[On the topic of the think tank prompt : Sanctuary at Poets United, this is an edited excerpt from the book I wrote about the twenty-year journey my very gifted son and I made after he was stricken with schizophrenia at seventeen. The night the first phone call came in, I went to the ocean. It has always been my sanctuary, the place where cares were subdued by the sound of the waves, where I gained strength to carry on. I have not yet submitted this manuscript; it needs a solid editing. But here is a bit of it.]
The night my son collapsed with schizophrenia, I went to the shore. My heart was aching; the familiar, resigned stoicism with which I had endured so many crises was creeping over me again. I was bracing myself for certain heartbreak, clinging with all my strength to the comfort I found in the sound of the ocean rolling in, wave on endless wave, upon the sand.
Pacing up and down the water's edge, nervous and shaking, I thought of my gentle, happy-natured son as he had been when he was little. Jeff was my third child, always laughing. His disposition had always been sunny.....In our house of four noisy children, he was my gentle, sensitive one, the one I felt was most like me.
Jeff was an Old Soul, one who lived gently and kindly on the planet. He seemed to have brought wisdom with him from wherever he was before he came to me. Now that laughing, tender little boy was a lean, fragile six-footer, seventeen years old and in the psych ward.
Apparently he had run out of my mother's house, where he was staying for the summer, racing through the darkened, night-time city streets to the hospital, where he had checked himself in.
My sister called me from Vancouver. I had to come...... Hospital staff said he was psychotic, suicidal. They needed me to sign the consent forms; they could not begin treatment until I came...........
On the way, I stopped at the shore, preparing for what came next, pacing up and down with an aching heart, nervous and shaking, trying to gather strength to see my son through whatever lay ahead.
"At least I have this," I told myself. "They cant take this away from me, no matter what happens." It had taken me twenty years to get here to Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Living here had been my dream for half my life, and it appeared that, once again, the cost of my choosing would be high, for me and my children. But this time I had the ocean's roar in my ears to give me solace.
..........That Jeff, with his big blue eyes and ready smile, his kind and gentle heart, should be suffering this was unfair and terribly painful. But I felt myself strengthening to meet him on this unfamiliar ground. My life had taught me to withstand. I would be there for him. I would see him through, and I would take my comfort in the beauty of the shore. I would replenish my stores of peace, the peace I had sought for so many years and struggled so hard to win, by letting the sursurration of the waves wash through me, through my ears, my brain, my skin, my being, until I was as calm as the lull between waves, as strong and silent as the smooth stones scattered along the ocean's shore, as patient as the sand dollar that spins its house from the sand and grit around it and carries it within.
I would take my peaceful presence to my son, to the city, to his bedside, and I would sit with him, be there with him, as he made his painful journey. I set my mind firmly in the direction of hope. He would get through this. We would get through this - together.
Somehow I knew that being there beside the sea would give me the strength to get through the days ahead...........My spirit had been hungering for ocean and nature. Now even more did I need it, to withstand the distress of being alive, the anguish of a mother whose child was in pain.
I balanced the guilt [ of having moved there] with rationalization. If I had stayed in Kelowna in a job I hated, Jeff's breakdown still may have occured. Then I would not have had the comfort of being in the place I loved to sustain and nourish me. But what would sustain Jeff, in his lonely misery? The guilt was something I would have to work on. After a lifetime of putting my childrens' needs first, it was a bitter blow that in the same moment I had made this one choice for myself, my child had been struck down.
I knew as I turned my back and walked down the trail towards the car, that no matter what happened, I could not give this place up. I needed it too much, had waited for it too long, to ever leave.