Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm thinking of what Sarah said...

Dad, you want to skip this post. Betty, you read everything anyway.

So you all know how I love to write about shoes and dresses and sparkles and dating and raindrops on kittens and the like.

Not that I'm always sunshiney - we all know that's not true - but I often splish splash around in the shallow end. It's fun there.

And the truth is that I do spend an inordinate amount of time on stuff like that. But I spend some piece of almost every day of my life on the following. And sometimes it's easier than others. But lately, it's hard.

I'm writing this knowing full well that a lot of people just don't know what to say in response to things like this. And that's OK. But just know that it won't be fun to read.

There's no punch line. It's more like a punch in the stomach.

My dad, my dad is always complicated. He struggles. He's a smart, smart man. He's loving and good and kind and well-intentioned, and he has always tried to be there for us and make sure that we have whatever we need.

Even now, when I'm a married adult, he helps and he offers. I'm still his kid.

And I love the shit out of him. And I am always his kid. And he's always my dad. That will never change.

But as I said, he's complicated. He struggles. Sometimes more than others. And lately, lately is a big struggle for him. Which puts me on constant alert.

Two years ago next month - and those of you who have known me for a while know this - my dad tried to commit suicide. It wrecked us for a good chunk of time.

We spent the following two months going to the hospital, and then eventually the psych ward, every day. We fought my dad sometimes. We fought each other sometimes. We fought the money-focused healthcare system - and won.

We all walked out alive and stronger. But so battered, so scathed.

Eventually, though, it got better. It never feels totally safe, but it often feels OK.

OK, but some piece of scared, of expecting the worst, is always there. It's the flinch of an ambulance siren going by. Or a too-early morning phone call. Or a tone in a voice.

It wasn't the first time, and I already knew I was good in a crisis - this specific kind of crisis, with slightly different details. I knew I was strong. I knew I could handle it. And I did - but barely. It shredded me.

It's something I know I have the fortitude for. But I cannot imagine how I would summon the strength if I had to right now.

And right now, my dad is in a bad place. I know he is trying. He's really, really trying. He says so, and I see it.

Things changed the last time. It stopped being a secret. I forced that. I was done with the huge, unhealthy, never talked about family secret.

I claimed my grief and my terror and my struggle as mine - because it is. My dad has his, my mom has hers, my brother has his, no matter how much he tries to tamp it down and avoid it. And I have mine.

And my dad, for which I am very, very proud of him, he started talking about it, for the first time ever. And now he is actually articulating where he is and what he's fighting and how he's working towards staying with us.

Which is so different from before.

Now, I can actually say in the here and now, "I need you. I need you with us. My kid needs you."
I know for sure he is trying. He wants to be there for us, for his grandson. But sometimes for him, it's so very hard. I know this.

The thing that scares me most is that I understand the piece - which I know varies in size depending on the day and the circumstance - that feels like maybe this life and this heaviness this particular struggle is more than you can handle.

I don't feel it myself, but I've peered in at the edge, and I understand it, and how powerful it can be.

I know that once you slide into that smooth, dark tunnel, where there is no light, no sense of hope, no hand-holds on which to catch yourself - just smooth, smooth emptiness, it feels impossible to get out on your own. All you can do is slide forward towards what seems like a reasonable, singular solution.

I know it.

It terrifies me.


  1. Oh Lisa. I'm speechless, but thinking about you . . .

  2. Hugs. Lots of 'em.

    And maybe, just maybe, the talking about it changed the surface of the tunnel, just a bit? Maybe talking about it, and increasing the friction within your family - maybe that increased the friction in the tunnel, too - lumps and bumps and maybe even handholds.

    I'm going to hope so, for all of you.

  3. Just wanted to send you a virtual hug. I, too, have peered into that tunnel. I pray my daughter never does. Please tell your dad that there are lots of us that are pulling for him.

  4. You are incredibly strong for writing this post. I understand where you are coming from, my father battled mental illness his entire life and I saw things in the pysch ward when he was there that I can't get out of my mind.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  5. It's difficult to believe people that say, "I know how you feel," when they have read the things you only leave on the surface, not knowing what lies beneath the innocuous palm fronds that cover the deadly trap left by depression.

    I just want you to know that I may not get where you're coming from, but I know what it's like to be in a similar spot. I also want you to know that for people who have felt what going over that edge is like, the only thing that keeps some of us for embracing the cool dark emptiness is people who love us enough to make us feel needed.

    I don't know if that's much comfort, but I think you're a great person for reaching out and being there.

  6. Sometimes there are no words, and that's alright, too.

  7. I have to second what Fearless In Toronto said. There are no words right now. I remember reading your posts about your Dad's struggles a few years ago, and it was gut wrenching. And it is this time too, but by talking about his situation, it really does seem like the WANT to stick around and participate in your lives is much stronger. He's reaching out. I hope very much for your whole family that he grabs on. Hugs and prayers from our end.

  8. That edge is a terrifying place to stand, and I'm glad, in some ways, that you understand what your dad is going through. I hope you're all strong enough to fight with him through this and come out the other side again. I'm not sure I have any advice that would seem good enough, but just let him know every day that he's loved and needed. *hugs*

  9. I like what Dagny Taggart said about changing the surface of the tunnel. I hope your dad finds some handholds.

  10. LJ - Thanks. I appreciate it. I believe thoughts help, I really do.

    Dagny - Hugs and hugs back to you. I hope and believe that it could very well be the case. I think (hope) that positively changing the way we approach it has been helpful. Even just voicing that he is trying, and hearing that we need him, I think have to change the nature of it.

