Home > Health, Love > Losing loved ones still here

Losing loved ones still here

Mom watching her sale, in The During

Mom watching her sale, in The During

My mom sifted through Dumpsters and yard sales for treasures she could sell.

She’d have my siblings and I watch her sale whenever she went out searching anew.

I hated having to play cashier. My mom set her prices too high, I argued with her from the time I was nine or ten years old. I was constantly forced to shut down haggling by adults who didn’t seem to understand that I feared my mom’s wrath much more than their disapproval.

“No one will ever buy this at this price!” I’d inform my mom, whether “this” was a dresser, a bed, or a nightstand. “People don’t like your prices.”

“I’m not selling any item to ‘people,’ Deborah. I’m selling this to the person who really wants it.”

Every time, I argued Mom had named too high a price for something.

Every time, it sold.

For every twenty people who exclaimed, “This is outrageous!” before stalking off, there was always the one person whose eyes lit up before she paid Mom’s asking price. “This is just what I’ve been looking for!”

For years I’ve written about my mom’s mental illness as an almost neutral historical fact. I’ve mentioned that enduring it was painful for everyone who loved my mom, while sharing scant details.

I haven’t wanted to revisit those details, the years of gut-wrenching exchanges with a woman who physically looked like my mom but was otherwise no longer her at all.

It’s self-protective to hold these details in the quiet, dark spaces of my heart unreachable by anyone who is not my sibling.

Unfortunately, my withholding these details is destructive in at least two important ways.

First, it makes the true impacts of my past on my present unknowable to people who love me. When they speak easily about my mom’s mental illness as if it’s the footnote I’ve made it out to be here, I chafe. I chafe even as I understand they can only know what I allow them to know. If they see this as a footnote, especially en masse, it is–in part–because I have painted it that way. When I push them away for making demands on my heart instead of accepting what I can give when I am comfortable enough to give it, expecting the same and nothing more from them, I’d like them to know it’s not because I am heartless. It’s because my heart bleeds for everyone hurting everywhere, a bleeding-out that must be slowed so my heart has any blood left over to pump.

Secondly, and even more devastatingly, my glossing-over paints a too-pretty picture for people right now struggling to cope with a loved one’s severe mental illness. Mine is a silence that could be a support; a void that could be part of the padding beneath such people, providing them a little comfort in the ongoing loss of someone still outwardly here.

My words could be part of what buffers from the void: I know it feels like you are in free fall, but I will try to catch you. I will do this by showing you what I know of free fall and floating uplifted by so many more than six hands.

I must say more, and say it more plainly.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read 90,000 words I wrote about my mom over the course of two decades. I compiled these words from all my journals after my mom died of cancer in 2010.

Many of the words touch on my mom’s mental illness. I can’t–and needn’t–share them all here, but I’ll share many excerpts over the next many days. I’ll write from today mostly to give clarifying context for the words I wrote before.

Anything I write today would merely, unhelpfully echo the words I shouted raw and aching then. Now would distill then.

There’ll be at least five parts:

  1. The Before: I understood my mom was mentally ill in 2003, but the signs were there at least a decade before.
  2. The During: After an explosive summer, I understood my mom was mentally ill, but could do woefully little to improve anything for her.
  3. The End: My mom was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, leaving me facing the knowledge the happy The After I’d envisioned would never come to be.
  4. The Walls Around My Heart: These walls aren’t meant to keep you out. They’re meant to hold me in.
  5. Seven Dollars: All these years were devastating, but seven dollars–and more–remind me there was more than devastation. There will be more deposits by other hands.

These words I share won’t be ones everybody will buy.

“But I want everyone to buy them!” my younger self protests. “Sharing so much means too much time and energy and heartache for people to take any of it in! The price is too high!”

I think of my mom’s garage sale wisdom and know that’s not right. I don’t want or need everyone to buy what I’m selling. I’m selling to the people who’ve been driving around looking for what I’m offering, ready to pay asking price if only they could find it.

For them–for you–it may be that the price paid is less valuable than what’s carried away:

the knowledge that you are not alone,

and that you are–

and will remain–


loved text

next: The Before: Our Evil Neighbors

  1. September 8, 2015 at 7:33 pm

    Reblogged this on The Militant Negro™.

  2. September 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I can’t wait to read about it. Thank you for creating a glimpse through a window in the walls to hear some (more) of your story.

  3. September 8, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    Perhaps, just maybe it will also be knowing you are deeply loved as well.

    • September 8, 2015 at 9:13 pm

      I feel that so deeply, and yet, all the same …

      1) It is good to hear it, and

      2) It is good to see I understood it, even then:

      11 February 2010

      Dear friends, the biggest heartbreak of my life is coming, and there is nothing I can do to change that. All I can do as I face this painful eventuality and the growing knot in my stomach is know that you will help carry me through. Thank you.

