Foreword by Randi Silverman
The pain you feel as a parent when your child is deeply struggling, in a hospital, confronting a life threatening condition, is indescribable. The silence around mental health problems only serves to compound that pain with isolation and loneliness. In the depths of despair, there are simply times when we can not hold it together.
Katherine’s 3rd guest blog beautifully portrays how, in an unguarded moment, a complete stranger saw her pain, reached out, and became the angel she needed. That is the power of parents helping other parents! Sometimes we need an angel, and sometimes we are the angel. Inevitably, sharing our stories opens up our world and helps us realize we are not alone.
Please read and share. You never know who might be struggling in silence.
Two weeks ago, I took three of my daughters to the movies. Just as I was pulling out of the driveway with the girls, my oldest called from the hospital for her nightly ten-minute conversation.
The drive to the movie theater was terrible. Girls chatting in the back and listening to music, while I carefully managed my side of the conversation so they didn’t hear any scary words or learn more than we had told them.
My daughter-on-the-phone was feeling so hopeless. Telling me that nothing is helping and asking when she will feel better. Asking why she has to go through this. And I had no comforting answers for her. I’m a cry-er, and it was hard to keep from crying in the car.
We got to the theater, walked in from the parking lot, and bought tickets and popcorn, all while I was trying to console my daughter, and keep myself together. Hand gestures and serious eyes told the other three to just figure it out – to order the tickets, order their snacks, and to please hand my credit card to the person behind the counter.
My middle two girls were going to watch one movie, and my youngest and I planned to watch another (I’ve given up on the dream that we all watch the same movie. That hasn’t worked in years). So the two middles go off to their theater and I settle my youngest into her booster seat in our theater, ask her to sit tight, and tell her that I’ll be back in a few minutes.
I go to the hallway outside her theater door, and continue the heart-wrenching conversation with my oldest:
“We all have to play the hand we’re dealt, and play it as well as we possibly can.”
“No, I don’t know why you have to deal with all of this.”
“No, I don’t know why none of the medications you have tried in the past nine months has made any difference for you.”
“No, I don’t know when you can come home.”
“No, I don’t know where you would go if this program ends and you still can’t come home.”
I. Don’t. Know.
I was crying on my end of the phone just as much as she was crying on hers. I told her about the blog post I wrote about her and how resilient I think she is, and how much I admire her for that. And we cried some more in sniffling silence.
Then her phone-time was up. With a promise to go talk to one of the counselors right away, she said goodbye.
The second I hung up the phone, a woman approached me with a handful of napkins. She said that she had noticed that I was crying and she figured I had just received some bad news, and handed me the napkins to dry my face. She asked if I was okay.
At that point, there was no holding back and I let it all out, telling her that, no, I had not just received bad news, but that:
It all came pouring out.
She listened quietly. Then she listened some more, until my crying slowed and I ran out of things to say.
She told me how awful that must be. She said she understood that it’s hard to find a good moment to talk about it all, and that it just has to come out sometimes. She comforted me.
Then she told me that she was here at the movies with her young son. Who is autistic. With whom she spends all her time, because he cannot be without her.
She didn’t understand MY difficulties, but she certainly understood difficulty. She understood heartache and treatment and medication and long-term outlooks. By giving me tissues and time, she gave me just enough strength to walk back in and sit with my eight-year-old and watch that movie. She was a little angel to me in that theater.
If I had not been open about my difficulties, I wouldn’t have known hers. I would have deprived myself of the chance to take that bit of support and strength that this Angel-Mom had to spare.
And, I know from experience that helping someone else gives strength to the helper, too. So I hope that, by being vulnerable to her, I gave her a bit of courage to continue to manage her own situation with grace and fortitude.
Through puffy eyes and runny nose, I thanked her profusely, went back into the theater and sat down to watch the movie.
Ten minutes later, Angel-Mom appeared by my shoulder. She gave me a bottle of water. More help. More strength. She was still thinking about me and still wanted to help, bless her. I cried again, just at her kindness, and thanked her again. That water was delicious. I wanted to drink it all – I wanted to respect her offering by finishing it. It was just water, but every sip seemed to have her strength in it, and I needed that strength any way I could get it.
After the movie ended, my youngest and I were leaving the theater. Guess who was there, in the back? Angel-Mom and her son. We introduced our children to each other, shared knowing and grateful mom-glances and said goodbye yet again.
After I took my daughter to the restroom, we were leaving the front of the theater. I looked up, and there was that lovely Angel, hovering in the lobby, waiting for me.
She extended her hand like she wanted to shake mine. I put my hand in hers, and as we shook hands, I felt something in her palm. She looked in my eye and said, “please, just take it. My sister likes to give me these, and I think you might need it.” I was confused, but she insisted, so I took it. She gave me a hug, and we left.
Outside the theater, I looked at what she had given me. I cried again. With relief and comfort and with yet more strength.
It was a tiny, dark green booklet that said on the front, “St. Jude, Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases, Pray for Us.“
Inside, it read,
“O Holy St. Jude,
help me when I feel
hopeless and alone.
Come to my aid in this great need,
and ask God
to assist me in
(here state your request).
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Bless you, Angel-Mom.
I found strength in acknowledging vulnerability.
I found strength in saying the truth.
I found strength in accepting help.
I found an angel in a movie theater.