My daughter Amanda was 12 years old and in seventh grade when Howie passed away so suddenly. That is a tough age for any girl, but I still can’t comprehend how devastating it must have been to lose her father at that age (or any age (it was no easier for Lily who was 10). Both of my girls had a horrible time those first few months. But Amanda got so busy with Bat Mitzvahs and her social life that she seemed to bounce back pretty quickly. Maybe too quickly.
About a year later, Amanda crashed. Not all at once, it was more gradual.
Slowly I started to notice a change in her. She got quieter. She spent more time in her room. Her grades were horrible. And after a while she seemed angry all the time. Amanda and I now refer to this as “when she went dark”. She just wasn’t herself.
From the minute she was born, Amanda was a “difficult” child. Most of us have one – the stubborn one that throws tantrums and just gives you a hard time. I am the first to admit that Howie had a lot more patience for her than I did. He was always able to calm her down and talk to her.
Suddenly he wasn’t there anymore. I think at some point this all hit her and she didn’t know how to handle it. Her way was to withdraw and that was when she went dark.
It was as if my Amanda wasn’t there anymore and what replaced her was an angry, closed off stranger. She didn’t even look like herself. Amanda had always had a love for clothes and makeup. From the time she was in kindergarten she had a knack for putting outfits together and dressing herself and everyone else! Now she was walking around in sweats all day and wearing horribly dark makeup. She went dark and I was very worried.
At this point she had been seeing a therapist for a while who she was very comfortable with and I really liked as well. I expressed my worry to him and he tried what he could to help the situation. But after a short time he told me that she needed more help than he was able to give. He referred me to a specific counseling center that he thought was wonderful and would be the right place for her.
I respected so much that he was honest with me and found the right fit with the right therapists for her. I called them right away and explained our situation and how my daughter went dark.
Huge problem – there was a waiting list to even meet with them. They said it would probably be a few weeks. We did not have a few weeks – I was terrified of what was happening to Amanda and what might come next. I am probably the least pushy person you will ever meet but I did not leave these people alone. Every day I called to explain how desperate I was and begged to get her in sooner. They were very nice and promised they would see her ASAP but they just didn’t have an appointment available yet.
In the meantime, a friend gave me another recommendation. She referred us to another place that sounded very similar to where I was trying to get in. I called and got an appointment right away (maybe that should have told me something but at the time I couldn’t think straight).
I picked Amanda up early from school one day and drove her to the appointment. I kept looking at her in the car. She looked terrible and wouldn’t speak to me except to say she did not want to go to this place. As we walked up to the building there were a few girls standing outside the building who were smoking cigarettes and staring us down as we walked in. I wasn’t getting a good feeling. We walked into a very sterile looking office and they shuffled us from therapist to therapist who were all very cold. It felt like a factory. They gave Amanda strict instructions for DAILY counseling and homework.
When we were done and walking out, Amanda screamed at me that she hated this place and would never go back. I honestly didn’t disagree with her but I was at my wits end. I had no idea what to do.
We went home and Amanda ran straight to her room.
I fell onto the couch and just cried. I really did not know how to help my daughter and I felt lost, afraid, and very alone. The thought that I might not be able to fix this was terrifying.
When I wrote about the blackout a while back, I said that it was my first rock bottom moment. Well, this was my second. I was truly scared and I couldn’t believe what was happening. A few minutes later, Amanda walked into the room and saw me crying. She looked at me and I believe this was her “Aha” moment. She sat down and cried and apologized to me. Then we talked for a while. She admitted that she needed help and I promised to do it in a way that was comfortable for her. We made a deal that we would try to keep it together until the original place had an opening for her, and then she would go with an open mind.
A week later, they finally called and we went to meet with them. When I walked in, I felt a little hopeful for the first time. It was such a homey, pretty environment and we were made to feel so comfortable. They explained their philosophy and how they would help Amanda to help herself. Amanda had one therapist that she would see once a week and we would do group therapy together, also once a week. I felt like they understood what was going on with her and we were finally on the right path.
We were on the right path – but there was no quick fix.
It was a process and it took a while but Amanda really worked at it. I also learned in our group therapy the right way to help her. Little by little I saw her coming out of her “dark period”. This is what I mean when I say that therapy saved her. Over the next year, she became a new person. Not only was my old Amanda back, but she was better than ever. Her grades are great, she looks healthy and amazing, she is happy, she has a fabulous group of friends, and she has a job that has done wonders for her.
I mentioned that she always had a knack for fashion. She got a job in a local clothing store “Kids at Heart” and she loves it. She is doing what she loves and what she is good at. It has given her amazing confidence.
I did not know what would happen when she went dark but I am beyond proud of her and how far she has come. I am proud of both my girls.
Life threw them the worst curveball and they are both thriving. Amanda is starting her senior year of high school and she is applying to colleges. A few years ago I didn’t even know if that would be a possibility. It is certainly not how I wanted it, but this has made her a much stronger person and I believe that will serve her well in the future. I know that Howie would be so happy with the amazing people our girls are becoming.
So Kelly Clarkson I agree, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”, but it’s a tough road to get there!
Stacy was a stay-at-home mom/part-time preschool teacher whose life was turned upside down in 2011 when her husband passed away suddenly of a heart attack. She is raising her two fabulous daughters, now ages 18 and 20, who are turning into wonderful young women. In 2016, she started a blog about her experience as a young widow, The Widow Wears Pink. This led her to write for other publications including Huffington Post, Today.com, Scary Mommy, Grown & Flown, Kveller, Modern Loss, Thought Catalog, and many more. In 2018 she started Living the Second Act with fellow writer Mimi Golub. Today, Stacy and her daughters are happily living their “new normal” while always keeping her husband’s spirit alive.