oakland University (Rochester, MI), married a wonderful man in 1975 in MI and haven't lived there since. Lived in Ohio for 25 years, during which time I got my MSSA (masters in social science application) from Case Western Reserve University, had two beautiful sons, and moved to Columbia, SC in 2000.