In The Beginning

It began about sixteen months after my husband died.

He’d battled a rare liver disease for a few years, his diagnosis coming less than two years after we were wed. His final two months were spent in the hospital, save for a Valentine’s Day discharge home that lasted less than 72 hours. About five weeks later, we gathered around him, saying our final goodbyes as he lay unconscious. The nurses, by this time very dear to me, were kind enough to turn off the alarms that began sounding after life support measures were removed.

Hospital Monitor

(Photo Source: Google Images)

We had cried, we had prayed, we had sung, we had told him the things we felt were most important to say, many of us at the same time. It was a cacophony of loving sentiments and earnest anguish expressed in the most grievous of times. He breathed his last. We lingered a while.  And then we all went home.

My adult step-kids and their cousins left to return to their families. (I sure love all those “kids”.) My in-laws drove back home after the death of their firstborn. (I love them even now.) My dear mother, herself widowed a few short years earlier, left with what I imagine were difficult thoughts at best.

My son (age 16) was living with his dad, so while he departed to a separate destination, my two daughters and I walked into our darkened and forever-changed home. And while I rarely allowed them to sleep the night in my bed when they were little, we all piled under my comforter together in the cold March darkness. It didn’t matter that they were 12 and 13 years old. No one was going to sleep much anyway.

Life changed, of course. In drastic ways that could not be undone. Grief is an odd phenomenon for so many reasons, not the least of which is that everyone experiences it differently. But we could say the same about life, couldn’t we? Everyone experiences it differently. The triumphs and losses a family experiences together are processed and assimilated uniquely by each individual.

As I did my best to adjust to being a widow, an unexpectedly single mom for the second time, my kids did their best to adjust to life without the step-dad that they had known and loved for more than half their lives. The wound was deep.

My older daughter, a few months shy of her 14th birthday when my husband died, began to grapple with adolescence in more marked ways when she turned 15. It was subtle at first, not nearly as obvious or aggressive as it became in time. She had always been quiet and observant, even as a baby. Though introverted, she was affectionate, with a natural talent for words, music, and bold creativity. But as she prepared to enter high school, any sense of worth or identity she had possessed seemed to disappear into thin air.

When the kids were quite young (ages 7, 4, and 2½), their dad had made the choice to leave our family. Having been the child of divorced parents from years ago (before the divorce statistics were so high, when – unlike today – I didn’t know anyone else whose parents had split) I knew the potential for damage to my impressionable children. I took them to a counselor, and the most useful long-term piece of advice I received was that, as young children of divorced parents, they would most likely struggle more than normal during milestone transitions as they grew up.

This had absolutely seemed to be the case up to that point, so when my daughter started to act out with impatience, eye rolling, frustration, and withdrawal, I chalked it up to the cumulative losses we’d all been through, plus the hellishness that adolescence in general can be. And I reminded myself that the ride would likely get bumpier than most, but we’d get through it.

I saw her as I saw her brother and sister: capable, full of life, with so much to experience and to offer the world. I hoped that as she entered high school she would be able to try a myriad of new things, to find her niche. I expected the confidence in her many talents and abilities would only strengthen. I was wrong.

I am not so old that I don’t remember high school and what it takes to try to find your way socially. In fact, I went to three different high schools in three different states all within the final year and a half of high school. I remember well. But as I said, we all experience life differently, and my daughter’s experience was nothing any of us expected. Her sense of identity and worth were shaken to the core. The beautiful and talented girl I saw was nowhere in her view. While I tried to reassure us both that she would return to herself, she was spiraling into an abyss of confusion and despair.

It’s worth noting that I don’t think there is one particular reason we can point to for this. I believe it was the culmination of so many things, both genetic and environmental, that landed my daughter where she ended up, with peers who tended towards emotional dysfunction and physical self harm. Her black hair, black fingernail polish, and thick black eye liner didn’t concern me near as much as the darkening shadow in her heart. She was trying. She was trying so hard. But she was at a loss, and I was simply not fully aware of all she was wrestling with.

