staring at the walls

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning . . . breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while, I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out . . . .” – Sleepless in Seattle

The room was quiet, like the walls had captured all the sound, every drop of it absorbed into them like a sponge. The room was empty, with books, toys, possessions littered about in slight disarray. Everyone had left hurriedly that morning, and I sat on my couch, the morning light pouring in through the window like a reminder that I should be about the task of living, being, and breathing.

It had been a week or two since my daughter came home from being hospitalized following her suicide attempt. I recounted in my head the way the nurses and whoever else working that night whispered and stared. I called to complain, but they said my daughter had to call.

We had been subjected to a “family session,” which meant I met with my daughter in a clinical room with a well-meaning psychologist. I say “subjected to” because these sessions are generally fruitless fishing expeditions to uncover a critical disconnect in family communication that prevents us from functioning in a healthy way. Which, of course, is easily achieved in thirty minutes of questions and answers that barely scratch the surface, and a healthy dose of assumptions about the relationships between mothers and daughters.

“I’m grateful she doesn’t have a better understanding of pharmacology,” I had said ruefully to the nurse, or doctor, or psyche person, whoever that was.  I was worried she, now knowing that that particular dosage didn’t do the trick, would try to figure out what to do need to make sure the desired results were achieved in the future. This psychologist, like so many others, was eager to dispense advice without actually listening.

Here’s a prescription. Now, what do you do when you feel like you want to die? You use your coping skills. What are you going to do? Right. Now, I don’t want to see you back here. And stop cutting your arms. 


My grandfather died that same weekend she was in the hospital. He had been hospitalized briefly, and I didn’t go see him because he seemed to improve and they were going to send him home. We talked on the phone. I told him I loved him. And just like that, he was gone.

I didn’t get to say goodbye. This felt like more pummeling than my heart could manage.


So, I sat in my living room, my silent living room, and stared at the walls. I let the silence permeate my spirit, the sunlight streaming through the window. There are moments when you just let yourself be, let yourself ache, let yourself embrace the kindness that the world offers you in stillness and sunlight. Because while everything else washes over you, and so much of it sticks; people are in your face hoping that the power of positive thinking and being loved will anesthetize your soul – it doesn’t quite work that way.

I was in the process of becoming something else; someone else. I think pain can make you bitter or it can make you compassionate to the suffering of others. I think heartbreak can either sever engaging in relationships, because it is too painful, or it can show you that empathy is a bridge – perhaps, to those you had not imagined. It also requires the greatest investment of self-care, and for me, more than I had ever engaged in at any point in my life. Survival by itself was just not enough.


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