Tears for a friend

I hear my son laughing, Skyping his friends as they play online together.  He is not yet aware that a girl he went to school with has ended her life, and that her body has been recovered from the park where they once played.  Her close friends found out within minutes of her mother finding the note, texting and calling each other.  The neighborhood found out as we heard and saw the first responders converge on the park by car, firetruck and helicopter, searching for the lost girl.

My husband and I talk about how to break the news.  Should we wait until we have more information?  What if he finds out from someone else?  That is not likely.  He is engrossed in his game, temporarily shut off from the world we consider real, in a different world inhabited by him and his friends, and their electronic allies and enemies.  The teenagers in the real world around us are of minimal interest.  Our teenager is no longer close to that crowd, having left them in middle school for extended stays in the hospital.

Even during the most difficult times, we were grateful that our son’s mental health issues had been discovered while he was young enough to want to return to our home and be with our family, while he still enjoyed our company, while he still trusted us, and before he could learn to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.  The friends he plays with now are from his new school, a school for kids like him, and his isolation from friends from the neighborhood, from our old church, from elementary and middle school, is no longer as painful to him as it once was.

For me, the change was almost unbearable.  The end of his social world was the end of my social world, and I exchanged my work, parent coffees and volunteering for questionnaires, consultations, and waiting rooms.  The camaraderie I had enjoyed with other moms was gone.  No more conferring over those compelling questions, how long to let him play on his Gameboy, how much to spend on a birthday present for a friend, whether or not to require him to exchange valentines with classmates.  The questions were different now, the stakes higher.  Where do you draw the line with aggression?  Zero tolerance for physical violence, sure, but what about threatening posturing?  Yelling?  Sarcasm and disrespect?  How intrusive should you be when they seem down?  How much independence do you give them around taking their medications?

In my new peer group, the common bond is a profound love for our children, alloyed with profound sadness, weariness, and a bent towards self-blaming.  We help one another on the path to a healthier place.  It is still painful for me, but it is a pain I embrace, knowing that while our family is no longer in the social mainstream, my son will have the support he needs to deal with whatever comes his way.

As we talk about how to break the news, I wonder what kind of support he will need.  He may not need any.  After all, he spent months in the hospital with other kids with mental health issues, some of whom tried and failed to end their lives.  I’m sure they talked about it.  During one of our visits, he said he felt bad that an older teen who had been discharged, had had to come back to the unit.  I remember thinking, it was good that his family had access to great mental healthcare for him, and that they had known how acutely he needed it.

I know that later I will have to go in and talk with him about stopping the game and going to bed.  The dread I sometimes feel in advance of a difficult discussion is not there.  Whether or not he goes to bed on time, or at all tonight, seems trivial.  I hear him laughing with his friends.  I think of the girl we knew, and her friends and family down the street, weeping.  I am so sorry for them, and for the first time, I wish that other families could know what we know.

April 23, 2012. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

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