Cats and Rats and Mother’s Day Wishes

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It happens every few years that my son’s birthday and Mother’s Day coincide. That overlap is recorded in his baby’s book on the day he was born, along with some pressed lilacs a neighbor brought me from her garden.

Today, I find myself taking my emotional temperature all morning as friends and family send Mother’s Day greetings tinged with their pity and love. At the psych hospital that has been Sean’s home for the past year, birthdays are celebrated en masse once a month. So I have no idea when his public acknowledgement will come around or if it even matters to him (I doubt it; he was never big on birthdays). But I’m wondering if he is tending his birthday carefully, privately, as I am my motherhood. And if we share a secret that way, just for today.

Here’s what I’m noticing: I woke to an open bedroom window with a lovely light spring rain outside and new leaves soughing on a distant tree. The smell of bacon actually wafted up from somewhere–a beautiful, smoky cloud. My cat son, Ruben, is curled on the bed beside me where he’s been since last night when I traumatized him with what was supposed to be a cute remote-controlled mouse, but which turned out to be a huge, black terrifying rat from China that bowled him over in the hallway.

Later today I will call the nurse’s station and ask someone to wish Sean a happy birthday from me–since he won’t take my calls. Okay. No longer a gutting. I will hope he at least took the money from the card I sent before tossing it, unread. Practicality. I will envision his delight when he gets the book he requested–Oliver Twist–which is on its way, an incredible little edition with gilded page edges and original engravings that fits perfectly in your hands. Call this hope.

I used to despise it when people who had been on this path longer than I told me it would get easier, even if the situation didn’t improve. But even I have to concede my Mother’s Day thermometer does read something less than a fever. Sean is safe for now so I can afford to wake up a little to my own life, even if I’m not crazy about living it this way. He will always be my mercury, but I am finding ways to cool myself down.

 

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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.

 

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