Five Years Ago
As I reflect on my role with the foundation (especially this time of year), I wanted to share some intimate thoughts that have helped in my healing while sharing more of our story.
It has been five years since my daughter was born. The day she came home from the NICU was the day my sister was admitted to the ER, never to go home again. Four years ago my grandfather died and, not long after, a series of events compelled me to leave a career I loved to work with my dad and lead our small family foundation. I made this decision seemingly quickly, yet it was based on a subconscious knowing that after my daughter was hospitalized for the fourth time, I had to make a change. This decision was not made completely out of practicality (although the changing healthcare market within a growing company and responsibility with two young children at home did influence it) nor was it made entirely out of altruism (to help my dad and spend more time with my husband and kids).
In part, the decision was made from fear. Fear that my dad’s cancer would not stay in remission (fortunately, it has) and he would pass just like those parents of my friends, just like my grandparents, just like my sister. Fear that if I kept working, and more, if my husband kept working so much, one day he would be gone, just like our dear friend, with his life ahead of him and who mentored and shaped mine. Fear that my daughter would be hospitalized and this time I would still be in that work meeting when the EMT called.
Fear that I was escaping the grief I felt for these losses if I kept escaping in work.
This realization is one I am working on now because work, keeping busy, completing lists, being on the go, that is what I do best. One of the places I used to go when I felt this way was visiting my grandma's apartment and, just like that in early 2014, I could no longer download my worries to an unconditional support. I had been defined as the “good older sister” on accident – and purpose – my whole life. Suddenly (and I say that because of denial that my sister’s life would be so quickly taken by alcohol and depression), I was no longer that person, but an only child, now with two children of my own, embarking on a childhood not unlike my own. My parents lost a daughter and a mother and father in one year – the same year they became grandparents again – to a granddaughter.
So, I became the Executive Director of the Family Foundation my grandfather had started. And it became the new way I tried to define myself. I reached out, shared stories, volunteered, gave money. But still felt (feel) unsettled. Because while this role was a way to face grief head on, it did not mean I was. I was staying BUSY, distracted, avoiding. I know this because five years later, I still want to talk for hours about my daughter’s two weeks in the NICU, still feel a jolt of shock saying out loud that my sister was an alcoholic, still cannot go skiing without her and our friend’s omnipresence, still replay past conversations.
Sometimes I felt like my role of almost four years as Executive Director had not done “any good.” Until I put together this updated website.
Hoping to honor my sister and give someone Another Chance, we explored mental health. We spent hours touring Arapahoe House and attended their event with Nic Sheff, learning more about a family who lives with addiction but supports and understands those who have not survived it. Only to have Arapahoe House close and the overwhelming process of hope diminish for a community. Hearing Rotarians for Mental Health speaker Sue Klebold talk about depression – in kids, hidden, not unlike my own adolescent depression, and certainly my sister’s, only to know one answer is to get help. But from whom? Here I am the “face” of the Family Foundation and I often spin back into grief witnessing dear friends with their own struggles of addiction and my questioning of how to support, enable, cut off - what is the best solution?
The epilogue of David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy (pages 311-314) says there is no answer. You do what you can do: “Even now, my advice is tentative. I agree wholeheartedly with the foremost recommendation of every rational antidrug campion: talk to your kids early and often about drugs. Otherwise, you’re leaving it to someone else to instruct them…. I have concluded that I would err on the side of caution and intervene earlier rather than later… Sending a child – or adult, for that matter – to rehab before he is ready and able to understand the principles of recovery may not prevent a relapse, but from what I‘ve seen it cannot hurt and may help…remembering that this is not an exact science, and each child and each family is unique.”
While I am not an expert in the mental health field, I do have life experience. And I do have fear. And in the last few weeks, I have faced this fear head-on. I have worked (truly, it is ongoing lifetime work) to slow down. To grieve the recent loss of a teacher who lived everyday to the fullest and brought joy to literally every single person he ever met. To stop filling my brain with plans, talk radio, emails that just came in, answering text messages. Read a book. Call a friend. Talk to my mom. Say hello to my dad before starting my work. Listen to my husband. Give my kids full attention. Play a game and be present. And in doing that, I have been able to write this, list the ideas to promote the nonprofits we care about, talk openly about why, feel proud of my small role with them, and, when I need to, instead of always talking - and doing – just say, “I’m just grateful to be here. And just take it one day at a time with a deep breath and therapy when needed – to live each day the best I can.”
This letter is in reflection of my experience as Executive Director of Family Foundation and these words are mine alone.
Lindsey Hayes Daly