Over the Fence: Roses and Rain, Sunshine and Shadows


I watched Caleb on Saturday.  He loves to stand and look out the windows here at my house.  I have to raise the shades because they are too heavy for him to push aside.  He will look and look.  Saturday after his nap, he came to the windows here in the living room,  sat in the sunshine coming through the window and played in that spot for the longest time.  I watched him stand up and look out into the yard and I was glad that the spider wort and the yellow iris were blooming and that the grass was green.  Will some vague memory of that backyard come up in his mind, some Deja vu sort of moment in his future,  when he is reminded of something pleasant that's mixed up with the warmth of sun on his head, the view of flowers and freshly mown lawn and the deep shade of a tree,  outside the window?  I hope so!  Oh I do hope so!

It will be a lovely little something to hold onto in the future when things aren't going so well perhaps or life has seemed particularly harsh.

I have my own memories from early childhood that I hold tightly to.  I remember coming home with Granny and Granddaddy and as we'd top the hill before we came to the River Valley  the sky would absolutely fill me with awe, especially if we were arriving near sunset.  I was convinced at three or four that I was viewing the very shores of heaven and I remember asking Granny over and over again about heaven.   I still get that sense of complete peacefulness and serenity that I had way back then, a surety that I was entering a place that was a sort of forever home, a feeling I never got anywhere else I've lived.  

And then there is the bend in the road from town that leads to our main roadway.  You go down a slight hill, cross a creek with an old concrete bridge and then uphill on a curve and there's just something about that little space of 1000 feet or so that makes my heart swing upwards and a smile come to my lips because I know I am near, nearer than I've been yet, to coming home once again, even if I've been away for just a few minutes.  You can only imagine how my heart leaps when we've been gone a week or more.  

I guess what I want is for Caleb and Millie, Taylor and Josh and Isaac to feel here is the true depth of love for something more than soil and trees and sky.  It's the feeling of the place itself, the same feeling that has endured through my whole life long and I suspect has been here for many, many more years than I've been alive.   It is a place to come home to.  There's no denying it.  It's a place that was meant to be home.

Not every one feels it. Mama grew up here and yet she has no particular feeling one way or the other over it.  She had ownership over it and with Mama possession is 9/10ths of the law but there is no heart in owning something and in the end she gave it to my brothers and I.  She speaks pleasantly of memories of the place but it doesn't seem to have got hold of her heart the way it did mine or my brothers, no, nor of my oldest cousin and later my son.   I can't say if Katie has it or not.  She's at home here but is it home to her or is that a place yet to be found in her life?  I can't say.  I shall have to ask her sometime if I think of it.   

JD never lived here.  His children love exploring the grounds  but do they love it, feel it as Bess and I do?   Bess tells me that as attracted as she was to Sam, her first visit here the sense of the place hit her hard.   "All I wanted was to come here to stay and it be mine."   Perhaps Bess fell for the land first  and Sam after and loved the  land before she had feeling for the family.   That's quite all right.  It unites us all the same.  Her bloodline will live here and it's partly mine.  

Josie has a vague memory of the place but Ross nor Lily have ever known it.  And Amie...does Amie miss it or is she content where she is, far away from peach trees and cicadas and the river valley?  I don't know.  I don't know.

But I am sure of this much: we love it.   There are members of the family who love it.  It is home to those of us who have that feeling.  And after us there will be others who come here to call it home and love it as we do.

For all that I ended my day wondering about Caleb and if his heart will come here to be rested the morning was nearly lost in tears.   I have been reading the last book of the Elliot family trilogy, The Heart of the Family by Elizabeth Goudge and the opening chapters were hard, so hard, to read.    That morning they were hard to read though I've never noted before they were so difficult.   But Saturday morning they were hard and heavy and I could have wept for the characters whose souls were tortured by nerves and near madness and deep despair.   It brought back too clearly the days when I lived in those dark places and couldn't see enough light to find even a tiny crack to reassure me that light existed.

