Tear-Stained Words of a Mother

One of my dearest friends wrote an entry in her journal last weekend and was vulnerable enough to share it with me. Written in the wake of the death of a young man she loved, it is raw and honest. While one mother grieves the loss of her son, my friend faces it with the knowledge that they could have easily exchanged places.  She could be the one whose son is gone from this life.

Hear her tear-stained words.

If my son had any other illness there would be no shame or stigma attached to it. There would be support from friends, help from the medical profession, and hopeful treatments. People would understand. They would not be afraid to ask about him and they wouldn’t have “that” look in their eyes when they did – the look that says, “I’m sorry your son isn’t ‘normal’…that he is flawed, different, abnormal…somehow less than.”

When a family member has cancer, people surround you with love, they bring meals, send flowers, set up websites to assist you; they do anything to show they care. When your family member suffers from mental illness, no one brings you meals, or flowers or sets up websites to support you; they just stop talking about your son and they never mention his illness.  They simply try to avoid the subject as if it isn’t  the center of your life. This makes you feel like someone has done something VERY wrong, something we all need to be very ashamed of.  Trust me, I don’t need others to make me feel shame; I carry enough shame all on my own. This awful shame tells me that somehow I must have failed as a mother to raise a son who wants to take his own life.

This shame is not about him. I couldn’t be more proud of the way he fights every day to hold onto life even when there is no joy or hope on the horizon. I am always proud of who he is in spite of this terrible disease that wants to steal his joy, his hope his very being.  He faces each day with a personal strength that few could muster, knowing it will be just as painful as the last and the next.  It takes a strong and courageous man to keep fighting this debilitating disease, but he does.

My shame is from the fact that our world, our society, our schools, and yes, even our churches don’t  realize that my son suffers from a disease.   They see it as a character flaw or a personal weakness and they treat him far differently than they would if he had any other life threatening illness.

This shame, this heartache, this very heavy burden is more than one person or even one family can carry alone.   But the truth is we end up carrying it alone, because no one really knows how to help. They don’t know what to say, or how to talk about your life, and even when they do, it is with a sense of pity or fear,“Poor mother whose son wants to kill himself.”  Yes! It is a poor mother, but it’s a mother who doesn’t want to carry this heavy burden alone!

Don’t look at me on Mother’s Day with pity. Hug me and tell me that I’m a good mom who loves her son, no matter what illness he has.  Don’t speak in hushed tones behind my back…that you are worried about me…instead tell me that you love me, you love my son and that you will be my friend no matter what happens to us because of his illness. Don’t let my life scare you away.  Don’t act like this could never happen to you because it could. Then you would be alone and need me – and I will be there because I know the pain of being alone.

Question:  How do we bear one another’s burdens when there is so much shame attached to the challenges some of our children face?

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

25 Comments

  1. Heather Snyder
    April 17, 2013

    If only the church in a America could grab on to this. If only they could see past statics and fear and love people deeply for who they are. I crave this for my own kids and for others who are hurting in deep, but shamed ways.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      So true, Heather. I think we need some future posts about this.

      Reply
  2. Donna
    April 17, 2013

    So beautifully put down. Her reminder is just what we as a church need to hear, about mental illness and I was thinking invisible special needs too. Rise up oh church of God and be His hands and feet!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      Amen, Donna.

      Reply
  3. Tina Gibbs
    April 17, 2013

    Oh thank you for putting into words so beautifully what I have thought for so long! My son is bi-polar and I am on staff at a church. The struggle from day to day makes him braver in my eyes than any struggle I can imagine. Thank you

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      My friend has a way with words. Thank you for encouraging her.

      Reply
  4. Kirsten Miller
    April 17, 2013

    I really appreciate your friend's words. It helps me grow in compassion and wisdom, and be a better Christian sister to hear about her life. I'm in a ladies' book group that is reading a book called "Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness." It's by Edward T. Welch, who is a psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. His father suffered from severe depression. It is a wonderful book about depression, but it really applies to deep suffering from any cause. He brings out the riches of the Gospel and the hope and healing we have in Christ when we are suffering. It is the most tender and compassionate book I have ever read. It offers guidance to suffering people and those who love them. I'm so glad I've read this book. We need to look for the suffering people in our lives and encourage them and value them for the strength they have and the wisdom they have gained from their suffering that blesses the Body of Christ.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      Kristen, I've heard of the book, but haven't read it. I believe he also has a book on shame that I would like to read. Thanks for the recommendation.

