I’ve got a story to tell, one that I believe you’ll find compelling. It’s about my most difficult conversation. Please join me.
The Situations: The Son and The Father
Let me describe the situation to you. You’re fourteen years old. You’ve just learned that your mum’s in hospital. She’s in crisis, although you don’t know what that means. You’re with your dad, but it’s your mum who’s sick. Your thoughts are about her. You feel alone and afraid. For just a moment, I ask that you place yourself in the shoes of that fourteen-year-old.
Please keep that sense of fear and loneliness foremost in your mind. Remember, your mum is sick and you don’t know why. She’s in hospital.
Now, let’s add another situation. You’re severely depressed, feeling irretrievably broken. You’ve just attempted to take your own life. You’re no longer in the hospital. Most noteworthy, you’ve no medication, no doctor, no psychiatrist, no counsellor, no job, and no sense of what the future will bring.
Consider how broken you must feel.
On September 7, 2014, those two situations, those two pictures, came crashing together. Let me explain.
On September 3, 2014, I called my son to tell him I was sick. I explained that I was staying with his grandparents and that I’d just been released from the hospital. At no point did I say why I was hospitalized. I wasn’t ready to have that conversation.
A couple of days later I received a telephone call from his school. He was ill and had to come home. Because they were unable to reach my ex-wife, they called me. I was driven to my son’s school. The plan was for him to stay with me until I spoke to my ex. When we spoke we agreed that since it was the weekend he could stay with me until the 7th.
I thought myself lucky. He was ill enough that he spent most of the weekend in bed and I spent it tending to his needs. Better yet, he was sufficiently ill that the reason for my recent hospitalization never came up. It could wait until he was better. Or until I was ready to have that conversation.
At the end of the weekend, I took my son home. Everything fell apart. There was no-one home. There was a note for my son. It said that his mum was in crisis and had checked herself into the hospital.
Remember the circumstances that existed at this time. A fourteen-year-old has just learned that his mum is in hospital, in crisis, whatever that means. His dad was recently in the hospital for an undisclosed illness. The fourteen-year-old is ill himself. There’s no one home to comfort him or explain to him what’s going on.
My son was confused and so alone.
Both scenes, that of the lost fourteen-year-old and of the broken father, had come crashing together.
I brought my son back to my parents. And then I had the conversation I wasn’t ready for, that neither of us was ready for. It’s the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had with him.
I explained that his mum was in the best place she could be. She realized she was in danger, for whatever reason, and placed herself into safety. That took a great deal of courage. Be thankful she had that courage within her. Remember, she’s safe.
I then contrasted her actions with my own explaining that I’d attempted suicide. Although I was seeking help, I was far from being better. I told him that I didn’t have the courage displayed by his mum. I told him that I loved him. And then I held him while he cried.
He and I spoke about my illness. I told him I’d been ill for a very long time, that I’d hidden it from him. I used my experience to teach him what his mum was going through.
That was a tremendously long conversation. Exhausting and emotional. It’s a conversation no parent should ever have with their child.
It ended with my son hugging me and forgiving me. I cried, deep heart-wrenching sobs, grateful for the release but more grateful for his forgiveness.
I draw on the power of that memory, of the day I had my most difficult conversation. I draw on it to help fuel my recovery to this day. My son deserves nothing less. And, as I’ve since come to understand, I deserve nothing less.
If you believe that you’re in need of help regarding your mental health, or if you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide, I urge you to speak to your family doctor immediately or call your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch. They can direct you to resources in your community. Talk Suicide can be reached by visiting talksuicide.ca, by calling 1-833-456-4566, or by texting 45645. You can also get immediate help by dialling 911 or visiting your local emergency room.
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