“There’s been an accident. Mom fell asleep in the garage. She’s dead.” When I heard my father say those words, I stood motionless beneath his hand that rested on my head, wondering if he was truly talking about my mom. The reality soon set in, but the grief and healing were years off.
I was twelve when my mom killed herself. My parents were divorced. My dad was remarried and lived nearby. I had an older brother who lived in his own apartment, so I was alone with my mom.
She sometimes left me home alone when she went out drinking. I begged her to stay home, but she would only promise to be home by a certain time. My neediness was useless to change anything. Once when she was a few minutes late, I jumped to action and dialed the number I had for the bar. A woman answered and I said meekly, “Mom?” Laughter squeaked through the receiver and I hated the stranger. I heard her say to the room I imagined was full of people, “There’s a kid on here calling me Mom.” In seconds, my mom was talking to me. Shamed, I cried for her to please come home, which she eventually did.
Life wasn’t horrible though.
I was charmed with my dad’s new family and didn’t directly connect with the hurt of divorce. Going back and forth between my mom and dad wasn’t as traumatic for me as it seems to be for some children, but I did struggle with dark thoughts. I imagined what life would be like for me if one of my parents died. Often I felt like I was in a vise, being squeezed. I tried to choose who I preferred, Mom or Dad. Who would I pick if I could have just one?
I slept at my dad’s house the night my mom died. More accurately, I moved in. A few blocks were all that separated the houses—a slight but infinite distance.
My stepsister’s double bed held us as it had many times before when I visited. But this time the sleepover wouldn’t end. When the sun rose I wouldn’t have a home to return to. Home as I knew it had vanished with my mom’s last breath.
Morning light broke and I knew if I got up, my mom would still be gone. I pretended to sleep and covered my head with the comforter. I wanted to die, to sleep forever. Sleep had been a mystery, bringing me peace at times yet tortuous nightmares at others.
When my sister succeeded at tickling me enough to make me emerge from my cocoon of blankets, I felt guilty for my laughter.
Days later, the afternoon clouds spilled rain. And heaviness clouded me. Moving and talking were hard. My skin crawled. I felt like I didn’t belong.
The need for escape gnawed at me. I grabbed an umbrella and headed out for a walk. I ambled aimlessly, splashing in puddles, all the time knowing I was acting like a little kid romping in the water. But I wasn’t a carefree child anymore. You don’t get to be carefree when your mom commits suicide.
I felt the rain deep within me. I was cold and wet all through my insides, as well as on the outside.
On that dreary stroll I came to realize that my new life would be one of isolation. No one was ever going to understand what I had been through. This was it—my life. I resolved to be tough. To protect myself.
My armor remained intact for years. I decided I wanted out of my shell but was unable to escape. When the time came in middle school that I wanted to cry, I couldn’t. I poked myself in the eyes under the fluorescent lights of the school bathroom hoping to get enough tears so someone would notice my sadness.
How did I go from that empty, sad, guilty, depression-prone child to a healthy and joy-filled (usually) adult?
I took a magic Christianity pill and everything was fine! Oh wait. Nothing is ever that easy—you know that.
As a kid who didn’t feel secure, I started drinking alcohol, which progressed into drug use.
Lying, stealing, excessive dating, and casual sex followed. Then a pregnancy when I was 20. And an abortion.
I knew I needed help. For years, I knew I needed help.
But I was stuck inside myself, wallowing in muck and mire. Beating myself up for so many things. I assumed I had to clean myself up before I could ask Jesus to help me. I knew the truth about God; I had attended church off and on since my dad and stepmom had begun going when I was in fifth grade.
Even though I knew the path to freedom began with a prayer of submission to the Lord, I still thought He wouldn’t want me unless I was clean. There was nothing in me that comprehended that God could love me unconditionally.
Finally, when I was failing at life so badly I had no choice but to die or try God, I prayed out of desperation. I reached out to Jesus and asked Him to rule my life.
A vivid picture developed in my mind’s eye of years earlier when I was at the pit of depression and misery, crying and wondering how I could ever move forward. I saw Jesus there, sitting next to me on the side of my bed. He held my head, wiped my brow, and dried my tears as a parent might do for a sick child. I realized at that moment that He had been with me and had wanted me all along—just the way I was, broken and damaged.
He wants you too. He’s been by your side all along.
Bio: JJ Landis is a wife, mom, writer, blogger, and children’s librarian. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with her husband and three children. Keep in touch at www.jjlandis.com.