Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dark places

Some heartbreaks don't heal. We spend our lives telling our children that time heals all wounds (and sometimes wounds all heels).

But the reality is, some heartbreaks are forever.

This was a hard week that ended yet another hard, cruel month. A lovely family lost a child.

Like ripples in a pond, the reverberations of a suicide reach far and wide. And even though I never met this beautiful young man from a really nice family, I just can't stop being so very sad.

The last week in March started out badly enough. I had been suffering from a cold that forced me on the DL (that's disabled list for you nonsports speakers) for the better part of a week. It was the first really bad illness of the winter (being sick of shoveling actually doesn't count) and I missed work, but couldn't even revel in staying home because I felt so very awful.

And Earbaby hasn't been ill, but she's been so overwhelmed and overwrought, I didn't even know how to comfort her. This is just a tough year in a really tough school. One subject has really been kicking her butt, a college-level course with too much reading in too short of a time. She had to skip dance several times because she just had too much homework. One day she got in the car and just cried. There was too much to do, and she's not getting any sleep. And she says even the smart kids are staying up until 1 or 2 a.m. And they're all up by 5:30 a.m. to start the whole process over. She's barely staying awake in class, she's running as fast as she can and still believes she's falling behind, and there just aren't enough hours in the day.

And all I could do was tell her to breathe, make a cup of tea and take 15 minutes to decompress and gather her thoughts. Before she got back into the rat race.

And I started to wonder, are we just making everything too hard?

Now I'm no helicopter parent. EB has plenty of freedom, because that's the only way she'll ever learn how to make good life choices. She has to have the practice. And a little hard work isn't bad. But when you're 16, you agonize that not making the honor roll will doom you to a life of the permanent underclass of barely working poor. That a missed homework assignment or a failed geometry or physics test means your life's work will be forever defined by the words: "Do you want fries with that?"

So we've been trying to balance encouragement and help, as in finding tutors for her tougher subjects, with assuring her that doing her best, trying her hardest, really is OK. How do you add encouragement without making it feel like pressure? How do you convince a teenager that sooner than they think, school will be over and education will be what they have left long after they've forgotten what they've been taught?

And we know that life isn't supposed to be easy. Learning how to struggle now and come through the storm will prepare her for life's challenges that will come when she's responsible for her own food, shelter and well-being.

But it isn't supposed to be so hard that we lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel, or that we stop believing there really is a light there.

So this was where EB was when she read a text from a friend who told her that her brother had killed himself. Only a couple of years out of high school himself, he apparently had slipped into one of the dark places where one believes there is no light ahead.

EB was devastated, for her friend, their family, and many others left with a break in a heart that won't fully heal.

Parents, teachers, extended family members, don't fool yourselves. The siren song of suicide is out there. EB has had at least one close friend who attempted it (thankfully unsuccessfully), others who are self-mutilating; children, beautiful, bright, intelligent children, who are in so much emotional pain they don't realize that the light may be dim, but it really is there at the end of the tunnel. EB gets afraid when her friends go into the dark places. We've talked about it; I've let her know that her dad and I are always here, we're always in that light -- not just for her, but for anyone else who needs a soft place to land.

In the few days that followed came a wake, a funeral and EB reaching out to her friend time and again to make sure she was OK.

This is a family of faith. My fervent prayer is that their faith will sustain them as they rebuild their lives around the hole left in their hearts. I wish them God's love and peace.

I've told EB many times when she is in despair that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness. As human beings, we are social animals, our strength is in the comfort we give and receive from each other. Sometimes those dark places overwhelm and threaten to overtake us. Those whispers that tell us that everyone is better off without us become louder and more insistent. But those whispers speak a grave untruth. We all matter.

Let's continue to talk to our children, our teens, our young adults, our family and friends. Let's be better and kinder with each other. Let's remind each other that we all matter, we're all important and we're all loved.

Let's shine a light on all those dark places, through therapy, through medication, through understanding without stigma.

Please God, let's not bury any more of our babies.

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