As parents, there are things we don’t want to talk about, possibilities we know exist but don’t want to name — because we are terrified of bringing them out of the darkness and into our lives.
Some of you have a friend who recently went through some extremely dark nights of the soul. Their kid became an addict. Or a runaway. Committed a crime. Wreaked havoc throughout your community. Flunked out of school — any of life’s most difficult parenting situations.
I’ve been the parent who is struggling
I’ve been that parent, looking out into a sea of parent faces and knowing that no one would possibly believe or understand what was happening at my house. I’ve stood alone and terrified, cheering on my son at his basketball game — trying desperately to take refuge in anything that seemed normal — silently walking among you like a ghost.
And it took a toll. On the wrinkles on my face, the gray in my hair, and most of all, my friendships. Only the closest, truest friends hold your hand on a journey like that.
Some of you have been or are that friend. Listening without answers. Wanting but not being able to take the pain away. Standing by someone who is barely standing on their own.
And this is what they would say to you if they could.
This is what I would say to the parent who stood alongside me when I struggled alone in the darkness
Thank you. For steadfastly and repeatedly listening to me without judgment and without trying to fix anything. For days and months, and even years. Often several times a day — or night. In person, on the phone, and by text. Over and over and over.
There are things more fun than watching a grown woman cry and keen and blame herself and future trip gloom and doom. But you didn’t do them. You didn’t make me feel like a burden or that there was anything more important you needed to do than listen to me.
You never pitied me, either.
You didn’t trash talk my family members as if their situations were their fault, and how could they do this to me? You didn’t treat me like a pariah and avert your eyes the next time you saw me. Better yet, you didn’t whisper to others as I left.
You know, there were darn few people who stepped in like you did.
People told me that their people would never do this. They told me what I should do or what they had done to prevent this from ever happening to them. They stopped calling or picking up or calling back. They ducked and ran for fear of catching all the trauma and devastation I was carrying. And I understand that they were doing the best they could. That they didn’t know what to say. That they were scared they might one day be me.
But you went even further than doing no damage — you built me up and encouraged me. You affirmed that I was taking the steps I could. That this was incredibly hard. That my people would recover or pull through, and I would survive whatever happened. That this wasn’t the end of my relationships with them. Even when it seemed like it was. That I hadn’t caused these terrible things to happen because I was a less-than-perfect parent.
You made me feel heard and known. Like I was worth knowing, even though my life threatened to collapse on top of me. You made me feel like you weren’t going to disappear or de-friend me. Or treat my people like lepers in the future. You made me feel like more than my problems.
Just having you there made me feel brave. Like I could keep going. That it was possible that I and my family would survive. That I wouldn’t be crushed by my fear or sadness or future. Simply because you cared enough to stand as a witness to it all.
You escorted me through the hardest things I’ve ever endured.
You are one of the warriors whose support and faith held me up while I forged new relationships with my family members who have faced impossibly hard things. I have so much gratitude for who you are. I’m not sure I would have survived without you.
Some would say you were a sucker for punishment. But I call you a dear friend who I can never repay.
I can only hope that I have shown you a shred of the empathy you have offered. I love you wholeheartedly and I’ll never forget what you did for me.
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