It was my first Sunday in the psych wing of the hospital, the first Sunday not in the hospital with my daughter’s illnesses that I was not at our church supporting the singing in the sanctuary. I had been in the ward almost a week. For days, having let loose of my need to control my impulse to die into the watchful guardianship of the nurses and aides on the ward I had closed in to the tight ball of me in those first days. Others who had experience on the ward were slowly drawing me out.
It started with a woman named Linda. I was sitting on the floor working on a jigsaw puzzle, not looking up or speaking to anyone who entered or left the activity room. She came and sat across the table and began to talk telling me the routines, what to expect in therapy, about others who were familiar faces to her. She didn’t ask me for any response, just talked placing a piece or two into the puzzle. At mealtime, she took a seat near me and introduced me by name to those around. I didn’t look up and only spoke to have something passed to me. When we walked in our protected groups of others who were vulnerable like me, I would close up, tightening my arms around myself when someone would pass on our side of the street. I was brittle, untouchable, and those who had struggled for years had the understanding to invite without reaching through that fragile boundary.
It was at dinner one night the dam began to loosen. One loud, boisterous patient who I will name Johnny was telling one more of his clearly tall tales. When someone scoffed at his story he shrugged, “Guess I missed the boat on that one.”
Not looking up I mumbled, “You missed the whole damn ocean.”
The room went silent then everyone began to laugh. “You are going to be all right,” Linda leaned over and said to me.
From there the dam burst. I began speaking in therapy groups. At nights when sleep wouldn’t come despite medication I would go to the nursing station where, if logging was caught up, I was allowed to talk about the grief that filled my life. I found out the occupational therapist who put up the inspirational posters belonged to the one church I knew of in that town. She gave me an open invitation to attend with her if I should ever want to but never prodded me to do so.
Now my first Sunday had come and I could not obey the religious guilt of my upbringing to go to church. The cramping anxiety at the idea of being with religious others, knowing my desire to die because of things that had been said and absorbed by me as to my own damnation was too much. Instead, I ask for the piles of magazines I saw in the craft area, a large piece of poster board, some blunted scissors and glue. I couldn’t read the stories in the magazines but let something inside of me cue me to rip out pages and careful snip around images and short poems and phrases that resonated with some place inside of me.
For seven hours I worked on this collage letting it speak for me the things I couldn’t say in words. The next day I took it to my psychiatrist session and he read clearly the love I had for my husband and children even though I felt that who I was let them down.
My songs began to reflect the hope and longings I felt inside even in the darkness of this emptiness of feeling God or love or light. God was walking through the storm though I didn’t feel his presence. The end of the rope might be frayed but there was still a piece to hold on to. I could try to express ideas of love even as I longed to know love. I could smile with those who understood that even in the dark souls can touch each other with hope. It was only the turning point of a journey that would last years but I was beginning to feel again.
Twenty-seven years ago, on the first Sunday of April the collage was formed. There is so much I don’t remember on that art piece from my soul which probably was lost in one of the purgings of mementoes I used to try to wipe out the person inside me that interfered with the expectations of others in my world. But there is one phrase on it that I remember to this day. It is my prayer for my children who have walked this long road in the company of a mother who for so many years struggled with a death wish but struggled to hang on for them.
I do not have the direct quote but this I remember. It asked that with all else my children remembered of me, “let them remember my laughter.”