September is one of those months that comes with mixed emotions for me. I absolutely love Fall, it’s my favourite season, and it’s also a reminder for me that sometimes life becomes bare before it becomes beautiful again. Right now, the wind is blowing our stunning leaves into the abyss and my heart is both confused and happy. How can there be so much pain and joy all in one fell swoop?
We focus on Suicide Prevention and Childhood Cancer Awareness in the month of September, at least in North America. I have a kid who has survived cancer as a baby (as anyone who has read my blogs likely well knows), and he struggled with suicidal tendencies/ideations when he was younger.
This stuff is real to us, it is no joke, and I live in gratefulness every day for the young man I get to have in my life on a daily basis. I hope I don’t take it or him for granted. And as the month comes to an end, I wanted to remember. To be mindful. To share.
I wrote two blogs – one when he was eleven and another when he turned twelve – and I’ve simply copy/pasted them into one here, with the hopes that if it resonates or helps anyone, it is absolutely worth sharing. And I’ve received permission from my almost 20-year-old boy to re-share our stories.
For us, it’s about talking. Talk. Then talk some more.
My 11 Year Old Son Wants to Die (March 2012)
I’ve struggled all week whether to write about this or not. My chest is tight and part of me wants to stop before I start, but I am compelled for whatever reason to share my heart and our experience. My brain is telling me that I will be judged, opinions will be formed, and comments will be forthcoming, but I must write. I much prefer writing about things that I can inject a little humour into but this is not one of those posts. It’s not short either.
This is just the raw emotion of a mom trying to make sense of her world, not a philosophical discussion or an open forum for the you should’s or you shouldn’ts out there, nor am I really focusing on grammatical correctness. If another parent reads this and can relate, then at least we know we’re not alone in this particular struggle, right?
Sitting in the emergency room at the Alberta Children’s Hospital on Monday night we sat and cried together, Mitch and I. When I picked him up after school that day he jumped in the car and immediately went into a downward spiral, yelling at me that I’d gotten him in trouble with the teacher. From there it went to the fact that his dad and I are not together, and then it went to his concern and worry about his dad’s current circumstances. As he continued down this path of sadness, he screamed things like, “Why am I in this life,” “I want out of this horrible life,” “I want to go to Heaven.” Those are only a few of the comments I recall.
I wish I could say it was the first time I’d heard those words. Back pedal a year and a half. Consider a 12 year old sitting on her then 9 year old brother while she calls her mom at work with unbridled panic in her voice, telling me he had pulled all the knives out of the drawer, had threatened to use them on himself and was currently holding a pencil to his neck. At the time it never crossed my mind to call 9-1-1. I just ran out of the office and drove as fast and as safely as I could, thinking about not only my son but also about my 2 daughters who had to endure these horrific moments. As a single parent, I was overwhelmed with how one child’s heartache and actions were affecting the entire household. Oh the emotional upheaval my children must have experienced as this all unfolded on the living room floor. I don’t really remember driving the 12 minutes it took me to get home.
After seeking help at that time, we have been on an incredible path to hope and healing with a number of great supports in place. The teachers and counselor at the kids’ school have been absolutely amazing, as have been my family and friends and I have grateful moments by the galore. It was such a relief to see my little guy go from night to day, to watch him laugh more, enjoy life more. Hope prevailed. Then last summer the tables turned as another traumatic event in our lives propelled Mitch into an emotional decline.
I had been advised by professionals who have been involved with our family previously that if he demonstrated this behaviour again to take him to emergency at the Children’s Hospital because they are well equipped to handle these situations. When Mitch uttered words about wanting to be dead I decided to take immediate action and get him to the hospital. It was interesting as we registered to see how the emergency staff immediately kicked into support mode, calling him handsome, giving him a popsicle, rubbing his shoulder gently. I have no idea what I was expecting but it wasn’t that. I relaxed a little as I realized they took it seriously too, and wanted to help my boy.
As we waited, Mitch read his book, we talked, I held him, we laughed a little. Other parents talked about why they were there with their children, how rude the nurse was when she handed out popsicles to some and not to others and that it appeared those who didn’t need to be in the emergency room were receiving preferential treatment. It never ceases to amaze me how we judge one another without having a clue. Clearly my son had ‘nothing wrong with him’ and didn’t need to be there. As I listened to their words, I held my son. I told him I loved him, I cried while he told me he just wanted to lay in a grave so he could have some peace. We cried together unashamedly. I searched out Kleenex for the both of us as mascara and tears mixed together and poured down my cheeks, walking by those parents to do so. Mitchell’s name was called before any of theirs. No, my son didn’t need to be there. That’s why he was triaged before their children were.
