The grief and resilience of a mother

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I have been thinking about sharing this experience and woke this morning with a sense of urgency, my first thought was that I really might die today, I honestly have so little control over what happens to me in life so let me take what I do have control over and put it to good use and hopefully in so doing, maybe help someone else.

My lovely boy who is now 33, the one with the amazing sense of humor, big smiles, big heart, the one kids instinctively adored and animals wanted to play with, well, he ended up on the front page of his town’s newspaper under the heading, “Drunken thug attacks strangers on night out.” One of the strangers landed in hospital and has no memory of being knocked out.

When I saw the article, with a blurred photo of my son leaving the courthouse after being given a two-year suspended sentence—suspended only because of his previous good standing in the community—and thought about him and these poor individuals he had hurt, my heart shattered. Were it not for my practice of mindful breathing, I just know I would have had a panic attack. I know because the only panic attack I have ever had happened when he was 17. The sweetest, smartest, brightest, kindest kid that everyone adored at 17 experienced a pot-induced psychosis that changed his life. It was so bad he heard voices and believed what they said. Fortunately at that time they were not angry voices and he agreed to get help, take meds, and finally took refuge in his church.

I know he struggled at times, feeling he was a failure compared to his old school friends, feeling he had lost so much and that the potential he had had was over as he could no longer concentrate like he used to when he was an honor student. The meds made him feel sluggish and he gained weight, but it eased up and over the years he slimmed down and seemed more at peace, appearing to develop a good sense of self-worth, looking happy again.

Then this. All these years later, I don’t know why, perhaps he thought he could handle a night out with his co-workers. Maybe more was going on than I was aware of, but here he is and the psychosis is back, only this time he has refused meds and cut off contact with all friends and family. It is like his whole world changed and he stepped into a hell realm and I can see him but he can’t hear me and I can’t reach him. I have tried, we have all tried, and he has cut off all avenues of contact. My heart explodes in grief and fear, and when it does I have to allow it the space to come out without “offering it tea,” so to speak, because suppressing or indulging it will make me ill.

Being a mother I carried this being in my body, falling in love with him before I even saw his face. My body fed him, I so loved and nurtured him, I enjoyed every single moment with him, even the 2:00 in the morning ones. Those were to me the most special, just alone in the early morning quiet, the warmth of that little body close to mine. Growing up with him, teaching him to be kind, those smiles, the little hugs turning into big hugs. How does this turn into “thug”? Where is my child? How do I wrap my head around this? I look at all his photos, and now the last image I have is a blurred one of him leaving a courthouse. I recognize those arms, I have felt them bear-hug me, but now where is my son? Is all of this him? Is none of this him? They say the things children learn in the formative years are important for the rest of their lives. In his formative years he learned only good stuff. What happened?

Mother hugging her son.

I think of all the mothers just like me and I do tonglen for all of us. (Photo by Paw Paw)

The teachings on emptiness, the teachings on dependent origination and rebirth are what brought me to the Dharma. I bring them to mind as I struggle with this habitual grasping to an inherently existent son that so automatically kicks in, investigating carefully as I bounce from one of the two extremes to the other trying to find the middle way. I turn to the wisdom teachings when my mind is less emotional, and when the pain and fear are most intense I turn to the compassion teachings, I think of all the mothers just like me and I do the taking-and-giving meditation (tonglen) for all of us. I am so grateful for the Buddhadharma.

Recently, before all this happened, I volunteered to help the Abbey send Dharma books to prison inmates. Helping prisoners who want help helps me. I so appreciate the opportunity to do this.  

The beings that come into our lives as our children come with their own baggage. We really don’t know who is taking up residence in our bodies and our homes. They, just like us, come with their own unique karmic imprints of all kinds that if watered when conditions are right, will explode in life. My fear is that he doesn’t really take the help and ends up hurting more people or hurts himself one day. I catch myself all too often wasting time torturing myself with imaginings like this about what may or may not happen, which is pointless really and just a waste of time and energy. Worrying won’t stop it from happening, and maybe it won’t happen and then I have worried for nothing. Still it can be hard to stop.

Time is precious. Life is precious. May this karma burn up quickly, may he and all sons and mothers, all beings everywhere, be well and kind to themselves and others. In all my future lives may I never be separated from the Buddha’s precious Dharma. A quote by His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminds me every day to really open my eyes and look and just be kind no matter what is manifesting, “Basically, everyone exists in the very nature of suffering, so to abuse or mistreat each other is futile.”

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