Friday, March 8, 2013

The Sharpest Sharpie

Because tomorrow we are all going to visit Seth for the first time as a family, I wanted to bring him something special.  There is a long list of "contraband" items and I have to always go over that list carefully before I bring him gifts.  Food is considered contraband which actually saddens me more than it might other parents.  Seth and I have a ritual cappuccino and danish when I pick him up from school, from a friends house...or lately, when I visit him.  Little routines like that mean a great deal to me and my heart sank when he told me that because the food was so awful at the hospital, to not forget his coffee and danish-and I had to tell him that I could not.
I decided that I would take a big poster board and white t-shirt to the school today at lunch time.  I wanted to have lunch with the kids and I figured that this would be a great thing for Seth.  I want him to know that he is still surrounded by friends.  People still care.  I don't think he will be ostracized because this has happened.   Perhaps in any other school he would be, but not this one.  We have such a remarkable group of kids.  Maybe it's because we live in a small college town.  Maybe it's something in the water.  But the kids here are truly amazing.
I had no idea that when I walked in with a poster and sharpies that there would be such a rush.  I emailed the guidance counselor but missed his return email, which suggested I bring the poster to his office and let kids sign it there to avoid any big distractions at lunch time.  He definitely knew what he was talking about!
First, Isabella's class rushed me.  Forty or so fifth graders signed the front, before I could even get it ready for the high school and Seth's friends.  One child asked this little boy what had happened to Bella's brother and the boy replied that he had tried to commit suicide.  Sharp intake of breath on my part and then a firm denial...and a suggestion that he avoid listening to rumors. I hope that hearing it from me, Seth's mother, will make the rounds and that rumor will be dispelled. All I wanted was to pass out fill a piece of paper with smiley faces and hearts.  Somehow I thought it would akin to signing a yearbook. Everyone was writing "Get well soon" but, Seth would never understand that. He does not think he is sick. And sick even the right word? Technicolor GET WELLS all over a poster...and me wondering how to explain any of this when I am more confused than all five hundred of these kids.
And then, a boy of around fifteen came up to me.  He told me that he was really worried about Seth.  First, he said, Jason died.  Jason was their classmate who died in February, very sadly, of brain cancer.  "Jason left and then he died...and now Seth is gone..and I'm worried that he will die, too" he said.  I reassured him that Seth would not die.  That he would be ok.  "Does he have cancer too?" he asked me. And I knew that someone needed to reassure these guys. My God, some of them are wondering if he is going to die! But even if I could make an announcement over the school loud speaker, I wouldnt know what to say! "Please come sign a poster if you miss Seth...and please take note: He is not dying."
Far from dying...he is LIVING. And living is painful sometimes. Living has its highs and its lows...and I hope beyond hope that these kids realize how normal all of their roller coaster emotions really are.  It's all part of the trip.
I was not prepared for the questions.  I was not prepared for those kinds of feelings.  I don't know WHY I did not think about that, mind was really just centered on bringing something hopeful to Seth tomorrow.  I have been consistently worried about his friends, especially his good friends, and I sent a list of names to the guidance counselor so that they could talk to Seth's particular group of friends, reassure them and answer questions.  But there were just so many today that wanted to sign and to ask how he was.
I finally just said that he had had too much high school.  High school overload.  When asked specifically, I said that the blood tests showed his chemicals were just out of whack and we have to get all of that figured out before he can come back.
I am going to have to ask Seth, tomorrow, what he wants me to tell his classmates.  Seth made all of this very public when he threatened his own life on Facebook.  It became a big conversation, at one point sixty comments to one status update.  These days, kids operate in a spotlight.  Nothing is hidden.  They hit "send" before they think about consequences.  But, honestly...I don't even have a diagnosis yet.  He is still being tested.  All we know for sure is that his reality is different than ours.  He is incredibly smart, very deep...and very spiritual.  He has been toying with ideas that most people never even think about, much less base their decisions on.  All of this is complicated and there just is no "pat answer" that I can give a group of kids who are worried about their friend.
I myself am still in shock. Seth had his future mapped least the first few years of his future.  He had goals and he knew what he had to do to reach them.  It was a definite thing, we thought, that his first step would be to join the NAVY and have them pay for college.  It was for sure that he would take flying lessons and become a pilot.  We had plans for the summer.  And then, the universe interfered. It angers me.  Why THIS child? Why MY child? He had his shit together. He was a conservative, well dressed, well mannered and goal oriented kid! And suddenly, out of nowhere...this.
This thing that has no name, even now.  I can't predict the future anymore. I don't KNOW what to expect. Every day brings something new to my attention.
But I do believe that this is no different than having a child hospitalized with diabetes or appendicitis...any other kind of illness. My child is in the hospital and he is in pain.  He needs cards and flowers and phone calls and visits.  He needs care.  This was not his fault, or my fault...or anyone's fault. This is a chemical problem, I am told, that the medication is correcting.  And I want him to have friends when he returns-just like any other ill child.  He is still Seth.  He is still my little boy.
I was so glad to have Seth's guidance counselor take over this project today.  I left the school quite numb and shaking.  And grateful, at the same time.  Grateful that so many of those kids wanted to sign his shirt.  So many of them said they missed him and were worried about him.  Perhaps if he knows this and feels it, the way I feel it right now, it will lift his spirits.
Perhaps it will make him fight harder to get out of that place and back here, where he belongs.
In the meantime...I wish someone would give me the right answer.  I wish I knew what to say.
For now, it would sound something like this:
"Thank you so much for caring about my child. I don't KNOW what is wrong, exactly, and I'm not sure how to explain it to you.  I am having a hard time understanding it myself. But, it's good to know he has friends. He misses all of you and will need you when he comes home."

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