Once upon a time she was a little girl who liked to play dress-up and wear pink bows in her hair. She danced and sang and played piano and she dreamt of growing up to be famous, or maybe an astronaut, or maybe a scientist or a writer. She loved to write. Poetry. Short stories. Deep, words that moved and stirred the emotions and the mind. She was whimsical and sweet and loved animals and Cinnamon Hearts and cuddly bears and wishing on stars. She had dreams. Big ones. Little ones. Dreams painted with every colour of the imagination.
And then, her dreams started to fade as the voices in her head began to awaken. They weren’t audible at first. Just a quiet whisper here and there. She made it through High School. Graduated with honours and went off to University. And the signs kept growing. The voices kept getting louder. There were little things and not so innocuous little things that signaled something was amiss. Like forgetting to wear a coat when the weather was cold, or leaving a pot on the stove so long it burned dry and not noticing the smell and smoke.
But she seemed okay. Seemed to cope and sometimes, her mother would simply say, Oh that Shelly. It’s just her way. She’s forgetful but she doesn’t mean any harm.
And then in her second year at University there were signs of something going wrong, something coming off the rails. Her marks fell. She became depressed and eventually needed hospitalization.
The diagnosis was harsh. Unreal. Schizophrenia. How can this be, her mother wondered? Her little girl, that child of light and laughter. How could she carry such a diagnosis?
The diagnosis didn’t sit well with Shelly either. No way, she said. No way. And she ran away. And the symptoms ran with her. Mood swings. Irrational behaviours. A sudden aversion to wearing clothes.
And she ran further. Until her running brought her to the shelter doors. No one asked questions there. No one suggested she was sick.
And she stayed.
And she stayed.
And her behavior deteriorated.Theft. Anger. Talking to herself. For weeks on end she walked around the Day Area wearing nothing but a white bed sheet. She liked to stare at herself in the two way window and chatter about her hair, her body. Sometimes, she yelled at herself. Called herself names. Said horrible things about herself.
And staff would intervene. Calm her down and try to find her help.
But she didn’t want help. She wanted to be left alone.
Her mother came and found her but she didn’t want to go with her mother. She didn’t want to be looked at as not normal. As sick. She didn’t want to carry a label.
And so she stayed.
And she stayed.
And then, she became pregnant. She wasn’t sure how it happened or with whom. But suddenly, her belly started to grow and staff and clients started to comment and something had to be done. Staff took her to a doctor. This diagnosis was not so difficult to accept. This diagnosis helped. She started the drugs again and her mother came and took her home.
It wasn’t as bad this time. Wasn’t as difficult.
Except for the drugs. She didn’t like the drugs. They might make her baby sick. They might give her baby a label.
And so, she quit taking them. She didn’t want to harm her baby. She wanted to protect it.
But it was hard. On her mother. On Shelly. Her behavior worsened. The voices came back. The irrational thinking leading to irrational doing. She didn’t want to stay at home. She wasn’t safe there the voices told her. She wanted to run but she couldn’t. She was pregnant and she knew they’d take her baby if she lived in a shelter.
And then the baby came. And the pain and the sorrow and the joy and the tears and the pleading began. She wanted to keep her baby. She wanted to help her grow. But they told her she had to go back on the drugs. They told her, those who have such power over the life of another, if you want to keep your baby you must stay on the drugs that keep your mental health in check.
And she was scared. And she was confused. And she didn’t know what to do.
And so she did what she’d done before. She ran. She left everything she loved, including her baby, behind and ran.
Back to the shelter. A place where she felt like she belonged.
And life continued on.
For Shelly. Her baby and her baby’s grandmother. Life moved on. Shelly stayed at the shelter and the baby stayed at home with her grandmother.
But there were problems. Shelly wanted to see her baby.
She can’t said the government people who control such circumstances. You cannot let her have access to the infant, they told Shelly’s mother. Who knows what she might do?
And the mother cried, for her granddaughter and her daughter. She cried and had to make a tough decision. We’ll take the baby from you the government people said if you let your daughter have access.
And so, the mother moved away. For the sake of her grandchild. For the sake of her daughter and herself.
But she couldn’t forget. Couldn’t let go of the truth. This sweet innocent child had a mother she would never meet unless she helped her daughter re-connect with her family who loved her.
She had to do something.
She waited. A year. Two. Three and finally, when the infant was four and had grown into a little girl of bright smiles and sunshiney song, she called the shelter to make contact with her daughter.
It took time. Months of time. But finally, with the urgings of Staff Leah who never gave up on believing Shelly could move on, Shelly agreed to speak to her mother. The phone call wasn’t too long. Not too hard. Shelly talked to her little girl too, her daughter whom she’d only met at birth. She cried and laughed and when she hung up she danced away from the phone to talk to herself in the mirror. She had a daughter and her daughter knew who she was and wanted to meet her. She had a mother and her mother still loved her. Still wanted her. Still needed her to come home.
Throughout the weeks and months, Staff Leah struggled to keep Shelly focused on listening to her mother’s voice, to hearing her daughter’s call for her ‘tummy mommy’. She worked to keep Shelly open to the idea that maybe, one day, she might go home for a visit. If only to give her daughter a chance to know the mother who gave her birth, a chance to know the mother who loved her, even though she couldn’t be with her.
And then it happened. Her mother phoned and asked if she would come home for Christmas. Shelly agreed. Staff Leah kept hoping it would happen. That the mother would come and Shelly would not have flown the coop, would still want to go, would still be willing to fly away.
And she came. This mother who never gave up hope. Who never quit loving her daughter. Who never let go of believing one day her daughter would come home.
She came and Shelly was still there, at the shelter door, waiting. She came and Shelly saw her and walked up and hugged her and said, “Let’s go.”
And they left. Arm in arm. Together. Mother and daughter flying away to a family’s embrace, to a child’s hug and the warmth of a hearth where the circle of love has been stretched and pulled and never broken. A circle to rejoice in and be surrounded in love.
It is a Christmas miracle. A miracle of a mother’s love that could never end, awakening in the heart of a daughter’s wish to come home to the family where she belongs.
May we all be connected in the circle of love where our heart finds a hearth to come home to and our spirit a place to rejoice.