I baste the bird, liquid butter with bits of garlic poured out over the bulging breasts of our Thanksgiving turkey. My eyes burn as I go about the task, gritty from lack of sleep after sitting in the psych hold of the local ER all night, but more so still on fire after so many torrents of tears spent. Rivers of tears over driving to the hospital with my child, but leaving without them.
Thanksgiving, a time to reflect on the gifts we have been given. Opting to celebrate the holiday early since I’d spend the actual day at work, I had planned to put the turkey in the oven at 2am. But it turns out that at 2am I was tossing and turning in a rigid recliner pulled alongside my son’s stretcher, wrapping a blanket tighter around my ears to cushion the sound of nurses’ laughter or the cursing screams from the head-banging, combative neighbor next door.
How many times have I cried to the Lord, “am I doing the right thing? Give me wisdom!”
I slide the buttery bird back in its heated cave. We have to eat, right?! The planned dinner, with side dishes still sitting at the ready in the refrigerator, prepped the preceding night, before I knew what lay ahead. What were we actually celebrating, anyway?!
In the lone room of the child and adolescent inpatient wing, sitting in an abnormally large, yet childlike chair, I wept into my wrinkled sweatshirt while they searched my baby in another room for hidden objects that could cause self harm. I cried out to my inner thoughts, “please tell me I’m doing the right thing!”
Today could have started very differently, it occurred then to me. I wasn’t simply thinking about an appetizing spread ready on the dining room table by noon. I was thinking of trying to wake my son to eat, but instead of being greeted by his sleepy grumbles, being confronted with his cold, blue flesh. That is how today could have started.
Instead… instead, the Holy Spirit had prompted him to come to me.
“I have to tell you something,” he said, after sitting criss-cross, apple sauce on the bathroom floor, “but I’m afraid it will make you sad.”
“You can tell me anything!”
Thankfully, he did.
What a week it’s been. Last week brought frightening messages while I worked, of feeling disconnected and unreal, a stranger in another’s body. Walking out in the cold rain just to feel something, anything.
Two nights ago brought self-harm, six horizontal cuts on his left, inner calf, driven to “scratch a nagging itch” that refused to abate until the damage was done.
I’ve always considered us blessed that Noah feels so comfortable coming to us about everything, but even I was surprised by the extremely detailed plan of suicide he had concocted, and shared with me in the bright lights of our bathroom last night. He had planned on waiting until we were all asleep, ensuring we would be none the wiser until finding his body this morning.
I pull the browning bird out at determined intervals, coating its skin with flavorful moisture. What do I have to be thankful for?! As I prepare a meal of Thanksgiving, sans my firstborn present. He is not here, but he will be.
He is not at the table today, but he will be for all the tomorrows. My baby is alive, and after facing the plan to end Thanksgivings forever, and Christmases to boot, he decided to stay. To reach out for a lifeline, to feel better, to cling to that thread of hope that must still be there somewhere. I have a lot to be thankful for.
It didn’t feel that way as I left him at the hospital. He cried, “don’t leave me,” and I probably would not have had the staff not ushered me away. Gosh, y’all, this is hard. It’s hard to spend a year trying to pull your baby out of darkness, and finally realizing you cannot do it alone. It’s hard trying to do your best, to make the right decisions, to follow the advice of the many mental healthcare professionals invested in your child’s future, yet still feeling like a piece of your innermost being is lost in a dark forest of sadness and dismay. Can I leave breadcrumbs to bring him back? Is there a way back to the happy child I remember? Can I feel peace amidst so much turmoil? Maybe that’s the real breadcrumbs in the stuffing we will eat. Peace knowing that we are not alone.
In fact, that is the last thing I whispered to Noah before I had to leave, “you are not alone.”