Just Listen and Love

Day of Remembrance (NHQ201801250011) by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

My mother was a beautiful soul. In normal circumstances she was happy, wise and generous, a kind of fairy sprite who traveled through life doing her best to help others. It seemed unfair that she also suffered from mental illness that she only minimally controlled with medication and therapy. When everything was working properly to steady her brain she showed flashes of her true self, but when the medications stopped working as they were designed to do, she fell into cycle after cycle of depression followed by mania and a psychosis that induced strange paranoia. 

Because her life was a roller coaster only her most staunch supporters were willing to continue to minister to her needs. It was difficult to be around her when she was very sick, which generally happened a few times each year for a span of over forty years. The woman who once had so many friends that they were too numerous to count found herself mostly alone save for her children, grandchildren and siblings. A few good neighbors watched over her from afar and reported her strange behaviors whenever they witnessed them.

Sadly Mama could not understand why her friends had abandoned her. In the darkest times of her illness she reasoned that her acquaintances had mostly left her because they were afraid of the imagined forces that were out to get her. Even in her most confused state of mind she still found the goodness to understand and forgive them. 

That is not to say that people did not try to maintain a relationship with my mother, but they generally did not understand how to just love her even when she frightened them. Most of the time their well intentioned responses to her cycles of depression, mania and paranoia were built upon platitudes that may work for those who are well, but not for anyone with a clearly defined diagnosis of mental illness. Telling her to just get a hold of herself and her fears was a useless idea because something in her brain was broken and not even her normally strong will and determination were able to overcome the feelings that had spun out of her control. 

My mother was one of the most spiritual people that I have ever known. In spite of the tragedies of her life she remained optimistic and close to God. Nonetheless, during her cycles of bipolar disorder suggestions that she just pray and depend on God fell on deaf ears. Her mind was far too rattled and out of control to tame it with her daily Bible readings or the prayers that were part and parcel of her routines. She mostly just needed someone to sit with her and listen to her meanderings without comment. 

Calming my mother with palpable love was difficult to do when she was most in need of medical care. Even the kindest gestures sometimes backfired and made her even more anxious. It was not easy seeing and hearing her confused reality, but some people clearly understood how to just be a loving friend. Her sisters called her every single day to let her know that they were thinking of her. Most of the time the conversations were delightful but brief. It did not take a great deal of time to show her know that somebody cared about her. When she was very sick she often hung up on her siblings in anger, but they always faithfully called once again the following day. She knew that she could count on them and their love. 

Mama had a neighbor named Helen who was a kind of confidante. Helen would stop by my mother’s house just to see how she was doing. She rarely went inside. Her purpose was to let my mom know that someone was thinking of her. Helen was like an angel who brought calm to even Mama’s most difficult days. She did not do so with advice, but rather just by being there. 

Thankfully few people endure full blown paranoia, psychosis or the cyclical pains of bipolar disorder. On the other hand anxiety and depression are far more common. Some of us have blue days in reaction to the weather or a physical illness or some tragedy in our lives, but we soon enough heal and move forward. Others are continually daunted by sadness that descends on them with great regularity. They may be anxious most of the time. There are treatments for such things that may or may not work, but having understanding relationships are just as important. Every one of us needs a Helen in our lives, someone who sees and hears us without trying to fix us unless we ask her to do so. 

When people are hurting and in a state of sorrow the best thing we might do is just allow them to speak of their pain without judgement or attempts to dissuade them from their thinking. The only time we need to intercede is when they are threatening self harm or indicating that they want to hurt others. Most of the time they simply need to get their poisonous feelings out in the the open and know that people will still love them. They need to believe that they have some value and that there are individuals who care about them. In fact, this is what all of us require. It is part of our humanity to want to be seen and heard and still loved. 

Helen always knew when my mother was in trouble. She would call me to be certain that I realized that Mama was in the middle of a psychotic episode. I in turn would take my mother to her doctor for the professional help that she required. Helen seemed to clearly understand that my mother needed her and Mama loved her just for being there. We might all learn how to be like Helen. When someone is crying out our best response might simply be to listen and love. 


2 thoughts on “Just Listen and Love

  1. Thanks for that, I know it was difficult to write, but most of us have knows someone like your mother, and yes, it is very difficult to deal with it in a loving way. Thank God for the Helens in this world.


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