[This is the true story of the darkest few months of my life. I hope and believe others can learn from it. It revolves around my daughter Anna, and Anna has reviewed and given her consent for me to post each of the parts in this series. It is her desire for others to learn from her experience. She has blogged on this experience from her perspective this week as well.]
Anna spent four days at White Pines. The most important thing accomplished there was just putting some time between the suicide attempt and when she came back home. It was probably as important for Christy and me (and Brittany and Kyra) as it was for Anna. We were terrified of what would happen when she came back.
We were allowed one 30 minute visit per day. Every day we made the trek to Saginaw (one hour) to visit her. Every time it was surreal — checking in, waiting in the meeting room as a nurse went to fetch our kid, hearing her stories about what life was like on the ward. She wasn’t scared but it certainly helped her to continue to realize how good she had it. And she was put on medication at White Pines. She still takes it now. So do many other people in our family.
That week we all started getting therapy. As I knew it would, it had varying degrees of effectiveness for each of us, but it was critical to at least get “checked out,” just like you would after a serious car accident. Some individual sessions, some family sessions — whatever was needed.
Then came the hard part. On what was surely one of the most exciting and yet scary days of our lives, we brought our little girl home from the treatment center and started learning how to live again. It didn’t happen overnight. We’re still learning, in fact. To this day when she is upstairs in the bathtub for more than fifteen minutes, Christy and/or I get nervous and have to check on her. Christy still does occasional random body checks to look for cuts. (Anna is doing excellent with this.) If Anna is in a bit of a down mood (down moods still happen on antidepressants — they don’t take away your ability to feel, they just keep the black cloud from descending, where you fall into the abyss) and approaches me with her hair wrapped in a towel and kisses me and says, “Goodnight daddy,” sometimes my heart still skips a beat. I swallow hard and sometimes fear flashes across my face so that before I’ve even said anything Anna will say, “Daddy, I will see you tomorrow. I’m tired today, but I’m okay. I promise.” Usually I’ll set her on my lap and I’ll hold her for a few minutes and then I’m okay. When she first got out of the hospital her reassurances did almost no good, but we’ve begun to trust her again. We’ve seen so many amazing changes in her. Just a few weeks ago my wife said to me as we were observing Anna with some of her friends, “I think we almost have our Anna back.”
We have experienced many setbacks. Anna still struggles sometimes with wanting to cut, though she hasn’t done it in a long time. When she has cut a few times since getting home, it has been such a struggle. We get so upset, so frustrated, and we are so disappointed that she has had yet another setback. And yet if we get too emotional or negative with her, it will make it increasingly difficult for her to tell us about it and the most important thing for her is to continue to be open with us — that’s what she was missing before. The best thing is that ever since Anna’s wits returned to her in the hospital she has not had a single desire to attempt again. If anything she has been terrified that she might find herself wanting to.
It has been a very difficult journey for her, and for each of us. We lost so much in this fire, some good things (like a large piece of our family innocence, our sense of who we were as a family for a while, etc.) and some bad things (like taking life for granted, thinking that we have more control than we ever really could, etc.). But we have gained more than we have lost — by far. We have our daughter back and she is healthier and more whole than she has been in a long time. We have the knowledge of what we have been through as a family and that’s something we share only with each other. Speaking for myself, I have spent months learning to let go, to not hold my baby so tightly. I learned that even if we check on her every five minutes in the bathtub, she could slip her head under water and be gone in an instant if she chose. There’s really nothing we can do to keep her alive. She has to want to live and now, thank God, she does. This confrontation with our powerlessness (which is what suffering always brings), painful though it has been, has brought new depth, perspective, and compassion into my life. And it has shown Anna how deeply she is loved by so many people.
I’ll bring this series to a close tomorrow with some counsel for those who might be in a similar situation, dealing with a loved one who wants to die, or someone who has recently attempted suicide.