Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mentally lost and found

A local woman went missing three weeks ago. I don't have all of the details but if I understand correctly she was at a medical appointment and told her husband she was going to the restroom. She gave him her purse and cellphone and slipped out a back door. She was thought to be suicidal.

Her picture is everywhere in town. At the local strip mall, her face is displayed in each window. The person hanging fliers must've asked every store owner for help. Loved ones so desperate to find their wife, mother, sister.

Today her body was found not far from where she went missing. The family identified her by her rings and medical bracelet.

I never knew this woman. I don't know her family. Still, my heart aches along with them as if she were my own mother.

This scenario is a bad memory.

My mother went missing once, right after I graduated high school. She had been diagnosed with bipolar manic depression when I was six, and years of unmedicated delusions had taken a heavy toll on her mind. Convinced she was carrying Jesus' baby and badly beaten by her drug-addicted boyfriend, the two of them decided to run away. He was arrested hours later for starting a fight at a restaurant. She was last seen walking alone down the street.

My mother went missing for three months.

She disappeared in the summer of 2001. After days, weeks, months of putting up fliers on public buses and driving through parks looking for her, I lost hope. When the world trade centers collapsed, my college choir put on several performances of Mozart's Requiem to grieve the lost and the dead through music. At the end of our last concert, I bawled uncontrollably. This tragedy had shocked the nation. The victims' family members began posting pictures of the missing on every street corner. But I wasn't mourning for them.

My story--unlike that of the missing woman's--has a happy ending. My mother was found by local cops who brought her to the nearby mental hospital. When I visited her, she proudly showed off her new necklace as if she had been on some short shopping trip.

After receiving months of treatment my mother coherently explained to me that she had simply walked to the beach. She walked all day and all night. She ate French fries out of the trash and showered in public bathrooms. She explained--almost excitedly--"You wouldn't believe how much food people throw away."

In the past ten years my mother has transformed into a responsible, reliable woman. We talk everyday. Tonight I called her after hearing the tragic news that a body was found. I needed to hear her voice--even though we had spoken twice already today--needed to reassure myself even ten years later that it was not her lying in those woods.

I don't remember if I brought up her beach excursion or if she simply could feel the tension of the past creeping up in my voice, but she said, "I'm so sorry". I brushed her off with a That's okay, Mom, although my heart felt like screaming at her. That Joni Mitchell song? About not knowing what you've got 'til it's gone? She must've written that line just for me.

So please, hug your loved ones. Seek help for yourself or anyone who might need you to intervene with depression or mental illness. And if you pray, pray for the family of that missing woman. Today, someone lost her mother forever.