I'd like to think I've had my fair share of life's struggles. As a result, I would also like to think I have my fair share of great advice! If only people would listen...
2 months ago I lost my Sister-in-law. She was the only person on Virginie's side of the family that had reached out to me in an effort to try and understand the reasons for my transition. Her husband had made is clear that he could not handle it, and that if she was to spend any time with me, it would not be anytime when he was around. Virginie's Sister, whom I'll call Leah did her best. Although I was somewhat skeptical of her motives, I decided to trust them despite the difficulties I had with the rest of her family. And so started, but only started, a beautiful friendship that I'm sorry to say, didn't actually work out.
So now that I've given the end of the story, why read on? Because how things unfolded is the story, and because of the way they unfolded, I shall never know if and how I contributed to her eventual death, and if I could ask for just 10 more minutes with her, I realize now I would not even say a thing. I would just listen.
Leah and I had gone on a walk. It as a rather long walk... you know, the ones where you have not got everything out and so you just keep walking... I read an article once that was suggesting that going for a drive or a walk was a great way to listen to your teenager. The reason? It's because they have an opportunity to focus on something else, other than talking. They can stare ahead and walk... knowing that I'm equally focused on not tripping over my own two feet just as they are. As soon as you are looking in someones eyes, it changes things.
Leah didn't agree with my choice, but she chose love. That touched me. She struggled to explain why she wanted to try, and as I listened to her faltering words, I recognized in them her sincerity. She couldn't even explain it herself, but despite her lack of understanding, she wanted to try anyway.
Shortly after I lost my job, found a new job, and we planned to make our move. Leah was also busy, and so she was not always in touch. I admit, I took this personally. Our oldest daughter decided to stay in Edmonton for her grade 12 year, and we decided to support her. A loving couple took her in, no questions asked, and a Councillor taught us what we needed to do to keep her safe, giving us a warning that she had not yet seen a teenager with mental illness accomplish this great task.
We received a call one morning from child welfare services in Alberta on the grounds of Child Abandonment. Virginie talked at great length to the investigator to ensure she answered all her questions thoroughly. In the end, the investigator was satisfied with our preparations, and no charges were laid. I wondered though, what do-gooder had called and why? But rather than listen, I just made accusations. I felt justified that sweet Leah in her kind ways, had done her best to tell us she didn't agree with Natasha remaining in Edmonton. In my frustration, I blocked her email. Just like the rest of the family, I was sick and tired of trying.
If I could go back in time, I don't think I would refrain from making accusations. I still feel that anger is something we all need to learn to manage, but I would have forgiven. And then, I would have listened. I would have listened to how my actions affected her, and if she was willing, to anything else that was bogging her life down.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't blame myself for her death. It was not my fault. But, should have, could have, would have... There are still few days that I don't consider the answers to these questions, take a moment to feel the sorrow, and then allow myself to rise compassionately above them.
Like Leah, I also struggle with Mental Illness, and sometimes, all I need is for someone to listen. Anyone. Not with the intent to give any advice, because all our stories are unique. Whom among us, really understands the struggles of another? I would like to propose no one. I just sometimes want a safe place to speak, where there are no ramifications for saying things the wrong way. Where there is no offense or reading into things. I've heard too many statements like "It's not about you". Life is short, so my advice is to hold your advice. Give those who hurt a safe place to speak by listening. Listening with empathy. In doing so, you give them the one thing that they are lacking. Hope.
Listening, this is what we do when we love someone.