This has been a week of anniversaries for me. I’ve come to a place where I am at peace with each one. I’ve reposted this in remembrance of my Mom. I know she is free and sometimes I feel her so close to me. I am forever grateful for her. She wasn’t perfect and yet she was wonderful. I hope you can enjoy
“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien from Goodreads
The sun had turned down the furnace and dusk approached with a hint of a breeze and clear skies. The girls’ excitement mounted when darkness inched its way into the neighborhood. Daddy had bought poppers and fireworks at the supermarket in an attempt to recreate for them the memories of his childhood celebrations. It was the Fourth of July!
After the poppers, the girls reluctantly agreed to sit with Mommy in their camp chairs to watch Daddy from a safe distance. The fact that they weren’t hands on didn’t hamper the enthusiasm and the chatter. When Daddy wasn’t setting them off quickly enough like the ones at the park, they cried, “Don’t you have one more Daddy?” In the neighborhood, we could hear other families cracking and popping small arsenals. Not far away, small rockets exploded into the air showering the night sky with colorful stars high above the trees. It all looked magical against the silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I was quickly caught up in the excitement of our mini celebration. When our fireworks display was over, we noticed fireflies or lightning bugs in the dark spaces between the houses. As you may know, I was raised a city kid, and nature never ceases to amaze me. We didn’t have fireflies in our asphalt jungles. All of a sudden, I couldn’t help myself; I was in the moment and on the edge of reality again. I said to my granddaughters, “Did you know that some people think that fireflies might be fairies in disguise?”
The girls are at that age when a vivid imagination is easy to access. They teeter between knowing what is real and wanting to believe in impossible fantasies. I thought we could have some fun picturing little fairies buzzing around while fireworks were still going off in the distance – sort of like Disney… maybe. With all my enthusiasm, I forgot that one of my granddaughters, Catie Dee, wants nothing to do with bugs; while Anelie Rose, is a future crafty, horse-riding, flute playing art teacher and ninja scientist who is always trying to figure the why of things.
Instead of just marveling at the thought that there were fairies all around us, Anelie Rose wanted to catch one to see if it was true what people say. She promptly went back into the garage to grab a net and with determination announced that she was ready to start the hunt. Catie Dee stood there with a frozen smile and fear in her moss green eyes, but she dutifully followed her big sister. Anelie Rose didn’t have much luck with the net, but Mom almost caught one with her bare hands. Daddy remembered that when he was a kid, they caught lightning bugs in clear plastic cups to see them when they light up. Unfortunately, there weren’t any around us now. The fairies noticed that humans were trying to nab them.
We spotted what seemed to be a fairy picnic across the street. The fireflies lit up the trees as if it were Christmas; surely they could catch one there. Off they went to the edge of the woods with the net and two clear plastic cups. Daddy did catch one but when the girls took a closer look, it was still just a bug, and it didn’t even look like it had a light. We all decided it was best to let it go assuming it was probably too afraid to light up and much less to change into a fairy. As it flew away, we saw its little light glowing in the dark.
We were heading into the house for the night, making comments that we were glad the lightning bug or fairy was OK. All of a sudden Anelie Rose announced: “I have an idea; we’ll set a trap!” She was adamant about wanting to see for herself whether lightning bugs turn into lightning fairies. She had the idea to tie up one of the ornamental fairies from the flower garden, put it in the net and place it on the bushes. She expected that the other fairies would try to rescue their friend and one was bound to get caught in the net. She and Daddy went back out to set the trap while little Catie Dee came in the house with us. She had enough of chasing bugs to last her a lifetime.
The next morning while her dad was still asleep, Anelie Rose came into the guest room and asked me to go with her to check the trap. At first, she was disappointed because she hadn’t caught anything, but as she started to take it down, she said: “Wait a minute, it looks like the yarn is loose. They must have tried to untie her to set her free but couldn’t, and so they left. They will probably be back. I’ll try again tonight.”
She continued to set traps for three or four nights without catching anything. She asked her dad to look online for more ideas. Each night she and her dad tried another plan without success. Each morning she found another clue that made her think there had been another rescue attempt. She proceeded to explain the reason for her insistence. “If you catch a fairy; she will grant you a wish, and I know exactly what I’m going to wish for.” Convinced that she was getting closer to catching a fairy, she persisted. It was breaking my heart, and I was feeling guilty about mentioning the firefly fairies in the first place.