    Cheryl S - I pray your daughter doesn't either. I pray my son doesn't. But I feel like for each generation, at least it gets easier, because now people can talk about it and deal with it in the open instead of in secret and shame.

    Zipcode - Thank you for sharing that. As you very well know, it is a crazy place (without trying to be funny), no doubt about it. And thank you for your thoughts and prayers.

    Jo - Thanks for saying this. It is comfort, for sure.

    Fearless - Absolutely and completely true.

    Susan - Thanks for the hugs and prayers. I think you are right that talking about it means a lot, and I feel it's huge progress. I do think the want is there.

    Sarah - I think it really helps to get where he is coming from. I don't know if it helps him, but it helps me a lot. And I think your advice is good.

    Hillary - Thank you. That Dagny is a smart, smart woman.

  11. Has he tried scientology? Kidding. I've never been there, have no clue what this feels like... just, deepest sympathies. Kindest wishes I can send your way.

  12. *Hugs*

    Last week one of the people that used to work in my office killed himself. I never actually met him, but most of my coworkers have. No one had any idea.

    Maybe, the solution is talking and writing about it. Because keeping it to yourself? That's never good. So hang in there. And when you need to talk, to vent, to let it out, we're here for you. And I'm sure that makes all the difference...

  13. Hugs and warm thoughts to you.

  14. Oh Lisa.

    I have a friend, my best girlfriend, who pretty much keeps me worried all the time in a similar way. And since I became a mother I've been so much busier at home than I used to be, I don't get to see her as much as I used to or as much as I would like.

    Thank you for writing about this. It reminds me to tell her and show her how important she is to me and how much I need her. Thank you.

  15. No wonder you are such a strong woman. Things like that change you forever. And, there are no words really to express my sympathy and desire for your dad to be healthy. But, as someone who lost her father quite young, I hope he is able to work triumphantly to that place. Because having your dad hold your child is something every woman deserves.


  16. Millions of warm thoughts and hearty hugs your way. Your dad knows you are doing your best for him and that you understand and I think that helps too.

  17. Oh, hon. My thoughts and biggest hugs are with you. Having an open dialogue like that has got to be more than half the solution, doesn't it? And once you pop that munchkin out... hopefully it will be a done deal.


  18. well this is just so deep and complicated the best thing to say is i am thinking of you and the family and sending you big positive vibes. so stressful and such a difficult struggle to cope all around.

    and my irish instinct is also to find the dark humor somewhere in that struggle and the only thing i can come up with is that i immediately thought of the writer john irving (world according to garp, ciderhouse rules, etc.) i haven't thought of him in years, although he is one of my favorite authors. something about his outlook on life that kind of resonates...

  19. Oh my, after reading the the Death Cab for Cutie lyric in the title, my heart started hurting for you immediately. I'll be hoping for the best for you and your family.

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  21. Thank you for sharing such a personal thing. I think being about to at least put it out in the open is a big thing. I know there are many things in my family that even in the last five years we've actually begun to put out there. It changes things. In a better way.

  22. Have I told you that when I go down that hole, I think about when I met you? It was shortly after your father had made an attempt. Just knowing how that affected you is enough to make me understand that anything is better than suicide and then I find a way out of the hole.

  23. i can't believe it was almost two whole years ago. it feels like so much has happened since then, doesn't it? and then in other ways, like you're saying, it might as well have been yesterday. i'm glad to hear you're all able to be more open about these issues now, and i'm wishing all the best for you and your family.

  24. Lisa, this brought tears to my eyes. It feels strange to complement someone on a piece that is so tragic, but thank you for writing this so that others can understand.

  25. Certain things not as you imagine it. Sometimes, you need to think about the transposition.
    Health information
    Humor & Fun World

  26. Your post was very beautiful, very raw, heartbreaking. I hope your dad reads it - it's a tribute and a hope and a plea, filled with love.
    I really like this quote - hope it helps...
    "Even after all this time
    The sun never says to the earth, "You owe Me." Look what happens with a love like that,
    It lights the whole sky. -- Hafiz

  27. I think I live most of my life in some relation to that "edge." Either bouncing high above it or dangling by a few fingers off the edge of it. My day to day is judged by my distance from the edge.

  28. You have a way with words, Lisa. Thanks for helping me to understand it a bit more deeply.

  29. i applaud your father for being so open about things now. my sister is sliding down that tunnel right now and it's terrifying.

  30. I have lots of empathy for your Dad. Those struggles happen to some of the best, nicest people.
    I'm glad that on of his blessings is such a fine daughter as you are.

  31. I'm happy to hear that he is trying to fight through it; that in itself gives reason for hope.

    xuxE was spot on with the John Irving reference. There's a line in one of his novels, The Hotel New Hampshire, that seems particularly relevant to your situation. "Keep passing the open windows."

    I hope that your father continues to pass those windows, and that your family is able to shutter them along the way.

    Much love to you, Honey. I'm here should you need anything.


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