      • September 8, 2015 at 9:40 pm

        This is the last thing I read before shutting down tonight, blurry eyed with tears. ❤

  4. September 8, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    Thank you.
    As a charter member of the bleeding hearts club this spoke very loudly to me.
    I hurt with and for you (and all the others of us who have faced this agony).
    And I am also a member of the ‘gloss over it’ club. Despite knowing that things kept in the dark are misunderstood and too often grow…

    • September 9, 2015 at 3:54 am

      things kept in the dark are misunderstood and too often grow…
      They really do, don’t they? It’s uncomfortable throwing open the lid and letting the sun shine all its light down on those things … at first. But after a time, the discomfort fades and the end result is much kinder than the having let it keep growing into something much bigger and more all-consuming than it might otherwise have been. Big, big hugs & thanks for your wisdom and compassion.

  5. September 8, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Reblogged this on American Soustannie and commented:
    Deb is one of my favorite bloggers… for lots of reasons. One big reason is her uncompromising honesty. She writes with humor and compassion, but never pretties up the raw truth. As she shares this story, I’d encourage you to follow along – and please, if you know people who are coping (or not) with loved ones suffering from mental illness, pass this along to them too.

  6. September 8, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I shared on Facebook. I would share on my wordpress account, but I got all my followers from you. I love you and am glad/proud of you for sharing this and opening yourself up to others.

    • September 9, 2015 at 3:56 am

      It’s astonishing to me how much seemed totally normal to me that now makes me go, “How could I ever have not understood?”

      Thank you, Madeline. I love you. ♥

  7. September 8, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    “Losing loved ones still here” this title says it all. I started reading your words, and then I went into a fit of tears. I have no words to offer up here, but 1). I understand the clarity that is required to deal with that kind of pain. 2). I also understand the need for the distancing, and about heart walls.
    I’m curling up just thinking about hitting send, but I’m going to do it anyway.
    Thank you for your bravery. I don’t know all of your story. I read what I could manage to read. Then I re-read this part, “When I push them away for making demands on my heart instead of accepting what I can give when I am comfortable enough to give it, expecting the same and nothing more from them, I’d like them to know it’s not because I am heartless. It’s because my heart bleeds for everyone hurting everywhere, a bleeding-out that must be slowed so my heart has any blood left over to pump,” and feel the pain in my own heart. in my own heart.

    • September 9, 2015 at 3:58 am

      I am so glad you did, Ka. Thank you. I can’t seem to find just the right words after a couple of days of unsuccessfully chasing sleep (wonder why?!), but your words shine a loving light upon me, and I feel it. ♥

  8. September 9, 2015 at 3:48 am

    You’ve really drawn me into your world here.

  9. NotAPunkRocker
    September 9, 2015 at 7:03 am

    It becomes almost like a divorce, that you know the end has happened before it is official. What that “end” is, in terms of them not being here anymore.

    My story is similar to yours, right down to losing them to cancer, so this definitely spoke to me.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:02 pm

      It was so hard going through some of those entries and seeing how I cycled between hope and despair. And yet … it was easier somehow, this time, seeing everything that’s come to pass since. (I surely feel stronger than I did as I sobbed through compiling the entries.)

  10. September 9, 2015 at 7:24 am

    How brave of you to open these rooms of your life for public inspection.

    Would it surprise you to know that your ambivalence about your mom has been pretty clear, at least for the years I have known you? Your love for her shines crystal clear through so many posts, and I’m not trying to take anything away from that very real love. But there has also been a quality, a hint, of the loving daughter speaking loud praise in an attempt to shout-down the small voice of the daughter’s bitter resentment of having to suffer so much pain and loss. I think you started missing your mom long before she died.

    I was sitting with a friend last week who is dying of cancer. Her mom, 87 and spry, was there for a while and then left.

    I’m no psychologist, but it does seem that the mother/child relationship is the single most complex and life-affecting relationship we ever have.

    • September 9, 2015 at 7:26 am

      I didn’t finish the part about my friend. Her mom was reminding her of something and they disagreed about some minor point. She barely had the strength to talk, but after her mom left she weakly said, “My mom is driving me crazy.” We had a laugh, but even at the end of life, witness that power.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:04 pm

      Let me be clear: I’m not ambivalent about my mom. I love her fiercely, and I am fiercely grateful she held on as long as she did.

      But you are right that there are silences and dark places between my words of love. Dealing with mental illness–looking into the face of someone you loved deeply and seeing nothing left of them, year after year after year–that takes a toll, that missing what and who once was.

      • September 9, 2015 at 6:49 pm

        I can’t imagine how tough that must be, Deb.

        • September 9, 2015 at 7:15 pm

          Honestly … reading the journal entries I wrote as a teen, I’m not sure which of us had it worse.:0

  11. September 9, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Life’s suffering has given you great wisdom to share.

