May 28,1945 - September 21,1986
In January 1986, the shuttle Challenger exploded 30 seconds after launch. The deaths of the 7 on board, one of whom was a nationally selected public school science teacher, were viewed instantly on live television. I remember it well because the flag flew at half mast for seven days, one day for each of the astronauts and I could see that forlorn flag from the hospital window, the view from my father's room.
I don't recall how many times I saw that half mast flag from the hospital window because I probably only went to the hospital to see my father when it was possible. But I do remember the poignancy of the event occurring when my father was fighting for his own life. It was like that flag was being flown for our family. I also remember that I couldn't escape the grief because my sixth grade science teacher had been one of the early selections to ride on the Challenger and he struggled openly with his own mortality.
That winter, my father battled the physical consequences of leukemia for more than 100 days before he was released. Until recently, it had been the longest winter of my life and his discharge from the hospital still leaves me shaken. I had not understood much about the progression of my father's illness and the medical procedures necessary to attempt to extend his life. I knew only that leukemia was terminal, regardless of interventions. So in the gloom and depression of my own emotional state, wondering when I'd be told that my father had died, I spent my days in a sixth grade classroom with a teacher that suffered his own melancholy from the reality that he was spared his own death.
On a day in March, the secretary came over the PA in the classroom. "Mr. S, please send Integrity to the principal's office immediately. She's going home." Mr. S looked at me and I looked at him and I thought I would pass out right at my desk. He didn't have words of comfort for me because he did not know what waited for me at the principal's office, he only knew that my father had been very ill. By an act of God, I gathered my things and made the walk back to the front office, fully anticipating to be told that my father had died. As I walked I told myself, it'll be ok to cry but don't break down here, wait until you get home to your bed. you knew this was coming. just be brave, you can do this.
When I got to the office, there, in front of the building was my parents vehicle, with both of my parents in it. My father had been sent home, his leukemia was in remission.
The remission lasted the summer and by August he was given six weeks. At least, that's my memory of the events. We had fun that summer, bittersweet, but fun. And as school began again that September, I was in middle school, in a new building meeting new teachers and making new friends but I was once again thrown into crisis and chaos. He died 24 years ago today.
The irony of my life is palpable. This past winter Sissy spent 100 days in a hospital. She was discharged in March under similar emotionally challenging circumstances. We felt she had not gotten better and believed an ill child had been returned to our care. Then this summer we had fun, we thought Sissy was gettting better, in deed, I'd told the pdoc in July that this was the best she had been, ever. I even wrote in one of my summer posts that I wondered if the emotional rollercoaster we were on with Sissy was similar to the feelings of parents whose children were in remission: when will this fun end? Because mental health professionals won't ever say it to our faces, but with the exception of a small population, usually a RAD diagnosis is terminal, especially is sexual abuse is a factor in the equation.
Now it is September 21st, the anniversary of my father's death and Sissy is emotionally fragile. Last year on the 23rd she said she wanted to end her life. This year I'm anticipating those same words to come out of her mouth any day. I'm reliving the same grief and despair all over again with one exception. Cancer is literally terminal, eventually after a loved one passes, the trauma fades and only happy memories remain. RADs is emotionally terminal. The scars continue without end, making it harder to cling to the happy memories or worse, making the happy memories only bitter ones because the rages and violence always come back and you feel duped for ever daring to have fun and be carefree. Today we wait for the pdoc to call so we can discuss the need for another placement. It sounds like that would be a good plan for Sissy at this point but all I can think is but they'll send her home and we'll do this all again...and again...and again. I'm not sure which agony is worse.
The weekend before Sissy was admitted to the psych ward, I had several dreams. All of them included me drowning. In one dream, I watched a mother push her caged, pre-adolescent daughter over a rocky cliff into the ocean so she could wait for the tide to rise and drown her. I tried to help her but she said to me as the waves crashed over her face again and again, "you're a mother and I don't want your help. MY mother did this to me. Mothers can't be trusted." In another dream a woman was trapped in her vehicle that she wrecked in a reserve pond. It was too swampy and murky for me to get to her so I had to leave her, hearing her screams and cries for help. "I'm a mother! Think of my children! Help me for THEM!" It's obvious that I was playing out my unresolved emotions, that I feel like Sissy's needs surpass what I can do for her, that her needs are drowning me and putting my other children in peril, that I'm a mother that Sissy feels she can't trust.
The third dream, however, speaks to me the most. I had purchased seven round bails of hay. You've seen them, those giant round rolls that sit in fields to dry out and then are sold as feed for cattle and horses. My intent was to deliver the hay to the farm where AB has hippotherapy. It's a small town and easily navigated but still, I lost my way. I kept calling the farm owner to say I'd be there soon but that I kept getting lost. I would get out a map and try to redirect myself, I called The Dad for help, I got out of my truck and started walking, asking for help from any human I saw, including from a church (that was full of crazy looneys that all told me they were bipolar). I woke up, still lost, my seven bails of hay undelivered.
The next morning I looked up the dream symbol of hay. It represents the maternal instinct to nurture. My dream has said that which I could not. I have an abundance of maternal instinct to nurture, seven bails of hay worth. But even though I'm in a small, familiar town I know very well, I still got lost. In other words, I have what any mother has for their child, in spades but with Sissy, I get lost. I don't know how to get to her, I can't deliver it. Point of fact, I didn't "deliver" her and that's the root of all her ills.
For the love of a child, for the want of healing, for the hope that God might intervene, for the emotional urging that this trauma stop, that we might finally come to an end and a resolution, for the grief that my desires will likely never be a reality, for the understanding that no matter what we do, life will be pain, for all of the unspoken emotions, dreams, and desires for our traumatized children, we pray. ~Amen