My Heart Hurts…

HI Again,

This blog entry may be a bit longer than what I normally write, but this subject matter is heavy on my heart and forefront on my mind this weekend. I state unequivocally that I am no expert when it come to Mental Illness, but I have been both a patient diagnosed with depression, and a human being directly affected by other’s diagnoses. I really don’t have the time to sit here at my desk right now, but I can’t afford not to share my heart right. Time is irrelevant at this precise moment, I’ll get done what I need to do later. Right now I have to share…

My heart hurts today for more than one reason. First, today is our 38th wedding anniversary and because of COVID-19, my husband and I are unable to be together. He has been hospitalized almost 7 months now, and I haven’t seen him in 7 weeks. Yes, it sucks, but it’s for the best. Not only for him, but for all the patients at the Richmond, Virginia VAMC. I understand with my head why I cannot see him in person, but the heart wants what the heart wants and I miss him. I would give anything to hold his hand, hug him and feel his warmth. I can’t. It’s just that simple. I also hurt because tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I am separated from my beloved younger daughter and her children. Mother’s Day is a stark reminder of all that I’ve lost because of someone else’s mental illness. Our oldest daughter threw us away right after Mother’s Day weekend of 2018. In fact, the last time I heard her voice was the day before. After two years I have learned to let go and not focus on the constancy of the pain I feel, but the sting is ever present. Losing our grandchildren is a much harder pill to swallow. I pray for our lost daughter every night, that she find peace of mind, and I let go. Every day, I let her go. She no longer exists as she has been replaced by a woman with a different name and an entirely different personality. Both my husband and I miss what was, and I can sleep at night knowing that we were good parents, we loved our daughter and we learned the hardest way possible what love really costs. We have lost our oldest though her body still lives. Our daughter has been ravaged by mental illness, and like any chronic condition, if you don’t, or won’t, treat your illness or disease, it will eventually become the driving force of your life. A negative driving force.

My heart hurts because I find myself struggling with the ghosts of my own mental illness. I had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder with homicidal tendencies because of events that transpired long ago. I sought help before I went through with the act of homicide and I have walked out the advice and guidance of my doctors, my therapist, and others who have helped me over these past 20+ years. The self-isolation I live in right now because of the Coronavirus pandemic has triggered many painful memories, but none of them so hurtful that I need to seek inpatient treatment. I would, and have considered it more than one since February, but I maintain the lines of communication with my therapist. She is my first line of defense against the dark thoughts that start to invade my mind. I have felt the suffocation of loneliness here in this tiny apartment, spent many nights tossing and turning because I can’t get my brain to shut off, and cried out to God for relief from the pain. I am not a religious person, but I do believe. Religion hurts so many people, spirituality is comforting to me. Most believers would call me a hypocrite, it’s okay. I love people with all their faults and demons and misgivings. It’s not for me to judge. Ever. If I’m to be judged at the pearly gates someday, I hope to be able to own all my faults like I do here on earth. Anyway, as for mental illness, I have struggled and know I will again. I believe my struggles help me feel empathy for others and those same struggles give me strength to dig deep within and keep going. I love my life in spite of all the heartaches I’ve experienced, and I am still determined to seek the smallest moments of joy. If I weren’t willing, what would be the point of moving forward?

My heart hurts for those around me I see struggle with issues of their own and there is nothing I can do to change their path. Life is hard, but beautiful, even when the hard things are all you can see. There is no shame in reaching out to others for help when you find yourself in situations that you can’t figure out on your own. I feel like there is more shame in denying that there is something amiss in your life. Educating yourself about whatever you are facing takes a great deal of strength. Shame is not healthy, we all know that. Pride is very often mistaken for shame, and pride can destroy not only you, but those around you. It’s not shameful to be mentally ill, just like it’s not shameful to have cancer, or kidney disease, or to be recovering from a catastrophic stroke. I left my pride back in Boston in November of 2017 and have been reminded many times over just how necessary that was. I am not weak. I have been hurt. I have hurt others. I’m learning every day that strength and fortitude come from the weakest and darkest moments of our lives. If we allow ourselves to let go of our pride and learn from the lessons experienced through the falls we take, we come back stronger, wiser and more apt to help others deal with their issues. Other people need to know that they can make it through whatever they’re facing because someone else has been there and done that. Sharing your experiences with someone that is struggling or hurting can be a balm to their broken spirit. If you know of someone that hurts for whatever reason, let them know they can reach for your hand and that you’ll help carry their burdens. Telling someone what to do isn’t helpful, in my experience, it automatically brings out defensiveness. Instead of telling someone what to do, ask questions instead. Ask what you can do to help. Ask if there is anything they need. Ask. Don’t tell. If you’re met with the automatic “no” that most of us give as an answer, don’t be discouraged. Just let them know they’re not alone, that you’re available to listen if they need to talk and give them space. I know the triggers that signify a depressive event may be coming on for me. I had to learn them through trial and error over many years time. I know I am loved. I know I can reach out to people. And I do. Not everyone has that knowledge, but everyone can learn.

