Taking Refuge in the Appearance of Life

img_4194The snow is only fluttering now. It is large as goose down and I can follow a single flake from its appearance outside my attic window as it tumbles down to the slushy street. Cat asleep on daybed. Knitting project put aside momentarily. Within this small room, my study, a picture of contentment.

For this moment I take refuge in the appearance of life. Trying to believe that I, the inhabitant of this picture, am really here, am really a human being on earth. Because my soul knows better–it understands that I am a ghost. As is my son Sean in his far-off psych hospital bed who is still puzzling over the wrinkled reality that shot him to another planet.

My life tore on the day that my son in his paranoid delusion denied me as his mother, but it didn’t disappear. I had Sean to fight for and I did so ferociously. But time is time, and when wrestling with mental illness time slows down. My fight has slowed, my hope subdued. Each milestone I yearn toward opens up new pain.

A year ago, I fought to get Sean into a shelter only to have him refuse treatment and end up on the streets worse than before. I sent his father to find him and what he discovered was so wretched it nearly cost my son’s life. The LPS state conservatorship that we won was miraculous, and yet, the ensuing months of locked care have yielded few results. Sean lives a drugged, lonely life in a suspended state of what I can only imagine is merely adequate psychiatric warehousing. While it is so, and while he refuses all contact with me, I can never come home to myself. Part of me will always be whisped around him, embodying his disjointed sense of self with my own. It’s exhausting.

In two weeks I am planning to fly out to visit his treatment team and to try to make contact with Sean. My first time in California since my intervention two and half years ago. I fear for myself, what it will do to me to come face-to-face with his shabby surroundings and the inadequacies of this care. I remind myself there are good people there: His conservator is a beautifully attuned woman with a solid spiritual wellspring; his program manager downloads music for him and talks art and books. A man from FERC, an incredible Bay-area resource for families dealing with a loved one with mental illness, will meet me for support.

And Sean has lucky invisibles: The person who helps him wash. And brings him pills. And tries to lure him to attend groups. And serves him meals. And delivers the books I send under the guise of “county donations.” I pray they are kind to him.

I pray I will find kindness too.




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.

Preparing to search

CandlesHow do you prepare to hit the streets of an unknown city in search of a lost son? I have taken care of the practical aspects–rented another Airbnb flop (this one close off Telegraph Ave. where the panhandlers purportedly roost), rented a car, developed a Missing flyer to post on poles and bulletin boards, called the police for advice, printed off homeless resource centers and soup kitchens.

The psychic preparation is lest distinct. Once I decided I actually was going to fly to Berkeley to try to locate Sean, I noticed a new spaciness in my approach to life. It’s as if my mental CPU is very busy running some background software, leaving little free space for running the rest of my thinking. I’m probably dreaming deeply, epically, because I wake up groggy. But I am oddly calm. I wonder if this is the calmness before the storm or if I actually have entered a realm of blessed serenity.

I have a couple of mentors in my life who have been incredibly kind and smart in helping me think this through. Both have asked me to call them daily while I’m out there, which will be a good touchstone. One friend made what I thought was a brilliant point: “Make sure to make some happy memories when you’re out there. Do something wonderful for yourself.” That had not occurred to me, and I now see it as essential for keeping me from sliding into a manic mode or donning a martyr’s robe–both are habits I’m working hard to shed.

I recently wrote two prayers: one for my son, one for me. Tomorrow, I will go to a nearby chapel to light candles and dedicate those prayers. This is the deepest preparation I can invent, because whatever I may find on those streets–son, no son, drug-addicted son, loving son, angry son, mentally ill son, other peoples’ sons–I will need God’s soft mercy.

Here is my prayer for myself:

From all the souls,
in all the stars
across universes known and imagined,
I find my own self.
May I raise my voice to sing out the Lord.
May I use my hands to lift up others.
God, help me keen my mind to the truth
and soften my heart toward my humanness.
Lighten my mother’s pain,
and erase the marks of my mistakes.
Help me to trust this eternal bond:
the mother
the child
the universe unfolding
As it was, as it always shall be.
                — SF