Perhaps too it was brought on by the knowledge that some I love dearly are suffering at the moment, in their own dark places.   And the knowledge that there are others whom I don't know, struggling and straining, attempting to hold on to the very last bits of what remains of sanity and salvation and feeling they shall never find their way out of the dark deep pits where they are currently residing overwhelmed me.

Does this seem incongruous with a morning spent sitting in the sunshine, admiring the wealth of roses that are mine only in this season?   It is not incongruous.    That warming sun, the green and blue gloriousness of the day, the abundance of rose bloom,  only served to point up still further how deep the darkness was..  I  lived there.  I longed to die there.  The contrast between the brilliant light and the darkness is why so many who have mental health issues and depression will choose to die in this season.   Yes, truly, more will choose to take their lives in this season, the season known for renewal and new growth, than in any other this year.   It is proven fact, with statistics to back it and it makes me ache so each year knowing that others are battling along, trying so hard and some lose.   They lose heart, they lose reason, they lose to the battle of self loathing and they are tired.  Hopelessness in the face of hope is the saddest thing there is.

I put the book down.  I stopped where I was and I grabbed hold of my blessings of which there are many and I thanked God I was not where I had been.   I swallowed the aching lumps in my throat and I got up to fill my head and hands with things to do and thoughts of the day ahead because I just could not deal with it, the knowledge of the wealth of sorrow hanging about me, past and present.   

Soon Caleb was here and there's nothing quite like a busy 18 month old to distract you.  But I am humbled, because much as I long to be impactful in my grandchildren's lives the truth is they do more good for me than I've had a chance to do for even one of them, yet.  They lift me and revive me.  

Later in the week, I kept thinking of my days of struggling.  I apologized to Amie during our last call, for my failures, but I was wrong.  I apologized for the things I'd done wrong not knowing I was wrong.  What I ought to have apologized for, what I owe Sam an apology for, are the things I did wrong knowing full well I was wrong.   

I want to tell them I'm sorry for the days I put my mental woes ahead of their needs.  I want to say I'm sorry for the small ways I neglected their care, for the days I came in and locked the bedroom door and screeched at them to go away.   I want to say I'm sorry for those times you watched me take the six pack of beer to my room and come out with empty bottles and left you alone with the TV.   I'm sorry for choosing numbness over honest feeling.  I'm sorry for making you less important than the ways I felt could numb me enough.   Busyness with volunteering and busyness with friends and even just being alone for hours on end in the room next to them.  Those were choices I made, consciously and without a thought of the impact it might have upon them.  Not caring enough to care for them first.

I could excuse it away. I could own that I felt such a failure already that it seemed an inconsequential thing to fail them in one more way.  It would be truth.  But there were enough ways to fail them that I was so very unaware of, and why heap on the ways in which I knew I was a failure?

And yet redemption comes.  It does come if we choose to hang on long enough.   There was a day, after the marriage broke and the  drunk driver hit me and I'd been away for months, that every thing was redeemed.  We finally had a home the three of us, we were a family once more.   It had been raining and there before us on our way home was the most beautiful rainbow in the sky.  

One of the children asked "Is there really a pot of gold at the end?"  I remember saying "Well, let's find out..." and we went on down the road riding towards that rainbow instead of going home to do homework and make supper.  We came to one end of the thing in a field.  We could see it there just before us.  There was no pot of gold but there was another side.  Perhaps the end was there...  We decided to find the other end and we drove for miles and miles trying to get to the other side before it disappeared.  We got home after dark that night.  We had soup and grilled cheese and the kids went to bed without a bath or doing homework but it was all right.  It was.

Something wonderful happened to us, the three of us, that day, as we chased that rainbow.  It was as though somehow without saying a word I was making a promise to them.  And somehow, without their saying  a word they accepted my promise as a good one,  without pointing out how many broken ones were behind us.  We made a covenant between us that we would go on and forget what was behind us.  We'd take the fresh start and move ahead.

I still had bouts of depression and dark days but their care was my first concern.  They never again saw me take comfort in a bottle or spending long hours away from home showing others what a great volunteer I was, or ignoring them while I spent hours and hours with friends.    I wasn't a perfect parent.  We can't any of us be.  We will fail in hundreds of little ways because we don't have experience to do better until after we see our mistakes, but I never again failed them in the old ways.  I held the demon darkness at bay until they were gone to their father on weekends and then I might well lie in bed weeping all weekend long, but when they came in Sunday evening, I was present as a parent once more.  They never again saw me shut the door to keep company with beer or wine while they fended for themselves.   They never again had to wonder if they'd done something wrong to make me act the way I did.  

And I suppose that's what I really want to apologize to them for.  To say "If I made you feel it was your fault it wasn't.  It was me.  It was only about me."  I'd tell them I was sorry I put my own mental health issues ahead of what theirs might be.  I'd tell them it's okay to fail their kids in small ways, but I'd also say, "Please....Let the children know NOW that it's you and not them when you're having a bad season.  Meet their needs first and fall apart after they are in bed...even send them to bed early if need be but let them know, it's not something they did.  It's just that mommy  is hurting inside right now."  That's what I'd say.

How did I survive?  Why did I?  Why did I keep going on when all I wanted was to just not be any more?  How did I make it through those last final days before I could make a promise once more and keep it?

One of those weird things that happen once or twice in a lifetime is why.  You see, I'd made another promise, when I was 16.  I went to sleep filled with despair and I remember my last prayer that night was "God please just let me die."   I had a dream.  

I stood before a map on a table, the sort you see in those war movies from WWII where everyone is standing about the maps of the battlefields.   I stood looking down at this map and was filled with awe.  I remember looking up at the people about me, no one I knew, all dressed the same and asking "Is this really how my life will turn out?"   And one stood before me and said "Yes.  But tonight you have the choice.  Live or die."   I gazed a few minutes longer at the map and I remember saying slowly "Then I choose to live."  And just like that it was all gone, the map, the people, the room.  I was back in my own room staring at the dark ceiling (Lord, how many times over the years have I found myself doing the same, staring at the dark ceiling of my room?), committed to life, promising to live.

Somehow, I kept that promise.  I'd plan my death, how I'd  kill myself and sometimes I'd go far enough to equip myself with the means.  I'd imagine the relief of letting go of life and floating into whatever lay beyond, much as one floated on a pool of water.   But somehow, that dream always reasserted itself in my mind.  "You promised...." I'd hear whispered somewhere in the back of my mind and I'd nod.  I'd promised.  Somehow I believed the promise that had been made to me, even though it was many many years before I'd feel I'd finally reached the promised life.  You see the memory of what I'd felt in seeing my life mapped out before me, though I couldn't tell you one single thing that was there even half a second after I'd dreamed, somehow that memory of something wonderful ahead, sustained me.  I would resolve all over again to choose life and I'd go on until hope faltered and stumbled and fell face down and then I'd promise all over again.

Now, years after the depression, free of that horrible prison in which I dwelt for too long, there will come a threat, a whisper from the enemy.  "Why bother?  It is hard to live...  Just die..." and I laugh, literally laugh in his face  and say, "Oh no!  Not yet...I want to see this thing all the way through..."

That was me.   My brother couldn't see that promise, perhaps he never heard it.  Nor did a lovely friend.  Or my nephew...

Recently though I've had another thought.  To stop denying other's mental health struggles.  I see them.  I acknowledge them.  John doesn't 'believe in' depression.  That's not to say he's never struggled with it.  I lived with him through two different periods when depression won him.  He came out of it but he still denies that others suffer more deeply, can't see the way out the way he did.   And I've been compliant and kept quiet even though he knows my back history.  But lately, I've spoken up.    I'm speaking up.  

There is such a thing as mental illness.  No one chooses it.  Some fight hard against it and still have bad spells to be got through.  They take the pills.  They struggle through the bad spells and when it's over they pick up life and get on with it all over again.  But now and then there is damage they can't undo.   I know this to be truth.  I've seen it first hand.

All I can say is what I've said.  Apologize to those you've harmed and vow to do better by them.  And be better.   Yes, it's hard to schedule a breakdown.  I get that.   And yet, I know firsthand that you can...It takes a lot of strength to wait until bedtime or to make it through a morning until the school bell has rung.   But it can be done.   It's hard not to want to self medicate with alcohol or drugs or sex or compulsive eating and bingeing.   But you can do it.  I know you can do it.  You've held on so hard for so long.  I can see you have it in you to keep on without leaning on those faulty crutches that make you fall to your lowest moments when you've employed them.  You're strong.  You've been strong all along.  That's why you keep fighting your way clear through time and time again.  

But we won't end here on the dark side of the day.  We'll go back to the sunshine shall we and let it warm us through.  We'll take deep breaths of the fragrant air and glory in the sound of leaves that sound so fluid and lovely, like waves on a shore.   We'll breathe in peace and breathe out prayers that all will find their way.

I could write, here in this space of home and housework and gardens and such.   I have at times.  However, I promised you something long ago: I promised when I left Penny Ann behind that you'd see me, as I am, as I was.   It is part of the one who stood behind the persona that hid her so very well.  My life is not perfect.  It is a normal life with ups and downs, with flies and mosquitoes, roses and rain, sunshine and shadow...Just like any other.

Hugs to you all...And lots of love, truly.  


Conni said...

Beautiful, Terri, simply beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing the pain and the promise. I had no idea what this post would be about yet my eyes filled at your masterfully crafted scene of sweet Caleb, and your heart’s desire for his memories years hence. I’ve not had more than the common-to-life short bouts of depression (unless you count the strong urge to run my car into ANYTHING the night my mother-in-law UNLOADED all of her anger on me following the car accident death of my 24 y.o. husband. It was only the fact that I had my
toddler and infant sons in the car with me that defused that action!) I have, however, family members who have STRUGGLED with deep depression, one who committed suicide, and friends who’ve shared their pain. God will use this piece, I am sure, to encourage compassion, healing and restoration. Your transparency and wisdom gained, wrapped so clearly in the words you choose, are a blessing to all who read.
Thank you.

Deanna said...

Thank you for sharing this important message. Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

My adult son struggled mightily with depression and anxiety which he tried to self medicate with alcohol. A little over 2 years ago he hit bottom and we did one of the hardest things a parent will ever do - we took him to the E.R. and he was sent to a mental health facility for a few days. He jokingly refers to it as "brain jail" but it was no joke. I stayed in a nearby hotel during his stay so he would know I was as close as possible. I didn't want him to feel abandoned.

We were lucky. We knew how to access good care and found an excellent therapist for him. The physician at the facility also got the medications just right on the first try. He's been sober ever since, continues to see his therapist every other week and has been 100% compliant with his medications. I know how rare that is because we know a number of other young people who have not been so fortunate. Just a few weeks ago dear friends of ours buried their son who had struggled with mental health issues for many years.

Because of our son's experience and my husband's attempts to help another young man, we are now on a local community behavioral health committee with the goal of making it easier to access mental health care in our area. My son has been very open and honest about what he has gone through and consequently has had several friends reach out to him with their own struggles. I hope his example and encouragement can be a source of help to others as I'm sure your story here will help someone who needed to hear this. We must de-stigmatize mental health problems and treat them with the same dignity as any physical health problem.

terricheney said...

Conni, thank you. I sincerely hope that it will help someone somewhere if not in their own state to acknowledge a family member or friend who has been telling them that they don't want to go on.

Deanna, No one talked about mental health issues when I was growing up. "What will people think?" was first and foremost if anything got said. It's high time they thought about it, period. I know there are people who use their mental health as an excuse. I also know those who, like your son, somehow come out the other side. Pray God we see more and more who come out the other side.
I did not know May was mental health month but I do know that more suicides occur in the months March through June than any other months of the year.

Unknown said...

Bravely and beautifully written, reading this made me cry this morning but gave me some strength too. Thank you.

Rhonda said...

Good morning Terri, I’ve cyber-known you for 20 years or so. But I’ve learned so much about you in the last 4 weeks or so, I’m truly amazed how hard things were for you and yet how you came through it all to thrive in your current stage of life.
Big hugs to you my friend.

I love the image of Caleb looking out the window ❤️

Liz from New York said...

What a powerful post my friend. It takes a very strong person to reach so deep inside and share these things, and as we all know, there are strength in numbers. I’m sure most of us patch up, and bury the things we should be confronting. I’ve watched my husband break down, with despair and depression. I’ve been there myself. Apologizing to the family , and hearing some hesitation and mistrust, has been the hardest he’s ever had to do. There are no amount of apologies that can heal the past, but at least(I hope) the sincerity shines through. After all, who else do we have, if not our families? Thank you for sharing. Best, Liz

Mindy said...

Honestly I don't have the words to thank you for this wonderful, brutally honest post. You have bared your soul and you've ripped away the mask. Many years ago I, too, lived in the darkest abyss of depression and I do understand the wretched pain. It's a terrible place to be, isn't it? I have encountered people who've lost a loved one or a dear friend to suicide and it breaks my heart to see them suffer, to think they are to blame and I want to shout "It's not your fault!" I think the pain of living in that dark hole just becomes unbearable for some. I tell people Readers Digest saved my life; I read an article about depression and at the end several 'warning signs' were listed. I had nearly every one.

What can we do better? As you have so eloquently pointed out, we can open our eyes, stop whispering, educate ourselves and others and work to improve access to care.

'Thank You' is not enough, but it's all I have. We love you Terri Cheney, yes we do!

Louise said...

My daughter was deeply depressed and she refused to get help.. Two years ago she took her life and left me.. Suicide is the hardest thing to understand.. at least for me anyway.. then in October 2020 my youngest foster son took his life. There are so many help lines out there but no one wants to admit they need help and suddenly it is too late.. or they think so and figure they are better off dead.
It will take awhile to get over the hurt and other people who have dealt with losing loved ones to suicide say it NEVER gets easier..
Louise ( Weezie ) in Alberta

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

Terri, this post was beautiful. I loved the memories recalled about the land where your home is and all of the beautiful descriptions and memories you have there and your hopes for your children and grandchildren to have wonderful memories of the home place.

You wrote of depression and times of sorrow with such grace. I believe this post may help many people and even help other people help their loved ones.

Great writing!

vintage ellen said...

Terri, this is so powerful and true. I suffer from depression, take my medication and cope pretty well. But I was amazed at how many people suffer from it when I finally accepted it and admitted my feelings to others. Thank you for sharing your story and giving hope to so many of us. May God bless you.

Shirley in Washington said...

Dear Terri - This was so achingly beautiful it brought tears to my eyes! I read through it twice and each time it touched me deeply. Healing is in your words for yourself and for others. Your honesty is inspiring. Love to you! Shirley

terricheney said...

Unknown, I hope you brought comfort...

Rhonda, I have shied away from sharing what was most difficult and painful in my life but someone needs to hear it and know that another understands. Hugs back to you! You've been such a lovely loyal friend to me and it is deeply appreciated.

Liz, I am sure that your husband did experience depression especially after such a traumatic thing he'd gone through in 9-11. Firefighters, Police and Medics have higher occurrence of depression and suicide than most other professions.

Mindy, Oh my! You've brought tears to my eyes...Thank you so much!

Louise, It's more than we can bear sometimes to deal with mental health issues. The truth is, there is still a sense of shame and unworthiness even that keeps us from admitting we need help, as well as the too quick and pat reply of "Well just look at how much more fortunate you are than others!" It is not enough. In fact, it's often something that pushes us into a darker place.
But know this my dear friend, your daughter nor your son took their life because of YOU. They didn't do it because of anything you did or didn't do. They took their lives because they simply couldn't stand the weight of darkness that rested upon them. And nothing you could have done would have lifted it. Hugs to you my dear dear longtime friend.

Susie, I love this place in a foolish way. It is just land, but there IS a sense of peace here and of home and I can't change that fact. Just as I loved that shabby old house I lived in once upon a time. If I could have it HERE I'd truly think I were in heaven...

Ellen, Hang in there my dear. Hang in there. I too took the medications and went to therapy and crashed and arose again and again. I'm watching now as another I love deeply is doing the same and I'm so proud of her for struggling so hard when I know how hard it is.

Shirley/WA Hugs to you dear.