My heart hurts when I think too much about the unknowns my future holds and I feel myself slipping into dark thought processes. I have carried enormous weight on my shoulders since my husband’s stroke, but I haven’t had to do it all alone. Nor do I have to face the future alone. I have had to seek help. I have had to realize that I am not alone. I have had to realize that while I may feel incompetent, I am not. Lately I have been feeling that I don’t have a purpose in this life anymore. I live alone. I eat alone. I sleep alone. Alone. Ugh… not my favorite word, though it is factual. It’s true that my purpose is not exactly clear to me at this moment in time, but I keep pushing through the darkness. I get vertical. I pray. I walk my dog. I call family and friends. I hear the sweet voices of my SC grand-kids and my heart melts. There is purpose in the melting. I give the shoulders that bear so much weight to my daughter and let her cry on them when she needs to. I am a mother. There’s another purpose. I hold the hands of another hurting mom I know and while we hold hands virtually, she knows I am there for her. There’s purpose showing up again. Not being able to care for my husband on a daily basis has wreaked havoc on my mind, and I’m strong enough in my weakness to admit that I’ve let that havoc wreaking happen. I know I am not banned from seeing him because of something I’ve done, but guilt and loneliness have found fertile ground in which to grow because of the ban on visitation. Something completely out of my control… Purposefulness is something we all need to feel, and when it hides from us for long periods of time, it’s hard to rediscover. Writing this blog entry today became a purpose and I’m glad I took time away from the things I NEED to do to do something I WANT to do. It helps me immensely to put the words in my heart out there and know that someone else may benefit from them. Encouraging others = purpose.

In closing I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I have much to be thankful for, and hope that you do as well. Yes, life is hard. Darkness and strife are all around us, but so is joy. If you’re feeling off, call a friend, or your mom, or anyone you trust and just say hello. Let the conversation flow naturally. Share your heart, laugh, cry and remember always to be kind. To others and especially to yourself… until next time…

Eastern North Carolina shore
photo by Barb Enos

My Heart Cries…

Hi All,

Again it’s been a while since I’ve written, and I have no other reason than I just haven’t been able to share my heart recently. With the COVID-19 virus ravaging the world around us, I have been keeping to myself and feeling the sting of being alone on a daily basis. I have been fearful for my husband, as he and I haven’t been allowed to visit in weeks, and though the possibility of his becoming infected is somewhat slim, I worry about his state of mind. Being in the hospital is hard enough, and then to add isolation on top of everything else makes my heart break for him. And for myself. I am very grateful for the fact that the people he is being cared for by are people I had the chance to get to know before the visitation ban came about. It does bring me comfort to know that he is surrounded by compassion and love. The staff on the Polytrauma Unit at the Richmond VA Hospital became like a family before the changes in routine were put in place, and it helps that I can see him on his phone. He has improved so much since his stroke last year, and without ALL of the people involved from the initial EMT’s in South Carolina to the staff of the VA Hospital here in Virginia, I have no idea how he (or I) would have come so far. We still have a ways to go yet, but we’re getting there one step at a time.