I was feeling guiltier still when told me that her special wish was the driving force behind her patience and persistence. She wanted to wish that I would come back again soon for a more extended visit – maybe a year or more. Aww, my sweet and innocent precious little girl; I felt awful. Later, her Mom and I reminisced about that Christmas Eve when she and her sister had spied on me and caught me bringing wrapped presents up from the basement with tags that read “Merry Christmas, Love Santa.” They were both so angry that I had lied to them about Santa Claus. Her sister told me she felt like a fool in school when at eight and a half years old, she still believed in Santa. (My bad.) “What else have you lied to us about?” They demanded. They got bikes and more Barbies that year. I think they are over it. It was fun to remember, but Mom wanted no part of the scam on her daughter.
On our way to the airport, Anelie Rose jumped into the car with a pad and pencil. “On the drive over, maybe we can come up with a list of other things that might work for our trap,” I suggested they get a play cookie or a cupcake and put it in the net. I’d heard fairies liked sweets and their play food looks almost real. She looked at me incredulously; I had suggested that before but she didn’t think that would work. She put her things down and said: “That’s okay; Daddy and I will come up with something else later.” I could imagine Catie Dee rolling her eyes from the back seat. She didn’t understand her sister’s mission. All she could see were the bugs; she couldn’t imagine anything past that. I’ll bet she hoped her sister would forget about it once I was gone.
The next day, when I was home, I got a call from my daughter, “Anelie Rose wants to FaceTime; she has something to show you.” After our usual greetings and I miss you more; and before her sister could get to the phone, she burst out: “Guess what?” She put two figures in front of the camera and in one breath said: “We caught two fairies! Daddy looked it up, and it said that fairies turn into statues when they get caught. Look, the wings are clear. And I already got a wish granted! I wished to be able to FaceTime with you, and we are doing it! We are going to let them go tonight, but I wanted to show you first.” What could I say? “Wow! That’s fantastic! They look beautiful.”
It appears that her dad was feeling bad for her too. He decided to get a fairy figurine from the fairy village collection at the local craft store. She was so excited. Her idea was a success! That evening even Catie Dee got involved in the fairy sendoff; after all, they were no longer bugs.
What fun! I see a trip in my future. I guess maybe I should start packing my bags.
Y is for the true You inside
This post is the last of the Mental Health stories that I will share in honor Mental Health Awareness Month. As I’ve written earlier, these are memories I carry with me from past experiences. I hope that in reading these snapshots, you can get a glimpse of the struggles for a person who lives with chronic and persistent symptoms of mental illness and from that glimpse, gain understanding and empathy. This mini-series resulted from the letter “Y” in April 2018 A to Z writing Challenge. If you’d like, you can go back to Part 1 and start at the beginning.
I met Margaret as I did many of my clients, in a state-run psychiatric hospital to be a part of discharge planning. As I had mentioned in my last post, Margaret was on the younger end of middle age. She had been married once and had a child, a boy named Shaun. The boy’s father had full custody. Margaret had not seen her son, now a teenager, for many years.
Margaret carried a dual diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder with manic episodes along with Alcohol Abuse and Dependency. Hospital records indicated that there was a family history of substance abuse by both parents and siblings. Margaret had lost contact with her family. She had lived “on the streets” or in psychiatric facilities for most of her adult life.
One of the first things that Margaret wanted me to know was that she “was not like the other homeless drunks.” She wanted me to know she had lived in a big white house overlooking the Bay in a small posh town known as a summer retreat for famous people. As she stuck out her arm in front of herself, she fanned her hand and wiggled spread fingers to make a point, “and, I had di-ah-mends…”
Whenever she was having a hard time, she would repeat the story to me with the same gestures and intonations. She wanted me to remember. It was her dream to get back to that point in her life. It was my goal to help her get as close as possible. She was discharged to a women’s transitional residential program with seven other women and plenty of support. The structure proved too much for Margaret. There were curfews, chores and according to Margaret “the staff was pushy and some of the other girls were too young or too sick.”
We started looking for safe alternative housing. It was the 1990s. Margaret’s only income was Supplemental Security Income and the minimum allowance of food stamps. Today she would probably get a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs for that amount. Without a housing subsidy, it was impossible for Margaret to afford even a room in one of the many rundown boarding room houses in the city. We applied for a rental assistance allowance through a special grant designed for downsizing the state hospitals. While we waited, Margaret’s boyfriend, Jean found a small attic apartment in an old triple decker.
