As I sit, I’m well aware that the only reason I’m on this couch is so that my daughter August can tell me something, something she has confided to her therapist and apparently needs to tell me. My fifteen year old nervously explains how suicidal thoughts have been playing out in her head, sometimes with a rescuer finding her in time, sometimes without. I hear her therapist explain how my child has been unable to share these thoughts with me because I’m going through my own “stuff” right now and she doesn’t want to bother me, and that from now on, August has promised she will tell me when she has these thoughts. And all I can think is, Why? Because I did such a good job of saving her father? What am I supposed to do with this information?
It takes all the strength I can muster not to break down right then and there. Now I’m not only mourning my husband, but I’m terrified of losing my daughter too. I can’t cry. If I cry, she’ll regret telling me.
Until this moment I’ve felt no anger toward Jim over his decision to end his life six months ago. I understand its roots, begun in a life filled with abuse and abandonment. He’d always been on the verge of suicide, either by drinking too much or driving too fast or putting himself in dangerously stupid situations, hoping one of those things would bring his pain to an end. I get it. I really do. But if his suicide causes this beautiful child we created to hurt herself, I could never forgive him, or myself for that matter.
There’s something insidious about being so close to a person who takes their own life, and my daughter has known two. Her father hanged himself just eight months after her close friend took her own life in the same way. I know what the statistics say. This malevolent notion that enticed my husband to his death is now trying to give my daughter permission to repeat it. I can’t let that happen.
The drive home is quiet. I’m not sure what August is thinking, but my mind is racing in an attempt to find the right words to say to keep her from harming herself. Is there some phrase or saying that will stick in her head that would bring her back from the brink of despair? Something so positive that it would give her hope even if she feels as hopeless as her dad did that horrible night? My heart pounds, counting every impotent “pep” talk I ever gave her father. Talks about how he should hold on because things would get better. About how life was worth living, and how we had such a beautiful family, and not to worry because we would work out our problems like we always had, and how the next day would surely dawn…until it didn’t. Useless words that only served to postpone the inevitable.
I feel so helpless, so obviously inept at making a difference, but I refuse to let her see my fear. She needs to know that she can count on me, but God help me, all I want to do is cry.
And then a thought pops into my head, something from a book I’ve recently read about a maid who loves the child she cares for more than the child’s own mother does. To balance the negative comments she constantly hears from her mother, the maid whispers a positive mantra over and over to the little girl. In a way, the maid brainwashes the girl to love herself no matter what. That love will stand as a shield to ward off her mother’s attacks. What if I could do that for my own daughter? What if I could make her love herself so much that she would never be able to harm herself? I have to try.
I know what I want to say. When we get home I take a sharpie and write across the mirror in her bathroom. I call her in and have her read what I wrote.
She reads, “You are worthy of love, of life, of happiness.” And then she gives me that look. You know, the one every teenager gives their parents when we say or do something stupid.
I tell her, “I want you to read that out loud every morning even when you don’t believe what it says, every day until you do.” She doesn’t argue with me. She knows I’m serious.
And then I pray. Every day. I listen at the bathroom door to make sure she reads it. She says it’s impossible not to say it, even to herself, because it’s right in her face.
Each day I notice her mood shifting, lightening up a bit. She teases me about the mantra from the book I read, because she knows that’s where this idea comes from. It becomes our little joke. We’re finding a playfulness with one another that we’ve never experienced before, not even when Jim was alive. He had always been in charge of the fun in our household.
A few days later, August asks if I have any sticky notes she can use. I hand her a pack, and she takes them into her room. Later she emerges with several stuck to her hands. Each one is marked with its own affirmation: You are a good friend. You are talented. You are brave. You are loved. She sticks them on the walls, on the doors around the house.
In the days that follow, her older brother and sisters come to visit. They ask about the sticky notes affixed to the walls and love the idea so much, they begin writing their own. They tell her not only why they love her, but also why she should love herself. Everything you do is unique and beautiful! Smile ‘cuz you’re gorgeous! You are perfectly imperfect in the greatest way!
Every day there are more. There is no wrong feeling. You are Snazzy. You are one of my favorite people. I love my ‘lil sister. I love you more than air. You are worth every penny! ☺
Our home is covered with yellow sticky notes. They are on the lampshades. They cover the china cabinet. They stick to the windows. If I were a clean freak I would be out of my mind right now, but I‘m loving our new decor. Who would have guessed that yellow sticky notes could be so beautiful? They wave to her as she walks by, beckoning to her to read their messages, filling her up with their love.
As time goes by and the glue weakens, the notes begin to fall off the walls and the doors and the lampshades, fluttering to the floor. My daughter collects them in a box like butterfly wings. Each one has lifted her a little higher, high enough to keep her safe for now. I honestly don’t know how long this will last, but I pray the message sticks with her a lifetime. For the first time in months there is laughter in our home. For the first time in years, there is hope.
Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story, Donna.
I love that the positive messaging spread from just you and your daughter to her siblings, too. How beautiful.
This piece moved me very much. Bless you for being such a smart, creative mom. Sending you and your family my best wishes.