Goth makeup

(Photo Source: Google Images)

At first she tried to make excuses about the cuts I saw on her arms and wrists. At first I tried to believe her. In retrospect, I can see that she was initially reticent and even somewhat delicate with her self injury. But as time went on, as her darkness descended, the increasingly aggressive scratches, cuts, and gashes began to mirror the turmoil she felt inside.


© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013


14 thoughts on “In The Beginning

  1. oh you….i relate so deeply to your blog. I believe you’re right…that there is no particular ‘reason’ for the pain we go through, or watch our kids go through. I could attach it to a few different things in my girls life. I consider myself an involved open minded yet firm mother…yet watching my beautiful girl begin to hate her body, her self was painful to watch. She, too, began very hesitantly with her cutting. Superficial scrapes and scratches, until she turned to deeper cuts and burning. The countless hours spent at the hospital were frustrating and seemed to be just a going through the motions. we are STILL ( 2 years later) on a waiting list for an eating disorder program. 2 YEARS? With age, comes wisdom and as she nears University, she is slowly coming into her own. It has come with a LOT of hard work on her part and therapy and soul searching. She’s a wise old soul, that one. I’m’ so proud of the woman she is becoming. She has a journey ahead of her, but she is walking it as best she can.Still, when I see her scars, it breaks my heart.

    • Thank you. I appreciate your words of understanding. It’s so difficult to watch a child harm him or herself in any way, whether through compulsive and poor decisions or physical self harm.

      I know the stamina and strength it takes for you on this long road, and I know it can be very lonely. I applaud you for walking with your daughter still, and for seeing the beautiful things about her.

      I would not be surprised if she is able to find some good help and support on a college campus, even if she hasn’t yet made it in to the E.D. program. It’s worth checking out.

      Take good care,

    • With some teens it is hard to see the things they are doing to themselves until it is too late, the best thing is you had caught it before it went to far, when teens are caught early and get help it is also best for the great parents or a parent such as yourself to be with her/him, the tall tale marks of scars and other signs are that of a troubled teens and yes alot of parents are naive to such signs not only because they don’t want to believe their children in that much pain or their is so many ways to cover up what they are doing nowadays and they just keep coming up with more. So don’t feel to bad about the situation, just remember that she has gone through alot of pain and heart ache, and she needs a loving mother to help her get through this. My step daughter
      and step son the author of dailyaspect
      and Prayer Request had lost their father on 2006, and she had problems and although she hadn’t gone through pretty much the same thing your daughter did
      her first tactic was to beg for money every day then it went to every year on the anniversary of his death, when she didn’t get it, I found out that she was hitting on her mother, when that stopped it started to drugs, drinking, cutting and huffing. Now she is grown up, married and has a child, again like you said she still has issue. But as I always say we are humans, and when troubles God allows them to happen but will not give us more than we can handle. So have Faith my friend and things will work out as God see fit in time when he is ready.

      • People of all ages are capable of hurting deeply, and the pain can cause many to use unhealthy coping mechanisms (such as what my daughter and your step-daughter did). Thankfully, there are better alternatives and we are all free to learn to use them, and to encourage one another towards them. I am grateful both of our girls have chosen better options. Thanks for the thoughtful words.

  2. I remember trying to come up with excuses for my cuts. After awhile you can’t think of any so you wear long pants and sweaters all the time. Those were some extra hot summers. Thanks for sharing this. I am sorry for the loss of your husband.

  3. Thank you. And yes, arm and wrist warmers abounded, as well as rubber bracelets extending up most of the forearm. And then injuries simply being made in places where no one could see them anyway. Still breaks my heart.

  4. so beautifully written… I don’t think we ever really expect where the lives of our children will take us. I remember reading somewhere that loving your child is a bit like having your very heart walking around outside your body – and so it is. I wish you both well.

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