My heart cries quite a bit at this time year. With Mother’s Day fast approaching I am reminded just how long it’s been since I’ve been able to talk to my oldest child. I am also reminded of all the hurting parents out there that have been dismissed by their offspring. I’m very glad to be able to say that I’ve been able to let go and continue to live. And to heal. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s been easier since the stroke, but I wouldn’t wish a catastrophic event like we’ve experienced on any hurting, alienated parent. The cruelty of alienation is more than any one should have to handle. The events of last year helped me redirect my focus, and my rage, into the strength it has taken to face each day. I am ever grateful that when each day comes I am able to get vertical. And sometimes that’s all I can do. Then there are days that I can accomplish more than I ever thought possible. I was able to make my bed today, and leave the apartment to run an errand or two, but yesterday I could barely walk my dog. I am not any different than any other person who has been thrown away by an adult child, nor do I wish to be. I just want to help those whom I can by letting them know that they are not alone. Nor are they bad, wrong, evil or less than. If you’re reading this and have been hurt so deeply by your child(ren) that you swear you’ll never heal, please know that you will. It takes time. Your healing may not look or feel like you want it to, but it will come. It may take a long time, or it may happen fairly quickly, every story has its own rhythm. If you had told me a year ago that I would be sitting alone in an apartment in Central Virginia and being okay with it most of the time, I would’ve laughed. Out loud. A year ago I was enjoying planting sunflower seeds in my little backyard in Summerville, SC with my two youngest grandchildren. A year ago I was learning how to let go of a rage so deep that it consumed me 24 hours a day. A year ago I was attending church with my husband and our youngest daughter and reconnecting with people from my past. A year ago I was not the same woman I am now. A year ago I was able to call my best friend and go drink margaritas and eat Mexican street corn whenever I wanted. Life changes, people change, and times change. A year ago I could fall asleep next to my husband (if he wasn’t twitching or snoring!) and now it’s likely we will never sleep in the same house again. A year ago… and I’m almost ashamed to admit this… I didn’t know how hard life could be, and I thought I had pretty much seen it all. Being thrown away like garbage by a child you created out of love, that you nurtured and rescued and prayed for without ceasing is devastatingly cruel. Beyond comprehension. For my husband and me, we know that the child that we raised and cared for has been ravaged by mental illness and that mental illness has taken our little girl away like a tornado can. We had absolutely no warning and no choice but to accept what has become a life without her. If you’re a hurting parent, reach out to me privately if you like, I’d love to encourage you if possible.

My heart cries for the world in which we are all living right now. COVID-19 is a lethal and insidious condition that has exposed the times in which we live in a less than favorable light. I watch the countries of the world come together and am appalled by the lack of action in my home country. The finger pointing, the back stabbing, the blaming… None of it is needed, desired or necessary. I hear people call it “the Chinese Virus” and that makes me sick! And angry. People I know and love are blaming the Chinese people as a whole and that’s not fair. Where is the evidence that Mike Pompeo says he’s seen to prove it was “created?” Show us, prove it! And guess what, even if he does, I still won’t hold 3 billion people responsible for the actions of a few bat-shit crazy scientists. Pun intended! How dare we as human beings think we’re better than anyone else just because we live in America? Just like my government doesn’t represent me, nor does the Chinese government represent all its people either. Government officials in both countries care only about saving face, not lives, and it saddens me to no end that so many Americans blindly follow a man and his minions to the edge of insanity. Wearing a KKK style hood in a grocery store? Storming your state’s capitol building while brandishing swastikas and assault rifles? Shooting a security guard in the head because he was doing his job? Pushing a park ranger into a lake because he had the audacity to try and reason with you? I’d like to think that the world has gone mad, but I know it’s not entirely true. I have recently begun to think that I am an unrepresented American, but it’s kind of okay. I’d rather not be affiliated with, or identified as, someone who doesn’t believe in the goodness of humanity. There are plenty of decent human beings all over the earth, and I would rather be unrepresented as an American and more recognized as a member of the human race that still gives a shit. How people can be so damn cruel to one another is something I am all to familiar with because of my own flesh and blood, I have to decide daily, many times over, to look past the craziness and hatred and noise to find the good. I do this because I believe that we are not meant to be alone on this earth, that we are not meant to be treated with cruelty, disdain or harshness. We should be the change we want to see, we should be the change you we desperately crave and we should be the change that resets the world around us. As you’ll hear in Frozen II, “do the next right thing.” This quote and one other seem to be at the forefront of every decision I have to make these days, whether I want to make them or not. In the world in which we are currently living, doing the next right thing is quite possibly only the next right thing for you, but someone has to try. Why not you? Or me? I do find the darkness that surrounds us all to be quite disturbing, but remember that other plagues and pandemics have come into being and have been overcome. Or at the very least, managed to a degree that we can move about somewhat freely. It’s scary to know how many people are dying alone and are unable to hold the hand of a loved one when they die, to hear the whispered I love you that a family member or friend says, and being scared and alone when death comes for us all is a fear we all have. No matter your belief system or lack thereof, we all fear dying alone. I do not fear death itself, just the being alone, without my husband, or daughter or a friend beside me.

