On Speaking and Silence

There is a dear friend of mine I had confided in about my mother after she disappeared the third time. She listened to my freakouts, my sorrows, and patiently supported and encouraged me. When my mother reappeared, she was in my inner circle. As I found my mother was homeless, understood the depths of her challenges, and struggled to get my mother the services she needs, this friend was there, kind and compassionate.

We had many things in common, loved ones with chronic mental illness who had also been homeless. After years of struggle, her family had gotten their loved safe and cared for. Hers was an early example to me of how these tragic events can be redeemed. Her experience gave me hope.

One day, there was a change in tone. She told me how I failed to understand my mother’s situation and what I needed to do what her family had done to get my mother help. I addressed her point for point why it was her who did not understand my mothers situation what had worked for her situation would not work in mine. I felt burned, thinking she clearly did not understand what I was saying or she wouldn’t have said such things.

Still, our friendship resumed. Then, again, she took the same stance with me, that I need to do what her family did. Again, I felt undermined, and harshly judged. That’s when I decided I was not going to talk with her about my mother since she obviously had so little respect for me.

Our friendship continued. When she asked how my mother was doing, I told her “Mom is Mom.” She asked twice again, getting a similarly short response, before she stopped asking.

Our rapport began clearing. We connected about other things that we connect about. There was more freedom in our conversations for each of us to move.

I began to realize that her response was not one of judgement of my inadequacies as a daughter. Rather, it was simply too much. As with other chronic conditions, there can be very little fluctuation in condition. When I have the flu, I get sick, it sucks, then I get better. This is the arc. There is a beginning middle and end.

There is no better right now for my mother. It will have to get worse before it gets better. I realized it must have been so difficult for my friend to address an issue in my family life so close to an issue in her family life.

She is one of the strongest people I know and, of course, this was too much to bear in those moments. Of course, she had to create a simple solution where there is none. She was not judging me, but showing me what was too much.

So, our friendship continues. Sometimes I feel badly for keeping this part of my life from her, but mostly I understand that silence on this subject is the best way to care for her.