July 29, 2017
The ground beneath my hammock is housing a yellow jacket nest, so I’m making do with the garden bench. Last year July 29 was a Friday. I leave work at 3:00 on Fridays, so a year ago I was just arriving home just about now. From almost this exact spot near the driveway, under the trees, I watched Grace walk across the blacktop from the storage unit toward the garage and I thought that she looked ill. That memory is cemented in my mind. She and I spoke inside the house. She confirmed that she felt nauseated, and I didn’t see much of her the rest of the evening. I did see her, but my last solid memory of her was watching her through my windshield as she walked across the driveway. I don’t recall any particulars about My Gorgeous until I saw her trying to throw up in the bathroom around 11:15 that night. Grace truly had been sick at 3:00 that afternoon. Sick of life. And she tried to end it. Then when reality hit her in the gut, she asked me to help her live.
I’ve been parenting for a collective 39 years. You’d think I’d be great at it by now. Actually I am. I’m a really great mom. Dammit! That’s not what this is about. And it’s not really even about Grace. It’s gratitude. I know myself pretty well. And I know that so often I don’t do my best parenting. I’m tired. I’m selfish. My agenda is more important to me than my kids. I don’t feel like running to the store or folding the laundry or having a house full of kids for a sleepover. And sometimes I make my kids do chores not because it builds character or because that’s the price of living in this family, but simply because I just don’t want to do them myself. And I’ve bought McD out of pure laziness.
The end of last July and the beginning of August, I was emotionally drained. Physically exhausted. Too worried to sleep. So incredibly sad all I wanted to do was sleep. But I can honestly say without hesitation that I did my best. The parenting bar was set pretty darn low at that point, though. When I say I did my best, I mean I absolutely gave all I had to give. Which was not much. I gave every last ounce I had. That’s where the gratitude comes in.
It’s very difficult to be a mother or father of 3 when 1 is in crisis. The family dynamic becomes triage, and the resources are focused on the crisis. That’s why the fingers get frostbite while the core is maintained as long as possible. Sometimes you have to step over the boo-boos to help the critically wounded. But in this family, I’m not willing for 2 of the 3 to be ignored. That’s why years ago when Lauren had her accident the day before Grace started 3rd grade at Vienna where she didn’t know any teachers or have any friends, Aunt Laura and I woke before sunrise in Lauren’s hospital room, said goodbye to Lauren and Paul, and went home so I could drive Grace to school and walk her to her classroom just like I had been telling her for months I would do. There weren’t warm chocolate chip cookies for Grace when she got home from school, and no yummy First Day of School Meal. In that moment, the only thing I could do for my nervous 3rd grader was to keep my promise. I did my best.
And what I see now looking back on last year, is that the little bit of best I managed to do really took all I had. All I could do, my best, after about 12 hours in the hospital without sleep, was to drive home and take Lauren shopping for her birthday. My original plan, before the suicide attempt, had been to spend the day by myself shopping for her. But instead while Paul was with Grace, I took Lauren with me because I sure didn’t want her to be alone. The best I could do was to fling wide the doors of Target and announce that I would buy her whatever she wanted, but we have to be done shopping within an hour so I could get back to the hospital. I did my best.
And as I looked around the Mauks, there was always somebody ready to stand in the gaps. We absolutely could not have parented Oh Emily that day. Her Friday night sleepover with Norah became an incredible Saturday trip to the water park. And I messaged Norah’s dad to ask him if he could just please drop off Emily in the driveway without walking her to the door. I knew that my best on that day could not include the niceties of pleasant conversation at the door. And because he understood what a truly shitty day I was having, he obliged.
And because my best was the McD drive through, friends brought meals from across the street and across town. Letters in the mail with tender thoughts and gift cards showed up. Our grass was mowed. Our old rickety deck was disassembled and rebuilt. I had phone calls from neighbors offering to do anything I needed, including but not limited to scrubbing our toilets. Social media support. Prayer over the phone and in person. Hugs and kisses. Allowing me a moment of silence during a conversation so I could pull myself back together when gasping for breath was my absolute best. Sweet friends asking “how are you,” in a benign way that allowed me the latitude of answering “I’m ok,” and they left it at that because they understood that was the best, most expensive answer I could afford in that moment.
And back to Lauren’s birthday. It was the Monday after the Friday night. Not at all the 12th birthday I would ever wish for Lauren. Sunday night she cried and swallowed hard and announced that this birthday would be the worst because Grace would still be in the psych ward and couldn’t be with us. Monday morning, Daddy went to work, and Emily to day-camp. Lauren and I ate a whole package of bacon ourselves, and went to the hospital for noon visitation. We met Aunt Bec for lunch. At some point, Aunt Laura came up with a plan to throw Lauren a surprise party. The Blythes would come decorate our house and bring food. Aunt Bec joined the plan. So after the evening visitation ended, the Mauks minus Grace drove home from the hospital. Lauren asked why there were cars on our driveway at 8:30 at night. I told Lauren that her aunts were throwing a surprise party for her. I expected excitement, but instead all the emotions of 12 flooded out into the front seat. She wouldn’t get out of the car. She refused to have a birthday party without Grace. “I can’t do this without Grace.” But she finally came inside and had more fun than I ever expected. Her softball coach and her teammate had dropped off a gift for Lauren without realizing there would be a party. I don’t remember what was in that gift bag, and I don’t know if Lauren remembers. But the smile on her face when she read the card was the best. And on that night when Paul and I couldn’t give Lauren the birthday we wanted to give her, the best I could do was to be a guest in my own house while my sisters took over and did for Lauren so much more than I could do.
In those days and weeks and months, I did my best. It was totally inadequate. Not nearly enough. Lacking and falling short all over the place. But there was Grace and grace. Grace came home, and grace abounded. There is no gratitude without seeing and feeling the grace that has been afforded us all in the moments we are unable to do for ourselves. From God’s saving grace, to God saving Grace, my heart overflows today with gratitude to all of you who stood in the driveway in your jammies watching the ambulance and who called and texted and sweat and cooked and prayed for us, and for those who loved my children when Paul and I could not. We were well loved, and I thank you all.
“But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” Exodus 17:12 ESV