A Mother in Sheep’s Clothing

Old woman with sheep

“Mom, I need you to do something for me.”

I haven’t spoken with my son in almost two years. Since he abruptly cut off communication, prompting the Berkeley street search that begat this blog.

Actually that’s not entirely true. I have managed to slip in a couple of unwelcome phone calls when he was hospitalized after being hit by a car. Unsuspecting weekend-shift nurses who didn’t know better than to transfer the call through to his room where he was presumably pinioned and tractioned. A sitting duck.

Those calls all began with a long pause. Sean, I’m imagining, getting his mind around the person at the other end of the line. Then his strange, new schizophrenic voice. Robotic: “I’ve asked you not to call,” or “I don’t know who you are and I want you to stop harassing me.” Click.

Each time, I’ve whispered my desperate message quickly before he hangs up: “Honeyiloveyousomuch.”

These calls are for me, let’s face it. I am told he hates me, that he delusionally believes I am a child abuser and that he holds me responsible for all the negativity that has occurred in his life since he hit the streets and before. He refers to me by my first name only. My declaration of love isn’t exactly a balm for schizophrenia.

But I can’t help wanting to get the message through. I have to believe that a core of him still needs my love. Like all mothers, my tragic flaw is believing that my love can protect and bring comfort to my child. Against all odds.  When it’s probably me who needs his love.

Once I got a nurse to deliver a message to him that only he and I would understand, hoping against reason–or is that unreason?–that it would prove to him who I am. The message was part of a comical dialectic we used to have when I would sometime guess his thoughts, anticipate an action, or know just the right meal to make.

He would say, “How did you know that?” And I would ruffle his hair (before he got too bristly to touch) and counter: “Have I not been your mother for a thousand years?!” We chuckled over the idea of us tumbling through time together mothersonmotherson. Many incarnations, if you believe in such things.

But Sean’s familial enmity has been resolute since he cracked. And it’s not only reserved for me: Once, when his father called the hospital, he became so agitated they had to sedate him. He would instantly throw away any food or clothing his family sent to the shelter where he lived for several months.

It seemed hopeless, but then I had this brilliant idea. Grandma. They have always had a rapport, my mother and Sean. Not built on much of a personal relationship–my mother is much too awkward around children, especially boys–but they share a deep, common interest in metaphysical matters, Native American spirituality, art, mysticism.

My mother is an art therapist and over the years she has worked with Sean on drawings, writing poetry, working with symbol figures in sand tray therapy, and painting mandalas: “the great round,” as she would say.

So I found myself seated at her breakfast table a couple of weekends ago, just after Sean was conserved. My heart ached. The birds were beautifully, feverishly stabbing at the bird feeder. She crunched her gluten-free bagel. And I suddenly blurted out,”I need your help Mom, I need you to do something for me.” It took her almost a minute to figure out that I wasn’t reading the newspaper or having a random conversation, but was sitting there crying hard.

I asked her to send in her handwriting a short note from me to Sean in the psychiatric hospital. She would write what I dictated and sign it, Grandma. Hidden in her shaky hand, I prayed my message of love would have a chance of getting through. I feverishly stood over her supervising every word she wrote. I don’t know how she endured me except that her own mother’s heart hurts so hard for me she was probably glad to have something to do.

Here’s what (I)she wrote — and I even had her misspell his name, as she does:

Don’t give up hope, dear Shawn. Things will get better. You will find your own path again. There are many angels–in heaven and on earth–who are watching over you. I am in awe of your strength and courage. Love and hug, Grandma

The hug part was hers.

Whether Sean read it and was comforted, or read it at all, is just one more drop in the sea of not-knowing where my motherhood now floats. But it floats. And maybe my hidden message to him is really my mother’s message to me.

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2 thoughts on “A Mother in Sheep’s Clothing

  1. I too am missing my son…. He is my first born. We have grown increasingly apart over the past 5 years, with bouts of severe depression and Aspergers to thank for his increased isolation, limited coping skills and paranoia. He decent into homelessness started way before he physically left home. It has been a long desperate struggle between his dependence and independence. About two months ago, his step father and I must have crossed a major line in his eyes in terms of rules and getting him to abide. At 20 years old, he acts and reacts more on the level of a 15 or 16 year old. Highly intelligent, but is lacking in areas that would keep him afloat in mainstream neurotypical society. After our last stand with him, he chose to move in with his grandfather and learn some technology skills. Unfortunately his interests waned and he turned back to drawing, video games and the safe haven of his mind….

    My father is a straight shooter if you will. Not one to show much empathy and certainly not one to filter out things he says that may be hurtful to the listener. In my heart of hearts, I believe my retired military father may have broken his spirit without direct intention. I believe my father became increasingly frustrated with my son’s reclusive behavior and lack of communication. Although my son left our home on the wrong foot, he did leave with hope in his heart.

    When I tell you my son emerged from my father’s house like a man who hasn’t eaten or showered in days, I wouldn’t be lying. His hair hadn’t been cut in what looked like months.

    My father pressed him to leave his home once school let out (yes he fell behind academically) and he graduated, but failed to give him a heads up a day or so prior to my father’s anticipated change to my son’s scenery. I wasn’t given a heads up either. Just a text stating that he was to leave and would be returning to our home.

    We’ll my son completely shutdown after leaving his grandfather’s home. My mother picked my son up along with his belongings and headed to me. Well once he heard that he would be coming here, he got out of my mother’s car and walked away. It ha been 3 days and no one has seen or heard from him.

    I have prayed and left things in God’s hands. My desire is for the safety and wellbeing of my son. Any other ambitions of mine have become unworthy of an ounce of thought. It is my son’s life, yet I desire for him to live it happily and abundantly. That is my desire…. that is my prayer wherever he wishes to be.

    • Mental illness is so baffling, especially with highly intelligent children. Most of the men in his life tried to get my son to “buck up,” without realizing how much energy it took just for him to wake up and get through each day, let alone live up to their expectations of normalcy. But I also had to learn the hard way to just accept my son, however he was. I will pray for your son’s return and for some peace of mind for you. It’s always helped me to invoke Archangel Michael–to bring out the big guns and say Help! Help! Help!

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