Jean was supportive of Margaret’s treatment and personal goals. We were able to adjust the subsidy request to use at that apartment. With a place of her own, the primary thing on her mind was to see her son Shaun again. Margaret was able to open communication with Shaun and his father. Now she could tell his dad that she had a safe place for him to visit. Jean was able to borrow a car to meet her son for lunch near his home. It was the first time they had seen each other since he was a small boy. She was so excited. She bought a stylish blouse and slacks at the Salvation Army. For Shaun, she purchased a gift from a local department store, precursors to Target or Walmart. They tell me she looked fabulous. It was very stressful, but she managed to get through it without hospitalization or too much disruption in her life.
It was a year later when Shaun got his driver’s license and a car, that he was able to visit Margaret. From the moment she got the apartment, everything she did was with Shaun in mind. Now, her little boy was coming for Christmas!
Margaret and I would shop for her groceries and personal items at the beginning of each month when her Representative Payee would give her spending allowance according to her budget. Margaret had planned and budgeted for Shaun’s Christmas visit for months. She wanted to make sure she had enough for a Christmas tree. She was extra careful shopping because she also wanted some ingredients for a special dinner. After we secured her monthly staples, we were done, but with very little left for a Christmas tree.
Margaret wanted a real tree for Shaun. She didn’t want a dusty beat-up artificial one from a thrift store. We searched high and low on that cold New England winter day. Finally, in the back of a tree lot, Margaret spotted the perfect one. It was short and lopsided, but not too scraggly and at least one hundred times better than Charlie Brown’s. To Margaret, it looked like the one at Rockefeller Center. She negotiated and got it for eight dollars. She cried silent tears as we drove home.
At my next visit, I saw the lopsided little evergreen sitting in the corner glowing brightly from the lights and ornaments that Margaret had collected from around town – donation boxes, thrift stores, and friends. The little Christmas tree did look like it belonged in a big white house by the Bay with strings of “di-ah-mends” to light it up. Margaret had poured years of bottled up love for her son into decorating the tiny apartment for that visit. It was Margaret’s first Christmas in a long time as well, and sometimes she would become flooded with so many emotions. It was good to hear they had a lovely time.
Margaret was a loving mother who also happened to struggle with distressing symptoms of a major mental illness. I tip my hat to her this Mother’s Day wherever she may be.
Each one of us has our own evolution of life, and each one of us goes through different tests which are unique and challenging. But certain things are common. And we do learn things from each other’s experience. On a spiritual journey, we all have the same destination. A. R. Rahman (from BrainQuotes.com)
Please check out the links below for additional information for family supports as well. Many times family and friends want to help but don’t know how. There is also information about Peer support groups and peer mentoring programs. No one has to do this alone.
SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) at https://www.samhsa.gov/
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness (a grassroots organization run by families and consumers) https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI
FROM MY MEMORY BOX
(A Tribute to my mother)
Precious gemstones, sparkling blue-green
Embedded in chiseled ivory
Shimmering reflections of the sea
Vibrant and alive; brave and defiant.
Gold sun flecks, intricate details
Dancing on the waves of life
Hidden secrets of tales untold
Projection of love’s warm, gentle kindness.
Behind the windows darkness lives
Barely a flicker of light-hope
Hear the sounds, smell the smells, hands touch,
If only the window could open wide.
The looking glass is just a blur
Where did that young woman go now?
Long dark tresses, smooth satin skin,
Life of the sea and sunlight in her eyes.
I am here, alive in the dark
Behind the windowpanes of green.
Living life with other senses
Sounds of the sea, warmth of the sun, love’s touch.
This dark place has not smothered me
I am strong and willing to live
My loved ones still have need of me
I direct their paths and provide comfort.
The will was there, but the time had come
A Valley to cross, the River so deep
A choir in need of a new voice
Not my will but Thine be done, I bid farewell.
The dark shades were now lifted
The Saving Grace within her sight
At His gates, she marveled.
In my mind, M will always be for MOTHER and the many ways she made our life special. How many cards with acrostic poems did I draw or buy for her birthday or Mother’s Day through the years of her abbreviated life? Today’s poem is not for her but of what I learned and have passed on…
Dirty coffee cup on the counter—again.
Forgot to rinse—again.
A sigh escapes me
And like a gentle whirlwind,
Takes me down the path
So often traveled, once again.
Sweet memories at every turn
Prickly thorns around the bend,
A bump in the road
Puddles of tears,
Sunshine after the rain.
Wasn’t it you, so tiny
Who laid in my arms?
Crumpled, wrinkled, helpless
I sobbed, as you wailed.
Did the eyes of our souls look ahead?
Now we stand at a crossroad,
And as I fasten your wings,
I ask. . .
Did I teach you enough?
Did you learn your lessons well?
Only time will tell.