When my mom slit her wrists she severed an artery with an exacto knife.
The hospital nurse sounded slightly impressed on the phone. I remember thinking that was probably my imagination as my face burst into ripe sobs.
I flew 30 hours to get back to Canada from Singapore on 12 hours notice.
Fragments of that journey trip up my thoughts sometimes.
…Screaming into a cell phone at a boarding gate full of people…
…Picking at a sandwich in a shitty airport restaurant…
…Sitting on a cold tile floor with tears streaming down my face at 1 am…
I’ve spent my entire life trying to save my mother. Turns out, you can’t save someone else. I know, in every single fibre of my being, that if it was possible I would have been able to do it. Lord knows I’ve had enough practice.
On the way to the airport, I fumbled back and forth text messages to my best friend Jenny.
I met Jenny on the first day of Grade 7 when she asked me if I dyed my hair because my eyebrows were a different colour than my hair. I hated that question. Still kind of do.
I say I liked her instantly. Her version of events differs slightly.
I remember the first time she asked me if my mother was an alcoholic. It was dusk and I was sitting on the curb by my house. She was standing…swaying…and just blurted it out. I scoffed.
“Of course not.” I almost choked on the lie as sharp edges of shock scraped down my throat.
She knew I was lying, but she let me lie anyway.
I didn’t know it then, but that was Jenny’s way of leaning in. It would be the first of a million times.
She leaned in when she walked with me to the gas station for slushies when I was sad.
She leaned in when she made me laugh sitting on the benches after school just the two of us.
She even leaned in when we argued. She was fierce but never in a way that way against me. I always knew that, at the end of the day, she was on my side.
To me, leaning in is moving closer to someone when shit hits the fan. It’s about drawing them toward you instead of letting the discomfort of their pain drive you away.
It’s a way of saying, “I’ve got you…even if only for this moment in time.”
Leaning in means looking at the gaping wound and saying, “I don’t exactly know how to fix this, but I won’t let you suffer here alone.”
Most of the time we envision this kind of support as something that has to be massive. It has to be worthy of upvotes on Reddit or a story someone tells for years to come.
And some of it was.
My husband flew around the world on a day’s notice when my mom came into my room one morning her wrists sliced open AGAIN. I desperately called him as I chased the ambulance to the hospital. His leaning in is constant and always on the biggest scale.
But the truth is, leaning in can also be very simple.
When my mom kept trying her best to kill herself, I felt people lean in all around me…
It was Jenny crying in her car for me and always having space for me in her loud, loving and beautiful home.
It was the lady at the carpet store saying she’d choose the new flooring within budget for my mother’s flooded basement when I looked overwhelmed.
It was my childhood friend DJ offering to bring me lunch even if he couldn’t eat it with me.
It was Debi’s two little girls doing a dance routine to Frozen for me over and over and over again.
It was Jenny’s mom, Diane, praying for us and making sure I was drinking plenty of water.
It was the nurse at the hospital finding us an empty bed for my mother to sleep in for our upteenth trip to the emergency room.
It was Christie inviting me over for MarioKart wars and pizza.
It was an impound lot attendant cracking jokes and making me smile (and Jenny was there too because I was nervous to go).
It was the tire guy fixing my flat for free because he recognized me from one of my mom’s open AA meetings.
It was a thousand tiny acts that flooded me with love and a sense that everything might just be okay in the end.
And it’s these acts that have inspired me to lean in whenever I can for whomever I can because you never know what’s breaking someone’s heart.
There were so many times a stranger did something kind for me and I wanted to scream, “My mom keeps trying to kill herself and I don’t know what to do and I’m scared and you being nice at the checkout counter is the only good thing that happened to me today so thank you…”
Sometimes it’s as simple as not being able to sleep and taking the dog for a walk at 3 am only to find someone locked out of the building.
Sometimes it can be as complicated as apologizing to your best friend for not leaning in enough during her divorce. I’m sorry, Jenny.
Sometimes it’s searingly painful as you lie next to your mom giving her reasons to live when all she wants to do is die.
Leaning in is big and small and everything in between.
It’s a connection we all desperately need and yet fear at the same time.
It’s an artform…a push and pull between two people…a question and an answer.
So I encourage us all to lean in whenever we can even when it’s uncomfortable and slightly awkward. Don’t wait to be asked.
Take a big step and move towards someone’s pain instead of away from it and give yourself the gift of true connection.
I promise you, you won’t regret it.