      Reply
  5. Kelly
    April 17, 2013

    Lisa thank you for sharing I have a son dealing with addiction and this could be our story also. I wish that everyone that knows us could read this. Thank you for reminding me I am not a bad mom and my son is loved despite his choices and struggles.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      I'm so glad you were helped and blessed by this post. Thank you for sharing with us.

      Reply
  6. Tricia
    April 17, 2013

    We show up, we cry together, we laugh together, we withhold all judgment.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      I agree, Tricia. Thank you.

      Reply
  7. Angela
    April 17, 2013

    Very well wrote!! I have faced having a daughter suffering from a well known disease, cancer, and I also have family members with mental disease (depression) and the difference is such a vast difference. The support is vastly different. It has helped me to judge less what I see on the outside and to have more empathy even if I don't have the understanding.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      Angela, I thank you for leaving this comment. It means a lot to me.

      Reply
  8. SleepyKnitter
    April 17, 2013

    Such a beautiful, powerful, heart-breaking post. Thank you for sharing your friend’s writing and helping us to be more aware. This may be my own family’s story one day. We have one child, possibly two, who have this risk in their future. I confess I am afraid of this future but am looking to God for strength for that time if it comes. Reading other people’s stories is a strength of its own, in a way, that I like to think is a gift from God through that person’s generosity (or desperation) in sharing.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2013

      She is generous for sharing this with us. She'll appreciate hearing this from you.

      Reply
  9. kathy Gardner
    April 17, 2013

    Thank you friend for being so honest and vulnerable about the loneliness that affects families dealing with mental health issues. It is easier to understand when the world turns away, but when the church family lets you, down, it is devastating. We often have messy lives that make other people uncomfortable or afraid. Any ideas on how we can educate Pastors and Youth leaders on this deeply personal subject?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 18, 2013

      Kathy, that is such a good question. Let me talk with my friend and see if she will write a follow-up piece about that.

      Reply
  10. Alicia
    April 18, 2013

    I would also like to thank your friend for her bravery in sharing. This is my story also. My adult daughter suffers from depression, addiction and was traumatically wounded in a car accident three years ago. She has had nineteen surgeries and trips to the trauma center in three years. My heart thumps as I write this. I have felt alone. Your blog has shown me that kind, decent, loving people exist in the world. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 18, 2013

      You are not alone, Alicia, and I'm glad my friend's post helped you to know that more fully. Thank you for writing.

      Reply
  11. Bridget
    April 19, 2013

    Our son committed suicide nearly 6 years ago. And even though he is now gone from the pain of this life, there are still people who judge, won't talk to us, and find ways to blame. Your friend's comments are so spot on — our son was tortured in an orphanage, faced abandonment, and still chose to live every day with a smile and fight the demons that would eventually take him from this earthly life. My heart breaks for your friend and for her friends and family who instead of embracing her, have turned away out of their own discomfort and judgement. HUGS!! PRAYERS!! She is NOT alone even though the path she is on feels empty.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 19, 2013

      Bridget, I am so sorry for the loss of your son and the pain you still carry. Thank you for your loving comment for my friend. I'll make sure she sees it.

      Reply
  12. Nathan
    April 20, 2013

    Of course, the catechism/”textbook” answer that anyone seeking help expects to be told is that the cross removes all shame. Which is all well and good, and true. But you can’t just throw head knowledge at people in need of help and expect it to stick. What good is it to have truisms regurgitated at you if the body of Christ around you is not serving its function? There is knowing, and then there is *knowing*. The second kind of knowledge can only be transmitted to another through efficacious love, and we’re supposed to be instruments on this earth through which that love is shown.

    Sometimes we as a race have a tendency to overcomplicate things…I know I do, regularly. How do we bear one another’s burdens when there is so much shame attached? How about by simply doing just that? How about by not letting the shame of the other person get in the way of your ability to help bear their burden? How about by inviting them into your life instead of keeping them at an arm’s length, which only causes their shame to be that much greater? Vulnerability is as much about you letting someone who might be troubled into your life as it is about you relating your own troubles and shortcomings to others.

    In case it isn’t obvious, I’m preaching as much to myself as I am to anybody else who might happen to read this. We all have blindspots, and are probably all guilty to some extent of amplifying someone else’s shame, even without realizing it.

    Reply
  13. Jennifer Williams
    April 17, 2015

    this resurfaced today by some random app I just started using. God's timing is always perfect no doubt. Praying for you today.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 17, 2015

      My friend who wrote it will be blessed to know that it helped you now, all these months later. Thanks for praying and for taking a moment to comment.

      Reply

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