The Graduate

23 May

**Trigger Warning** If reading about depression and/or suicide is difficult for you, I kindly ask that you do not read any further.

My son began having challenges in the 4th grade. He couldn’t stay organized and, constantly forgot or lost homework assignments.  He had difficulty making friends and was a magnet for attracting the ire of “troubled” kids. Even his obviously big heart couldn’t overshadow his equally socially awkward behavior creating an obstacle to developing friendships. The frustration of not fitting in or belonging often led to parent-teacher conferences and/or him being grounded for the umpteenth time. Thinking back, I should have realized something bigger was at play.

After his 8th graduation, we moved hoping a fresh start at a new school would accompany the safety and security provided by quiet middle-class suburbia. My son joined the football team and thrived on the comradery and friendship it provided. On game days I walked over to the stadium with our dog to observe him. I could feel the happiness radiating off of him as he laughed and joked with friends and it filled me with joy. “He finally found HIS people!”, I thought. Unfortunately, the happiness didn’t last for either of us.

An unexpected visit from his father turned his world upside down. While their relationship bore the resemblance of two brothers versus that of father and son, my son loved his father dearly and made constant attempts to win his love and affection. Unfortunately, he hadn’t grown to understand that a fathers’ love should be unconditional, not earned. Even empty promises and sporadic visits couldn’t stifle the desire for his fathers’ love.

He was so happy to see his father that the shock of him announcing his out of state relocation the very next day didn’t even seem to register – but I knew better. I could see the hurt in his eyes as well as his resolve to not ask “What about me dad?” It was approximately three days before he could process the weight of being abandoned by the person whose love he wanted the most. One night, after a few days had passed. he silently climbed into my bed, laid his head on my lap and sobbed for what felt like an eternity. “Why won’t he love me? How could he leave me like that? What did I ever do to him?” My heart broke.

Things quickly spiraled after that. He quit the football team, his grades declined, his behavior was out of control and at home he was a shell of his former self. He refused to talk, barely ate and regularly sat in his room with the lights off. He completely shut down and despite my best efforts, nothing I did helped. At the insistence of Bonus Dad (the man who raised him since he was 8) I found a therapist to help him process the grief he felt from losing his father. That decision saved my sons life.

Every Saturday for months we faithfully took our son to see his therapist and rejoiced when glimpses of him reemerged. He’d laugh at a joke, join me for dinner or ask for something “normal” teens request and I’d think that maybe we’d made it through the hard part. However, it was only long enough for us to think things were improving, but not long enough for him to experience any relief. Try as we might, we had no idea what was going on with him or how deep in the weeds of depression he had ventured.

During one of his weekly therapy appointments, his therapist informed us she would not be releasing him to our care. He was rushed to the hospital for a psychological evaluation because he was planning to go home and attempt suicide after therapy. He was ready to die. Unfortunately, this was only the first of several hospitalizations over the course of 3 years. Once on my birthday. Once days before Bonus dads’ birthday. The first, I will never forget, days before Christmas.

I remember days where I’d return home from work unable to leave the car and sit paralyzed by fear, too afraid to enter the house from the fear of what I might find. Every night at bedtime I was relieved he made it another day and every morning the fear returned.  Most days I too wanted to quit. How would I survive if one day he did succeed in taking his life? I honestly didn’t know how my family would survive.

Looking back, I missed a lot of cries for help, long before his father’s visit. I thought being his mom meant I could “fix” him. I don’t think I am alone in thinking this either. I think as parents, we believe part of our jobs is fixing not only our children’s problems but our children. If our children are broken, then we broke them. So why shouldn’t we be able to fix them? It took me a long time to understand that depression doesn’t mean you’re broken and you don’t need to be fixed. It means the support required for your journey is just different than others.

My son graduated from high school yesterday, and I have never felt prouder. Not because he graduated from high school but because of everything he endured. My son accomplished what many adults don’t. He faced his demons and beat them. As he exited the auditorium with a smile on his face and one finger pointed in the air, I caught his eyes for a moment and mouthed, “You did it.”

J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Those words bring me comfort as I prepare to send him off to college. To my son, I want to say, “Wander. Wander far. Go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. Do them with confidence and conviction. Do them knowing that no matter how far you wander, I will be here with a light shining to guide you safely back home. You are a survivor. You have survived. You will never be lost. Now go wander and thrive!”


The Mistress of All Things Fabulous



2 Responses to “The Graduate”

  1. Gina May 23, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    Gosh, I miss seeing you everyday!!! Congrats to you and your baby…High School is a major accomplishment!!! Both of you are always in my prayers!!

    • TheHittList May 23, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

      Thank you so much. I’m so proud of him! ❤

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