My heart cries for the children that have no idea why they can’t have a birthday party, or the HS senior that will have no graduation. It breaks for the front-line workers that are spit on, mocked and made fun of. My heart breaks every time I drive down Rte. 10 here in Virginia and see the long, long line of cars waiting to be served at the county food-bank. My heart also rejoices in a small way when I see that same long line because I know my neighbors are helping one another and children are not going to bed hungry. I am a firm believer in seeking joy in any situation, seeing the good in people and embracing the community in which I live. I don’t seek recognition for acts of kindness, it’s not about me. I try to give back when can, I pay it forward often and I look for the joy, the silver lining if you will. I believe that we should never take more than we give, that we should speak up when someone needs us to, and I believe that you should find and live your passion. I know that living our passions change direction many times over in the course of every life, but as long as we’re willing to not live with our heads buried in the sand, we can have a rich and rewarding life, no matter the circumstance around us. I am almost two years out from the alienation cast upon us by our child, and I can tell you without shame that these past two years have yielded moments of excruciating, exacting pain and joys beyond measure. I have watched my husband knock on the door of death twice in the past 6 months, survive and thrive. I have ached for my beloved sister-in-love who lost her husband, my husband’s next oldest brother, very unexpectedly in February of this year. I have spent countless hours praying for her to feel comforted and loved by those who love her. I have come to accept that bad things do happen to good people, and there is no rhyme or reason as to why. I’ve learned to stop asking why, sort of. Most of the time I am able to not overthink or over analyze why things happen, but then a morbid curiosity takes over and that same curiosity tries to run me over in my own mind.

My heart cries for all the unnecessary pain each and every one of carries in the darkest recesses of our hearts. That private, locked away pain that we share with no one. I write when I feel the dam about to burst, I walk, I hide, I pray. I will continue to pray and to write and walk, and I will try not to hide too much. I hope to write again soon, it truly helps me make sense of my minds musings and my heartache. Be well, dear ones, stay safe and seek joy!

Photo by Manuel Alvarez on Pexels.com

Not Why? How…?

Hey all,

Damn! It’s hot here in the Lowcountry of SC!!! It’s sticky with humidity, the skies are heavy with moisture and the sky is a beautiful Carolina blue. I’m sitting on my patio, thinking about the place I’m at in life at this very moment, and I find my thoughts have turned the corner from “why?” to “how?”

How do parents survive the loss of a child? Not why. How does a loving mother come to accept actions she had no control over? Not why. How do people move forward after a decision they would have never made has been forced upon them? Not why. How. Here’s a glimpse into some of my how..

I didn’t ever, not one single time, believe that I would be the mom that would have to go on without her child. Not once. I loved both of my girls with that mama bear love… You know, screw with MY kid? Awww, hell no! I don’t think so! I never thought my kid would screw with me… Not like this. Our younger daughter is still in our lives and I will never be able to put into words what that means to me. To me and my husband. She knows, and that’s what counts. As for the older one, I had never once entertained any type of thought that she would cut us out and leave us out in the cold…(figuratively speaking of course!) I thought like any other mom and/or dad that we would be the loving, doting grandparents of whatever grandchildren we would be blessed with. We would be the parents that would open our door on Christmas morning to those shining and eager faces of our grand-babies , with their parents smiling over them and the hugs… Oh, the hugs!!! I don’t ask why anymore. Why not? I ask how. How do I move forward? How do I make sense of all the pain? How do I smile? How do I love?

