To My Mother, Who Has Schizophrenia: Here Are the Things I Do Not Say


Dear Mom,

This is a weird letter.

It’s to “you,” but I’m writing it out loud on the internet so that other people can read it.

I guess I just feel more comfortable talking to you directly.

Today you called me and asked, “Emily, do you think it’s OK if I eat something?”

So I asked you what you meant, and you said you weren’t sure.

I guess we resolved it and you did end up getting a few bites.

Then I told you about my day and my life and the girls and my thoughts.

I rambled on a lot, as I do.

I described the ocean to you, and how wonderful it was to watch my girls come alive in the saltwater and dash along the shoreline. I explained the game Maddie played with the surf, running in and out with the waves, racing and pacing herself just right to miss the water’s edge. I talked about the elderly who sit all day on the benches and watch the streams of people going up and down. “Oh, I love to people watch,” you said.

I tried to paint a visual picture of my hand aching with cold in the ice chest, fishing for a cold drink in the bottom of the cooler and how it hurt, but felt good all mixed in with the sweat and dried salt on my shoulders and the tightness of my skin after too much sun.

You got it all. I know you did.

We talked about the joy of summer and lazy days.

There are things I did not say, though.

I did not say, “Thank you for letting me be your daughter right now, and letting me brag to you about how beautiful my life is.”

I did not say, “Thank you for being so happy for me — truly, legitimately happy for my happiness and good fortune and my beach and health and all of it.”

But you never complain or compare your life to mine. Instead you always say, “I’m proud of you,” and mean it.

I paused after the beach story and said “I really hope we can get you here one day, Mom. I want you to be on this beach with me, too.”

The last time we tried this idea was a few years ago and you could not make the trip. You have schizophrenia. You were worried about your colostomy bag leaking on an airplane. You got stressed out thinking about the airport and traveling and it overloaded your mind and so you never made it.

Mom, there have been so many nights when I lay in my comfortable bed and thought of you in your filthy, falling-down home, wishing I could do more for you. I’ll feel my tears start to slide out and I will feel guilty for all that I have and all that you don’t have.

You love me unconditionally and never really ask for anything.

When I called tonight to say good night, you said, “Just hearing your voice is making my face smile non-stop.”

I gave the phone to Zoey and you guys talked awhile. Not sure Zoey understood everything you were trying to say to her. When I got the phone back you said, “We were talking in tongues to each other.”

“OK, Mom,” I laughed at your joke.

Mom, you have so much love in your heart. Even with all you go through, it shines through.

Zoey, who is only 10, can see it, too. It’s contagious.

Do you know Zoey asked me after the conversation if she could write you a letter and send you some of her birthday money?

It’s not because she feels sorry for you. It’s because she loves you.

I told her you would probably want to take the money and buy a gift for her and send it right back.

“That’s OK,” Zoey said.

She’s wise like that. She understands there is more joy in giving.

Thank you, mom, for that lesson. I’m passing it along now, the best I can, to my girls.

I love you.

Emily's mom

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