I sit in the other room on a cold December day listening to the sweet melodies of my daughter singing an original song she wrote on her ukulele. She doesn’t know I’m listening. Even though my office is right around the corner from her bedroom, she thinks I’ve run an errand and won’t be back for a while. I’m certain that’s why she is playing freely and singing as if no one around her can hear.
From the day she could talk, she’s had the voice of an angel. I recline in my chair, and close my eyes and her hypnotic voice fills the quiet house. A gentle snow has begun to fall outside and the temperature is dropping by the minute. The sun has started its slow decent below the tree line across the street from our house and Christmas lights are beginning to twinkle in the fading daylight.
As I listen to her song, I begin to pray it never ends. I pray the sweet melodies never fall quiet or never cease to fill our house. In the past this has been my worry. Over the past eight years, she’s battled the vicious claws of depression and self-doubt.
Once almost to the point of suicide.
The smallest comment from a rude classmate, the sneering words from girls who are supposed to be her friend, the off-handed comments from complete strangers — they’ve all had a hand in driving her deeper into the throes of it.
For every week, month, or two months of carefree, happy moments, the dark moments have overtaken them like a thick black cloud of bellowing smoke. It’s a desperate and seemingly unending spin cycle to be in as a parent. The not knowing, the hoping, the fear, the anxiety, the what-ifs — they all play out like a merry-go-round moving too fast and all I want to do is jump off.
So, I hug her — way too much. During the course of a day, I pull her close to me 10, 15, 25 times. I tell her I love her as often as I can — from the moment I see her in the early morning hours, to her last words to us at night before she heads to bed.
Admittedly, I’m afraid.
I fear the dark moments where she’s held down by depression. I fear the next will be too much and I won’t have a chance to hug her, or tell her I love her, anymore. I fear walking past an empty bedroom on my way to my home office. I fear not hearing her sweet melodies anymore. God, I fear it so badly.
My fear isn’t unwarranted.
Three years ago, I received an email that felt worse than a punch in the gut. A young man I used to mentor had ended his life on Christmas Eve, 2013. His sister had sent me the email telling me of the tragedy. He had battled mental illness and depression for years, going all the way back to his junior high days. He had gone through dark moments and happy moments.
His parents understood the merry-go-round. They knew the fear I’ve felt. They had the same what-ifs. But he had always seemed to come out of it. Counseling and medication helped. He was home with his family for the entire week leading up to Christmas and everything seemed fine. He had even registered for winter classes at college on the morning his life ended.
Even though depression had reared its ugly head many times in the past, there were no signs he was in the throes of it this time. Once his mom had left the house to run errands, he shut himself in their basement bathroom and put a gun to his head.
A few days later I spoke at his funeral. I peered down from the podium to his broken family. In that moment, I thought of my daughter. She wasn’t there with us that evening, but I desperately wanted to hold her close to me. That was probably the beginning of my incessant hugging and “I love yous.” If nothing else, my fears and anxiety of waking up one day to being in this family’s position were accentuated.
And so I hug her a ridiculous amount of times each day. I tell her I love her way too much in the course of a week. I never want her to stop hearing it. I never want her to stop receiving comfort from me. I know it annoys her, but I don’t care. She’s 14 with an attitude and angst to match, but to me, she’s still the brand new baby girl opening her eyes for the first time in a hospital delivery room all those years ago. She’s the precious angel I helped take her first step, or taught to ride a bike. She’s my baby. She’s my daughter.
May her melody never cease to fill my house. I pray this every day.