Here’s how… I accept that which I cannot change. It took more than a year to find the place where I CAN accept, and still it’s not easy. I accept it never will be. Easy doesn’t teach us anything. I accept that I have to move forward without her, that life pushes us along even when we don’t want to go for the ride. I accept that I am broken, but beautiful. I accept that I forgive. Not only myself, but the child that left us as well. This is how I go on. I dig down deep inside my broken spirit and crave the light that hides from time to time. When that light shines brightly, I KNOW that there is a future filled with joy and wholenesss and love. I turn my face towards the light and let it soak in to my heart and soul. I am no longer asking why… I am SAYING how!!!

How does anyone make sense of that which is nonsensical? We don’t! Once we can accept that, once we can admit we have absolutely no power over that which has come to define us, we break free of the chains that hold us prisoner to someone else’s actions. I didn’t ask to be cast aside. My husband didn’t ask to be thrown away. We DID NOT choose this alienation for our beloved grandchildren. Someone else did. It’s really that simple. After more than a year, we are no longer seeking any type of resolution. We ACCEPT there isn’t any. How? Not why… How happens so slowly you may not even realize it until you are deliberately looking back over your shoulder for the first time in a long time and finally SEE it! IT becomes a defining moment in your life, and everyone’s IT is different. There’s the how… Not the why. I am free from the asking why and am actively seeking the how!

One of my biggest hows can be directly connected to music. One of my FB friends put a song on my page this week that gave me a whole new, and very welcomed perspective on my life. If you have time go to YouTube and search for “Song of Survival” by Nicole Nordeman. Listen. Listen again. Listen a third time… The words were and are a healing balm to my bruised and battered spirit. Listen to “Build a Better Boat” by Kenny Chesney. Listen to “I Can’t Unlove You” by Kenny Rogers. Listen to “Surrounded” by Michael W. Smith. Listen to “Broken and Beautiful” by Kelly Clarkson. Listen to whatever type of music speaks to YOU! That Michael W. Smith song? It states THIS IS HOW!!! Not why!!! HOW!!! I cannot live without music and never want to, it’s the bandage for the bleeding soul that lives inside of me.

I’m in a good place right now and am very, very appreciative of this fact. I know my world can come crashing down with just an unkind word, a non intended slight, or because of any other small, insignificant reason. I know this! I also know that I am not afraid. I’m not inviting pain, but I absolutely refuse to run from it!!! This is HOW I move forward, it’s not why! The why? I deserve to live in the light just like any other creature on this planet. I deserve it… So do you, dear reader. So do you!

Until next time….

I’m not just a mom…

Hey Everyone,

It’s a hot and humid day here in the low country of South Carolina and I am inside enjoying the AC. Sitting inside has me thinking about estrangement and how we as parents end up experiencing what we perceive to be a lack of control over the situation and all the baggage that comes with it. I fully admit to feeling like I was going insane when it all started last May, but in the year and few days since the beginning of the nightmare cast upon us I’ve come to know that what we experience is not insanity, it’s grief. Plain and simple grief, but beyond comprehension and so very complicated all at the same time.

I thought in the very beginning that I would never find my way through the instantaneous craziness and turmoil heaped on us by our adult child’s decision to throw us away. The longer the estrangement lasts, the stronger I become in the knowledge that I’m more than just a mom. I’m not only a mom, I’m a MiMi, a sister, a wife, a friend, a worker and a woman. A human being. What I am not is a piece of trash, though I have been treated as such. Once I started to fight my way out the fog of disbelief and anger, I began to claw my way back to what is rightfully my life. My life may not seem like much to those looking in from the outside, but it’s a beautiful life and I wouldn’t trade it for any reason. It’s been a tough life, but the rewards far outweigh even the darkest of times. Being thrown away by my adult daughter has caused me to look over my shoulder quite often to see how close the demons of the past are to catching up with me, and every time I look behind me they’re farther and farther away. I’ve been able to reach down deep and dig into lessons from my past to get me through these present times and I’m proud of that. I’m proud that I have learned that I have value to myself, and don’t really care if those outside of my small and intimate circle think of me as valuable. I don’t care that there are people out there that will assume I had to be a terrible mother to my child to be thrown away after 35 years of being her mom. I know I loved her and cared for her and I also know I made mistakes as a mom, but that’s what all people do. We all make mistakes. I know that self forgiveness is a lesson I learned in the past that has given me strength to navigate this estrangement. I wish with all my heart that our daughter could know that I am sorry that she feels we didn’t do things right, that we weren’t and aren’t good enough, but we know that we did the best we could and that does count for something. I see the mistakes I made as a mom and wish I could correct them, but it’s far too late for that. And I’m not going to wish my life away and focus on that which I know will never happen.

