For over a year now, my son has been living in a residential treatment facility.
One year of not being together for birthdays, Christmas, or Mother’s Day.
One year of visits.
One year of wondering what will happen next.
One year of prayers.
While I’ve written here and there about this experience (Residential Treatment: When Holding On Means Letting Go, The Downward Spiral of My Son’s Behavior), much of the time I’ve been silent.
It’s not that I don’t want to share.
Rather, it’s that words fail me. (I know writers are not supposed to admit that, but it’s true.)
Simple words are inadequate to describe my chaotic emotions.
How can I begin to describe what I felt when a little girl from my Tae Kwon Do class asked me how my son was doing? I was touched by her kind remembering, but then she quipped, “My mom told me only kids from bad neighborhoods to go live where he is.” Should I tell you about how I did my best to hold it together for the rest of class, then fled to my car and cried?
Or I could tell you about the day that one of his counselors was chatting with me on the phone and said, “I spend 40 hours a week with your son. I know him better than anyone.” I would share how my heart raged with anger and jealousy for weeks afterward at that counselors’ stupid, thoughtless remark.
Perhaps I could share with you about the day my youngest son, who sadly has suffered his own trauma from living with an older brother with mental health issues, said to me, “I love him. I hate him. No, I really love him,” and I comforted my youngest with understanding because yes, that sums it up just about perfectly.
Maybe I would tell you about how my son comes home with the fanciest tennis shoes (that we could never afford), new clothes (that I didn’t buy), and has seen all the latest movies at the theater (when none of my other kids have). Would you share in my frustration at the unfairness of this and see how it drives a deeper wedge between him and his siblings?
I could attempt to tell you about the overwhelming relief I feel on a regular basis that goes deeply down and the way my shoulders have relaxed and my always-on-guard position has unclenched. (Those who live with a family member with mental health issues can perhaps appreciate this complexity.)
I would talk about the visit days when we get to be together as a family, and how the night we had a cookout, and made s’mores, and the kids had a huge Nerf gun fight – a simple, beautiful evening that in years past would have been just like any other Saturday night – how that memory is solidified in my mind now as one of the best days.
Then I would also tell you that visit days are hard because they feel false and sometimes, as much as I long for my boy and can’t wait to see him, once he’s here I’m ready for it to be over. And I would tell you how I wonder what type of a mother I am that I feel that way.
Most of all, I could try to capture for you the deep, aching longing I feel in knowing I cannot provide what he needs, and my worry if I ever will be able to.
But these words are inadequate.
So instead, I simply say this.
One year ago…
And I hope these 3 words are enough to capture your understanding for a few moments. I hope these 3 words allow you to know that whatever burdens you carry on your shoulders, you are not alone.