What we need

The most absolute, crystal clear, important lesson I’ll ever learn in life came from my mom, a woman with schizophrenia, on the edge of a breakdown, in the middle of a house that is literally falling down around her.

“What do you need mom?” I asked, feeling desperate.

I was hours away from climbing on a plane to go back home to Florida, so we were both extra sad.

The question was loaded.

I already knew what I wanted her to say.

In my imagination, she might have (she should have) shouted “I want a new goddamned house! I want to not have this disease anymore! I want a million dollars and a walk in the ocean and a five-star restaurant meal! I want my life back and my college degree and a normal, storybook family with apple pies baking and my own car that I can drive and a fucking loyal dog and soft carpet and a spa-like bathroom.”

I’m not even sure why I wanted her to say those things.

It would have been crushing to me.

Maybe she does want all those things, but she’s my mom, and she loves me, and she knows what’s in my head and heart already when I ask.

So instead, she answers back with what she knows I can deliver on.

“Love.”

It’s one thing I can give her with everything, over and over and over, without running out, ever.

I need to confess that the clip from this video was too painful for me to even watch until just recently. It’s been more than a year since I shot this footage and I knew what was there, but I haven’t wanted to look at it.

Maybe I wasn’t ready to receive my mom’s message to me until just now – when I have the clarity and strength to hear it.

When I made the first video, the one that began this project, I just wanted to give my mom my love. It was the ONLY thing I had to give, and she was the only person I wanted to give it to. But she refused it.

She wasn’t taking my calls.

In desperation, I guess I kinda “gave it away,” to the internet.
“Here, people of Facebook – take my love for my mom and my lessons she’s taught me. It’s all I have to give right now.”

What I have learned about love and giving it away in the few short months since I started this project, is that when you feel the most low, the most afraid, the most desperate and hopeless, you need to give away more love.

That’s right.

Give a hug to someone when YOU need one.

Give your last dollar.

Send a postcard when you feel loneliest.

Extend the grace that nobody has given you.

Withhold your judgement of someone even as you are being judged.

GIVE MORE when you have the least, because your strength will grow from giving it away.

I know this is true, because I’ve heard it from everyone writing me, thanking me, telling me they are grateful for this project, and my mom and our family. I know this because I can see love being extended not just to me personally, but among people supporting one another in the comments on my FB page.

A little bit of love for my mom, given away into the big space of social media grew so much bigger than it ever could have if I had held it inside. I had no idea about any of this when I did it. But now that I know, I want to share my lesson.

And you know what?

Don’t be modest – do something kind for someone, and share it. Talk about it. Tell your friends. Tell ME about it.

I like to hear stories of people who reach beyond themselves and then aren’t embarrassed to actually brag a bit about it. It feels good to help people and it’s inspiring to know there are people out there gaining strength by going beyond just themselves.  And you know what? Share your story and I’ll read it to my mom.

I’ll give her the details and she will hear my message to her:

“Mom, your love has spread far and wide. This is what your love has the power to do.”

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11 comments

  1. It is amazing that just when we don’t think we can handle anymore, we find a strength inside us that we didn’t even know we had. I love your Mom and your family because just like me and my family we each have perfect imperfections and that is what makes us who we are. Continue to be strong and share…..we are all here for you!

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  2. Your family’s love for one another makes me feel so very humble. While it’s so very heart wrenching to see her pain, it’s educating…it softens us…it reminds us to never judge others and that mental illness can be so very debilitating to so many families. Your mother touches me so very deeply that every time you share a video I sit and cry and then watch it again and again. Tell your mom I love her and thank you for sharing.

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  3. You are truly amazing people, it takes a lot of strength and courage to go through hard times like that, god bless you and your family.

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  4. There are always blessings in the midst of tragedy. Your mom is an Angel that you are learning from. Her sacrifice my moms sacrifice and all others with this decease do not have it for no reason. We are to learn from it. Learn how to love unconditionally with acceptance and service. And to teach about it and be the example.

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  5. I have just found your blog today and the facebook page. I am looking very forward to reading through it. I work in a hospital and deal with seniors with mental health issues and am raising a grandson who has brain damage and mental health problems from that. Thank you for having the strength to share

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  6. Your mom’s emotion is so pure and so beautiful.
    I really love the fact that you put your mom’s struggles out here, that you look for the silver lining even during her darkest storms, and that you share the emotional conflicts that you personally struggle with from helping her through both her good and bad times.
    My Uncle had schizophrenia. I really don’t know how my grandmother managed at times because he was a very big man who would become very angry and aggressive. He would hallucinate and have arguments with people who did not exist. He didn’t bathe or change clothing for at least 2 years but scrubbed his hair daily. He never left the apartment… about 22 years ago he had gone into such a severe hallucination induced rage that he shattered all of the windows in the apartment and decided to venture outside. It was his last. He died thst day at 26yrs old from internal injuries sustained while being taken into police custody.

    Schizophrenia is such a cruel disease. It robs families of loved ones and productive people can become reclusive shut-ins who are terrorized by their mind.

    (And don’t get me started about the inadequate mental health care system of the USA)

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  7. You tell your Mama that I love her. She has touched a place in my heart that I never knew was there, until you introduced her to the rest of us. She’s such a special, unique individual, and the schizophrenia she suffers from doesn’t change who she is. She’s awesome.

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  8. honestly! when I say that video I cried, but later it made me realize that we all have perfect imperfections and that is what makes us all unique individuals. we all have our strengths and weakness, your mom is brave and so are you, stay strong and telling us her lessons so that we can care and respect the great lives we have. we all must thank god for this gift that we call life. your mom is a teacher and teacher have the level of god. let’s thank her and respect her for who she is.

    from now on she is no just Emily’s mom. she is our granny.
    we love you GRANNY!

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  9. So much love, so much light to you and your mom. My sister and I suffer from mental illnesses also and it is so refreshing to hear someone say…”I see you, I see you, I know all about you, and I love you anyway” Thank you for showing us a small bit of you and your mom’s life

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