  12. September 9, 2015 at 9:53 am

    I’ve always found you incredibly brave and inspiring for what you write about and share. It’s definitely inspired me to try to do the same but I’m like you in the way that I have walls everywhere to protect myself. Even from an anonymous place I feel like it’s difficult to share and put myself out there. I really do appreciate you sharing your story with us because I’ve had family members with mental disorders and their regression is not pretty and very painful. There aren’t many who share their stories and so you get like what you said… a foot-noted version that doesn’t touch what you, and they, have gone through. I’m honored to be able to read your story and I wish I had kept my journals of my experiences when they happened.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Thank you so much, Sarah.

      There aren’t many who share their stories and so you get like what you said… a foot-noted version that doesn’t touch what you, and they, have gone through.

      So very, very true. I’d occasionally read portions of stories that touched me and made me go, “We are not the first to have experienced this!” Usually I felt like we were all lost. We were lost together, sure, but lost all the same.

      I talked with my youngest sister today. She shared a couple of times she hid from Mom out in public, and how people didn’t get it. My heart broke. So hard to experience the first loss … and then to have it compounded with people casting judgment, with no idea how hard it is just to keep it together.

  13. cardamone5
    September 9, 2015 at 10:03 am


    I am reading this on my phone so maybe I missed something, but whar is $7? Your book? If so, I love how you frame the price by references your experience with garage sale customers. It makes perfect sense: those in need of your experience and wisdom will pay it. It speaks to a similar quandry I am considering: will women going thru postpartem depression or their loved ones benefit from my story, or does the expeience need to be lived to be learned?


    • September 9, 2015 at 10:16 am

      From all my entries, there was a full entry that stood out as needing to be posted by itself. It’s about $7 unexpected in my bank account once, and how much more than money those dollars meant. ♡

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:09 pm

      Following up on another point: I think those words of wisdom help. They helped me last year, when I struggled with post partum depression. If they’re words you’re moved to share, I’d urge you to share them. One person whose journey is eased by your light is one marvelous thing.

  14. September 9, 2015 at 11:03 am

    I don’t have the right words to express what I am feeling currently.
    I am only twenty one and I see so much of future myself in this post of yours. I know I have no experience at all in life and a lot more of what you wanted to convey – I wouldn’t have understood until I come of age.
    I do build walls to hold me in and I do feel hurt when people do certain things… But I have no one else to blame but me, because I never told those people enough.
    I guess… Decades later, maybe I’ll be experiencing what you are now – And I would want to come back to your blog and read this very post and tell myself “Its okay to feel this way, you are not alone.”
    Thank You.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      It really is okay–all of it.

      I was talking with my youngest sister today about how guilty she still feels about some of the times she had to stand apart from Mom. I told her that’s what she had to do. When someone is scrabbling in to take more of you than you can give, it’s important to have those boundaries to protect yourself–to keep some of that goodness for yourself, so you can keep going. That’s so even if the would-be taker is someone you love deeply.

      For most people, most the time, I feel we’re doing the best we can with what we have. There’s no good in feeling guilty for protecting yourself in times of tumult. There’s just the one you, y’know? That’s worth protecting.

      • September 10, 2015 at 9:31 pm

        Thank you so much for the Reply 😊
        That’s the sort of Advice I needed.

  15. September 9, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    It is so hard to let people know the damage.

    • September 9, 2015 at 6:14 pm

      It really, really is. It’s hard even with my husband, and he’s both mind- and heart-wise. This is in part for him, so he can see the not-footnote version of why my siblings and I are who we are, and why that’s an extraordinary thing.

  16. September 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

    “Mine is a silence that could be a support”…..YES….I have found as I’ve gotten older that’ “silence is not necessarily GOLDEN” and that sharing one’s vulnerability is actually helpful and validating to people…… ❤

    • September 18, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      YES. I used to loathe saying anything until I had absolutely perfect understanding (or what seemed like it, through human eyes), but now … now I see the goodness in celebrating the vulnerability in not-knowing, and the open acknowledgment of that. ♥

  17. September 16, 2015 at 10:31 am

    You’re brave is showing. This is a powerful journey.Thank you for sharing.

  1. September 9, 2015 at 5:59 pm
  2. September 11, 2015 at 4:16 pm
  3. September 12, 2015 at 5:00 pm
  4. September 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm
  5. September 14, 2015 at 6:10 am
  6. September 14, 2015 at 11:59 am
  7. September 15, 2015 at 4:50 am
  8. September 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm
  9. September 20, 2015 at 4:58 pm
  10. September 22, 2015 at 8:26 pm
  11. December 26, 2015 at 2:13 am
  12. February 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

Please weigh in--kindly!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: