Her name was Ginger, a smart and beautiful dark eyed little girl given to us to love, and nurture. She grew up in the suburbs, attended a Blue Ribbon School and was given many opportunities to soar. At one point in time the trajectory of her life changed and she slowly left us emotionally….
Over the course of many years, my husband and I watched as her Mental Illness and Addiction began eating away at her life. It was a long, lonely and difficult journey for her and us as we continued trying to figure out her issues. Over time Ginger visited and resided in many foreign lands including attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, pills and a wide variety of dark and lonely places. She received treatment and was sober for a time until the Alcohol and Opiods called out to her and she answered. In the last few years, I knew one day i would lose my child to the downward spiral of addiction. I thought many times a phone call would come announcing her death.
Shortly after the death of her first husband, Ginger lost her 13 year old son to suicide and this sadness was complicated by her son’s note coupled with the fact he had used her drugs to kill himself. Her other son was immediately removed from the home to live with family members which left Ginger alone. Following these losses, she circled various roads through Rehabiltation, NA and AA, then found sobriety for a time. She remarried. Her second husband who was a recovering alcoholic, died a few years later, and Ginger became homeless. She lived “on the edge” much of this time, and health issues continued to direct her back to prescription drugs and opioids. Her doctors were more than happy to prescribe the drugs, even when made aware of her history of addiction and mental health issues.
A while ago Ginger was involved in a motorcycle accident incurring serious injury to her arm. Surgeries were recommended and each time opiods were prescribed for pain. During this time Ginger began couch surfing from one AA acquaintance to another. Sometimes she cleaned houses and worked odd jobs to live, but would eventually lose her “room and bath” Some of these places afforded her food and safety, but along the way she was used and given little affirmation of her self worth. She spent time with men who used then disposed of her. Finally, a kind older man took her in, gave her food and a modest room and bath, while asking nothing in return. He loved her knowing her flaws, and told us,
“She gave what she could including cookies”.
Ginger loved to bake cookies and cakes for him and their ANON groups and seemingly found community and peace within those walls, but could not find it in her soul.
When spending time with my daughter, it was always a case of which personality would show up. As a family, we did our best to include her in family gatherings but it was a real effort. We were constantly on guard reminding each other “Ginger’s coming, hide your valuables”. She lied to us about everything and many times for no reason. Trust was an issue for years but increased after she became homeless.
On December 20th I attended a School Concert with friends. I arrived home and was greeted by family who broke the news to me of Gingers death. She’d died instantly and alone in a one car accident!
Of course I felt it coming!! I’d visited her in the hospital in October and noticed the signs of decline evidenced by her unintentional movement and slurred speech. I didn’t want to believe it at the time but now it became my reality. My body and mind dove into shock! I could hardly comprehend the news spoken by my children. I was broken as if someone had beaten me, kicked me, stomped on me. The anger and sadness were incomprehensible. Although predicted, this sad news was overwhelming and caused me to be unable to think or feel. THIS WAS MY CHILD!! For a time it shut down my ability to remember, but i would remember. I would remember Ginger!!
The day i wrote her eulogy, i was determined to recall specific happy times of her life that made me smile. I spoke lovingly of this dark haired, dark eyed daughter who came into this world and was loved and welcomed to this family which included at the time her daddy, older brother Bob and sister Cherie. I spoke of her physical and inner beauty, her smile, and her electric personality that drew people to her. They needed to understand she loved Donald Duck, Hollie Hobbie, and shoes that didn’t fit her. Yes, above all the difficulty of her life, it was her spontanaity and fun loving nature I chose people to remember at her funeral. Most funeral attendees remembered Ginger as a sweet young child. Some knew of the challenges she faced over the years, the struggles and drug addiction, and a few knew of her mental illness. Today there were not secrets. Ginger was gone
And now…. And now…..
The funeral was over, words were spoken, food was served, guests gone home and it was my family who should quietly grieve. I was her broken and sad mother grieving for me, her siblings and her Dad who passed a year prior and who tried many times to help her, always with the confidence she would one day be healed. Other family members and friends grieved too. Some of us grieved what was, and some what never was and would never be. All of us were sad for a life lost much too soon while we also grieved her unrealized potential.
Many months have passed, and grief often stops by to visit. It sits on my lap, looks into my eyes and shouts “I’m here”. I acknowledge its presence as tears flood my eyes and memories of my daughter wash over me. I realize life goes on for everyone, including my family. They continue to grieve in their own way. My daughters name is sometimes mentioned at family functions. “Ginger would have loved that,” or “Remember the time Ginger….” Her 26-year-old son continues to grieve the loss of his mother, the mother who at times was unavailable to him but loved him deeply, a mother taken from him much too soon.
There are times I cry alone in my home as i view her beautiful picture, her sister sitting beside her. I see other family photos taken in joyfilled happier times. I sometimes have sleepless nights wondering “What would life have been like if…..I cannot explain the “What ifs” but i know they can make me crazy. I don’t visit there often and i certainly can not dwell in that Sad Land.
And so life travels on for me, a life I’ve learned to accept as well as embrace. I work hard surrounding myself with family and friends who love me and are good for me. I’ve come to understand there are people who don’t understand, and may even judge me. Some may believe i could have prevented Gingers drug addiction and mental illness. These are the same people who fear Mental illness like the flu believing they may catch it. Some believe if their loved ones achieve well or hang out with the right people, or attend the right church, their lives won’t be touched.
Since Ginger’s death, I have watched people struggle with family members in the grip of drug addiction and mental illness. Some openly choose to talk about it, while some run and hide, keeping it a secret. But like the proverbial beach ball held under the water, it requires much energy to hold that beach ball down, creating much pain and of course the ball eventually pops up exposing the sickness. I get it, I understand, this was my life for many years. It is called Shame!!
Along my new journey I’ve learned to look for Joy in everyday places, sometimes reaching inside of my brain to remember the good times. Life with Ginger had been CLOUDY AND OVERCAST for so long, making it difficult to see the SUNSHINE.
Today, I see JOY which admittedly can be elusive. But, I experience joy and excitement at Basketball Games for my Granddaughters. I am present to cheer them to victory. I listen as my grown grandchildren describe their plans for their bright future as they talk about their College Experience. I get to share in the anticipation of my adult grandsons move to a new location for a job promotion. It is at that moment I understand definitively that “life must go on”.
On the Anniversary of Gingers death one of her brothers and their family invited me to dinner. We ate, then i asked the question “What do you remember about Aunt Ginger? Each shared their memories, and each included a funny story.
More recently i have been invited to walk alongside others who are bravely traveling this road. My long time friends fifty-year-old son is addicted to painkillers. She has spent years hiding his mental illness and drug addition from her friends and family. She’s made excuses for his behavior, accepted his deceit, covered for his inability to hold a job and given him money, lots of money! She cannot trust him because he steals, and she’s learned to lock away her valuables including prescription drugs. She prays that his pain and hers will end! I listen to her, I understand her, I get it, but i wish things could be different for her too. Sadly my friend is walking the same path I traveled with my daughter and wearing the same shoes. The color of the shoes may be different but the “SOULS’’ are the same.
Last week i received a phone call from another friend checking up on me, she’s a gift I treasure. She could not have known that at that very minute I was in a difficult place, or that she would become my joy for the day. This is my special friend who asks me how i am doing and allows me to speak openly about my daughter if I choose to. She doesn’t need to hear the ugly sordid details, but i know if i share, the information will be held in utmost confidence. I am so grateful for her friendship and her presence in my life. JOY comes in many packages!!
Each day i walk for exercise but also to smell the fresh air, which sometimes confirms I am alive and breathing. In springtime I see flowers on my morning walk and birds in the trees preparing to make their nest for the arrival of their babies. Tears appear in my eyes as i remember those days of expectation for my own babies including my Ginger.
There are days I find unexpected people in unexpected places including the day i encountered a Joyful and Contagious Peggy and her friend Florence at my local McDonalds. Although I didn’t know either of them, I listened to their conversation and later wrote about them. On that day they were a reminder to me of Gratitude, Hope and Joy!
Today I visualize a beautiful glass plate, broken into many pieces lying on the floor. I can choose to throw away the chard jagged pieces, or create a beautiful piece of art, cemented in, washed clean, sanded and polished to its new beauty. It will be different, but it will be beautiful!
Today I Celebrate the Broken Pieces
Today I celebrate you Ginger!
I love You!!