I think that today’s expectations for parents are so far fetched and unattainable that as the children grow and become more aware of the outside world, the parents become less than to their children. I think it takes decades for the children to realize that their parents loved them and tried really hard to be everything for them, but we all know not one single person can be EVERYTHING. I’ve spent the past year examining closely the relationship and lack thereof that I had with my own mother and know that I was wrong in so many ways in regards to the way I treated her as I got older. By the time I was 15 the relationship I had with my own mother was broken and I distanced myself from her as much as I could, though I never treated her like she didn’t exist. After I graduated from high school and moved out, I never looked back to my childhood until I was 37, when my father died. In all the years between 1979 and 2000 I was busy like we all are. I got married, we had our oldest, we joined the Navy, we moved a lot and we added a second child. We lost my husband’s Nana in the 1990’s, we kept on moving and we kept on serving. Somewhere along the line, my mother came to live with us as she started failing. It’s one of my biggest regrets now, but at the time, it seemed the right thing to do. After she came to live us, she became quite abusive to our younger daughter and as you can imagine, things between she and I failed. Miserably. We ended up placing her in an assisted living facility yet I still never cut her out completely. She hurt my child both physically and mentally and I could have easily walked away from her, but I didn’t. I look back on that time with her now as a learning experience. I learned from her how not to be and I have always appreciated that. When people ask me if I miss my own mom I tell them “I miss what could have been.” That is now how I feel about my oldest child. I miss what could have been. And what could be. Whatever she thinks I did to deserve being thrown away isn’t factual, but she has to figure that out for herself. The cycle is still going on, and for that I am very sorry.

I miss my grandchildren beyond description and this is where the grief really takes it toll on me. I fear that our daughter is denying them so much love and how can anyone not be resentful of that? I know they know we love them, but after more than a year of not seeing them, not being able to even talk to them, what do they think? These are the kind of thoughts that make this alienation feel like insanity and I have to constantly remind myself that I am not going insane. I want to feel the pain in some ways, because the pain means that they still have places in my heart that are theirs alone and that all of this is real. As a person that comes from a broken background (who doesn’t?) being able to give love is as important if not more important than receiving it. The bonds of the love I have for my grandchildren have not been broken, they have become stronger. I’ve had to learn that no matter how much we want to love them, we just can’t do that in person. I’ve kept their Christmas gifts, I’ve started memory books and boxes for them and I think of them every day. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day. They are never not with me or my husband in spirit and we look to the future while living in the present that someday we will be reunited with them. We also hope that our son-in-love will be a part of that someday, in whatever capacity works for him. When I let myself think of how his life must be at times, I cry for him. We’ve all lost so much because of the actions of our adult child, but we are still standing, living life and loving our family. We are not and will not be defined by this, though there are days I have to tell myself this all day long.

I am more than just a mom, and I hope that any alienated and estranged parent/grandparent comes to know that they are more than just a title. Or a victim. Victim mentality will only get you so far in a situation such as this, you have to find your inner strength and press on. For yourself, your other grand/children if you have them, for your spouse, your friends and your community. You deserve to be whole and happy, and I promise you that you can be, you just have to walk your specific path through the darkness that may seem to have no end… There is an end to that darkness and when you look behind yourself, I hope you catch glimpses of light that will eventually find its’ way out in front of you. Sooner or later the light will be leading you again.

Just as the sky will always meet the horizon, my heart will love freely.
Nevada desert, Nov. 2018
Photo by Barb Enos