After rehearsing all the events of his young life leading up to this night, the Doctor referred us for an urgent assessment the following day, so back to the hospital we went. The person who saw us was not normally in this department. It was her first day and she wasn’t sure of all the procedures but she was definitely well versed in the issues at hand. I smiled as she shared what her areas of expertise were, and that she too had a child who’d experienced cancer as a baby. No coincidence. Three hours later we left the hospital exhausted but with renewed hope. With the complexities involved they determined that I do not need to endure the challenges of figuring it all out by myself, nor do I need to contact the agencies involved to set up the comprehensive long term plan to assist not just my son, but all four of us. Imagine my sigh of relief!
Mitchell has had to fight for his life from the time he was a baby. Being diagnosed with cancer at the ripe old age of 10 months, having major surgery to remove a kidney with a tumour attached to it followed by 6 months of chemo, was only the beginning apparently. Because he’s my son, I have to fight for his life too. And for the lives of the sisters who live with the boy who is Mitch. As it is with any parent, some days I’m really exasperated, exhausted and emotional. Other days I’m over the moon that I get to be Mom to these children.
I’ve got some pretty wonderful and amazing young ‘uns, I do. It does make me wonder sometimes about the whole reaping and sowing thing, karma, whatever else you want to call it. What did my baby ever do to reap the life he’s lived so far? I wonder what the heck his purpose is, to have to fight so hard to stay alive. I wonder whose lives he will impact with the stories of his young years, what he’s endured, how he’s survived. I wonder how my girls will recount the events of their childhood and how they too survived. I wonder how grey my hair would be if I didn’t colour it. I wonder.
Now that I’ve written, I’ll sleep.
He Made it to 12! And so did I! (January 2013)
Almost a year ago I wrote about my boy wanting to die and “lay in a grave so I can have some peace”. I’ve been asked many times over how he’s doing and where things are at for him these days. Well, today is his 12th Birthday and we’re still here!
Right before Christmas we were driving in the car and had a guest with us. Somehow the topic got around to ‘remember when’, and all of a sudden Mitch blurted out, “Remember Mommy when my sister had to sit on me and hold me down because I was holding a pencil to my neck? And remember all the knives all over the kitchen floor?” He was 9 when that first incident took place. Can you imagine being THAT guest in the vehicle, not knowing any of the history? Yah, me neither! Navigating the conversation utilized some tricky skill so as not to downplay it with my boy listening, but also to take a moment to honour how far we’ve come. Being calm, cool and collected in that particular moment was dicey for this mama!
It has been an emotional journey to say the least, but for anyone needing a ray of hope I would love for our story to provide just that. I know it’s a tough subject to discuss, read or think about but it’s our experience and it’s something neither of us want to hide, nor do I want to feed the shame that often comes with revealing the tough stuff.
What I love about my son is that he lays it all out there. He’s open. He has a deep and caring heart, wants to do what’s right, and he knows he is not alone in his struggles. Over the course of the past several months we have spent countless hours at the counselor’s – where he felt safe and supported. We both participated in the process and I learned so much myself, in how to help him but I also learned things I’d never have considered otherwise. It opened my eyes to new ways of doing things I hadn’t done before. My boy got to express himself in ways he hadn’t fully been able to and there was much, much healing as we drove back and forth every week.
What I’d like to offer other families dealing with a child who expresses suicidal tendencies is that there is hope. You are not alone, and there are many resources in place to help you walk through the valley. If you want the help. If you are willing to put yourself (and your child) into a vulnerable setting. If you are teachable – yes, I said you – parent.
This past year has not been one of handing him off to the professionals hoping they’d fix him, or just praying that it will all get better (albeit there was lots of that!). It has been one of full participation, doing whatever was necessary for the good of my boy, despite what it felt like or what it looked like to others. In the end I’m responsible for my inner dealings, the peace of knowing I did my best for and with my son. Here’s what I know…it was worth the fight, the hard work, the sacrifice. I’m a much better person for it – and my son is doing remarkably well. The tools that have been placed in his hands are ones that can and will carry him through adulthood.
Is every day a good day? No. Do I still have moments of distress, wondering how we’re going to get through the next 5 minutes? For sure. But those days and moments are getting less in number, and we’re having more good days than bad. The lessons? Don’t be afraid to ask for or receive help. Don’t isolate yourselves or live in shame, it only elevates the issue. Do NOT ignore your child’s cries for help. Put yourself in their shoes, seek to understand. Do take a whole bunch of deep breaths. Do take action. Do revel in, soak up and celebrate the happy moments!
Last night Mitch and I definitely had a moment. We both teared up as we talked about his birthday, how special it is to celebrate it. He teased me that next year I’ll cry when he turns 13 because I don’t want him to grow up. He’s right. But for now, I want to enjoy this moment, this victory, this 12th birthday that signifies so much.
Think About It…
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver