I have visited Kate's blog Mamapundit only a handful of times. And yesterday, I learned that she has lost her oldest beloved son, Henry age 18, to drug addiction. The boy of sky and soul and intelligence above these words is that child, her child. She writes with more eloquence and heartbreak than is almost bearable here.
When there is an ending like this, where to begin? What touches us most deeply often resonates intimately. Kate's loss resonates with me because she is a writer, she is pregnant, a mother of siblings, a mother of a beautiful, sensitive teenage boy who was troubled. She is 31 weeks pregnant now with a girl baby, in the first breaths of new air that the world will forever hold for her, a world without her son. Her most recent post is entitled simply Harder Than Labor.
A few weeks ago I wrote Delicate Bulls: An Open Letter to Parents of Teenagers. Reading it again, held in the mind against the image of Henry's face- here, a child clearly deeply loved and who has experienced joy and safety in this life- my tone is more clear, sharper, more shrill: it has the distinct tone of desperation. Of a mother begging to the universal workings to help her protect her son. My Dakota is 16 at the end of this month. I know from reading Kate's blog her pleadings were loud and true and from the straight and endless love of a mother's heart.
If we know a young person- even distantly- and suspect they are in emotional pain, we can find a way to reach out privately to them, in person or letter, and make a real connection. Ask if they are all right. Find a commonality and speak to it. Share an experience, voice your concern. Be the living embodiment of a society that makes nets to catch the falling young.
Make a friendship with a young person. Invest time, energy, maybe even money. If they need tutoring and can't afford it, pay for it. If they need therapy, find a good one and tell them how much you believe a good therapist can help and give them the business card and tell them they have two paid appoinments on you. Take them to eat and listen more than you talk. Don't judge. If you are, hide it. If you don't know an answer, don't make it up, figure out how to find it with them.
Offer solutions. Therapy, meditation, karate, extreme sports, testing for ADD or processing disorders, nutritional changes, books, ideas. Offer solutions and offer gently and understandingly.
NEVER let teenagers use drugs or drink around you or give any impression that you think it's OK to do so. Be understanding that is is a part of teenage culture, that pot and drugs and drinking are all the time, but also be lovingly firm in your expectation that they are not involved in this. Reason Number One is simple: it's illegal. After this you have to be willing to talk and hear things you don't want to hear. Like What do I do when everyone is my group is smoking pot after school and I can't get closer to them without doing it? You will have to answer to these things if you have a teen that really talks to you. If you don't know the answer, read a million books on teenagers. I'll list recommendations at the end of the post.
Give teenagers respect. It can be hard to do, even impossibly frustrating when faced with a passionate know it all sarcastic rude teenager, but find a way. Make eye contact. Don't interrupt. Acknowledge their feelings even if they seem ridiculous or overblown or self absorbed. Reflect what they say back to them God that made you really pissed off. Offering respect of their emotional and mental life is the first and absolutely crucial step towards being able to help in any way. Most teenagers are incredibly confused most of the time. Having the adults around them- even ones they only speak to for a moment- be respectful and kind is important to the way they percieve themselves and their future in the adult world.
Don't lie. Sometimes it's incredibly tempting to exaggerate or even lie when trying to make a very important point to a stubborn teenager; sometimes it feels like the only way to reach them is to inflate everything the way it seems they do. But teenagers are the hounddogs of incincerity and dogma and lies. If you lie they will know or find out and they will not respect you or listen to you the same ever after. I was SO tempted to exagerrate certain facts about pot smoking to my son, but resisted because I knew the backlash would expose me as corrupt. Teenagers above all destain corruption in adults.
Help teenagers find their passions and interests. A teenager who is busy is less dangerous to him or herself. This is certainly- like all these suggestions- no cure all, no saving grace: Henry was passionate about music and guitar- but it helps tremendously. Too much time to sit around and a teen has two things going on: 1 A sense that more exciting things are happening elsewhere and that his or her life SUCKS and 2 Time to dwell in emotions that are easily overblown and lack perspective. Teenagers do not have long view. Their emotions are in a sense like a toddlers: immediate and the only reality. Being involved in sports or groups or classes or projects keeps their life with a sense of purpose which is as of yet to be self-defined for most teens.
Help them stay connected to Nature. The elements are not meant to be apart from our bodies. The woods, water, mountains, dirt, beach and wide world is for our health, both physically and emotionally. This is closely connected to regular physical activity, which is crucial to managing stress and fear and sadness- frequent in the lives of teenagers.
I offer to Kate my love.