A Patch of Blue Sky
Finding light in mental darkness.
by Ruth Schiffmann
Some people are like a patch of blue sky every day. Their voices soothe secret hurts. Their smiles absorb harsh words. Their touch heals mortal wounds. Their souls are thick and can cushion the most force-felt blow.
My mother was one of those people. She clung to God’s words like a lifeline, knowing and assuring others that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, KJV). Today depression has changed her.
“They’re forecasting heavy rains all week,” I say to my mother, and she heads to the bedroom.
“I’ll wear my rubber boots,” she mutters.
I take a deep breath and let her complete this task on her own, although the clock is rushing along and we are quickly falling behind schedule. I make myself sit and wait until I hear her close the bedroom door behind her. Then I’m on my feet, holding her coat.
“Are we going now?”
“You’ve got an appointment to keep.”
* * * *
She shuffles to the kitchen and checks the oven. “Off,” she says out loud, then the four burners, “off, off, off, off.” She makes sure all cabinet doors are closed, then leans her weight into the refrigerator to assure a tight seal. I sigh, feeling as if I’m going to bubble up out of my own skin. She’s always had this thing about doors.
I have my hand on the doorknob when she decides to go back for a hat.
“It’s going to rain,” she says.
“I know. I just told you that.”
“I’d better wear my hat.”
I fix the button on the door so it will lock when I pull it shut.
“I hope that’s locked,” she says.
She checks it anyway.
* * * *
I hold the screen door open and she scuffles out, pulling the door almost closed behind her. Turning the knob, she triple checks the lock. The door is still open six inches when she stops, looks at me, looks back at the door. “I’m afraid to close it,” she says.
“Why?!” I snap; my impatience has come to a full boil.
“Because I may never come home again.”
My heart sinks. “You’ll be back,” I say without looking at her. It’s only on my most steadfast days that I can bear to look into the eyes that reflect fear and dread where hope once lived.
The ride is not too long. The radio is set to a soft classics station and loud enough so that conversation doesn’t feel necessary.
“I don’t want to go,” she says as I adjust the heat.
“I know. But they’re going to help you.”
“They can’t help me. Nobody can.”
“You need to give them a chance.”
“Nobody can help me,” she repeats like a mantra.
I counter her doubts until I’m sure I know how it feels to beat my head against a wall. Then I stop responding and think of nothing but the road in front of me and the help that I hope lies at the end of it.
A hard goodbye
The hospital is large and brick faced. As we enter, I think about how little I have been able to help Mom, how thin my own soul is. We walk past a receptionist and ring a buzzer outside a large door with one small windowpane. It’s only been a few seconds when Mom says, “No one’s coming. Let’s go home.”
“Someone’s coming,” I say. “They’re expecting you.” I look through the window and see a nurse walking in our direction. Through the door she asks for a name before swiping the card she wears around her neck. We hear the door lock release, and she pushes the heavy door open to welcome us.
* * * *
“I don’t want to stay,” Mom says before it has fully closed behind us.
“I know,” the nurse says. She takes the bag from my hands containing a simple change of clothes.
“I’m going to show you to your room,” the nurse tries to get my mother’s attention, but she is looking from my face to the door and back again.
“You’re leaving me here?” she asks.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.” I give her a hug, but she doesn’t return it.
“You’re leaving me here,” she says. The muscles in her face hang slack, and I wonder if I will ever see her smile again.
The nurse swipes her card and holds the door open for me.
“I love you,” I say to Mom before the door clicks shut. I leave without turning back to glance through the window. I know she is standing there watching me leave, listening for the click of the lock.
She calls me before bedtime and tells me to pick her up in the morning. “This won’t help,” she says. “I don’t like it here. I want to come home.”
“But you weren’t getting better at home.”
“I will. I promise. And you’ll help me, right?”
“Of course I’ll help you,” I say. But I know she needs more than the meals I cook, the household chores I do, the errands I run, and the medication I administer. “My help isn’t enough. You need to stick it out. Give the doctors time. See what they can do for you. They might be able to help you get better.”
“They can’t do anything. You don’t understand. Come and pick me up tomorrow.”
“I can’t, Mom.”
A nurse gets on the line and reassures me that things aren’t as bad as they sound. I know this all too well. She puts Mom back on the phone to say goodnight.
“I’ll come to visit tomorrow, Mom. I love you.”
“Empty words,” she says. “You don’t love me. If you loved me, you’d bring me home.”
* * * *
Her words pierce my heart and I can’t speak. I can’t breathe. My eyes burn. My chest heaves. Silence rings in my ears until I finally choke out the words “I love you” and hang up before she can reply.
In that moment I cling to the words that have cushioned life’s blows for so long. They soothe my heart and whisper through the pain, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Legacy of strength
Mom is released four days later on a new regimen of prescriptions. I bring her home, pray for a miracle, and wait for her to become the woman she once was. But it is not to be. Not yet, anyway.
She takes fistfuls of pills morning and night. Her body trembles, her voice falters. She is frail and anxious and believes herself incapable of everything from eating to bathing.
Today storms have clouded my mother’s vision. I finally realize that what I can do for her is cushion the blows. I feel small and inadequate, but it’s through the hope that God has put in me, through my mother, that my soul becomes what she needs. No matter what the forecast tomorrow, I will be that patch of blue sky for her.
HealthyPlace www.healthyplace.com/ depression/menu-id-68/
Misunderstood Epidemic: Depression – a documentary by Susan Polis Schutz (www.misunderstood epidemic.com)
TroubledWith.com www.troubledwith.com/ LifePressures/ Depression.cfm