With Mother’s Day just having come and gone I asked my Mom if she’d be willing to share her side of me coming home early from my mission. I know children’s struggles can be just as hard for their parents as they are for them. No one wants to watch someone they love go through something difficult, life-changing, heartbreaking, etc. There can be just as many hardships for the parents who have an ERM as there are for the actual missionary.
Susan Harris is Ally’s mom… though she hasn’t gone by that title so much since Ally’s soccer days, haha! She’s a mom of three children who are very different from each other and keep her on her toes. Grandmother to two adorable girls and one more baby coming! That truly is a wonderful title and her favorite! She likes to read, sing, garden, play the piano (in her home), ride bikes and her new sport, pickleball. She was born on a cold, snowy day and she loves those kinds of days, and she’s far happier to be behind the scenes than ‘spotlighted’ like this. But the things one does for their children.
Ally had asked me a while ago if I would talk to another parent who had a child come home early from a mission, that maybe I could offer something. I believe I said I would but that didn’t ever happen, and I have wondered if there really is anything to offer from my experience. And then she asked me to contribute to her blog which I had been thinking about doing so even before that. So. I guess here goes.
I come from a family of all girls, and my dad had served in the Army so no mission for him and so I can’t honestly say when that became part of my plan, it was just always there for me. I very happily served in the Canada Calgary Mission (remember that love of cold?!) and it was a huge blessing for me to do so. And I admit, I started the ‘brainwashing’ of my daughters serving a mission from very young, because it was such an incredible experience for me. And to have Ally want to do this was wonderful, I was so excited for her to have that opportunity. She is fun, outgoing, has a strong testimony and belief of the gospel, finds it easy to talk to people so it would be a win-win. I wasn’t sure it was always going to happen, Ally is a social butterfly and has always had many friends and plenty of those being male.
But she made it, not without some rocky times in there, and thus received a call, we waited for 4 months and then did the drop off at the MTC. I know I have spent more time at the bank than I did that day dropping off my daughter for her new adventure. It was in November and so she spent all the holidays in the MTC and was there for 10 weeks. Finally, off she goes to Texas, meets her Mission President and his wife, and gets assigned to her trainer and area.
Ally had been sharing that she was having some health issues and not feeling great a few months in and I had been trying to encourage her to forget herself and just go to work, to make sure she got to exercise for she had always been very active and that is a tough transition, to eat good, and to stay hydrated in the heat. And may I just insert here that I’m not really a warm and fuzzy mom, more of a tough love gal. I can cry at the drop of a hat about my kids or the gospel, but I’m the one that says, ‘walk it off’, ‘you’ll be okay’ or one of my staples – “Be a duck”. I don’t know the day of the week or the date that I received that first phone call from the mission other then it was in June. Our caller ID was hooked through the television at that time, I was putting some IKEA furniture together later in the evening and so when I saw my daughter’s mission come up on the screen, I figured ‘this can’t be good.’ My husband was out of town, this and every time they called actually, so when the President asked to speak to him I responded with that information and waited to hear why he was calling. They wanted to put Ally on some meds, having diagnosed her with anxiety and depression. To say I was stunned would be an understatement. As he and his wife described the Sister Harris they were working with, I wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t “my” Ally, and as they asked if there was a history of this, was she prone to it and I’m telling them, no, my heart ached and my brain reeled.
Another insertion, I didn’t care where Ally served – I teased her all the time that she would go to Columbia, I wanted my children to have a chance to see humble circumstances and hopefully improve their gratitude. But my one and constant prayer had been that their mission presidents would be what they needed. That is a huge responsibility, and one of the longest lasting influences ever, you always hear RM’s talk about how they perceived their mission president(s).
As I’m listening to this good man and his wife tell me what’s been going on, and they are seeking information from me as well, it was hard for all of us. They don’t know what kind of person I am, how Ally was raised if she has been pampered and this was an excuse if the history was there and we hadn’t revealed it during the initial interview process… they just don’t know. And I don’t know what’s truly going on and how she is doing. I asked if I could talk to Ally, I wanted to hear from her what was happening but they said they didn’t think that would be a good thing at this time. I didn’t agree, but that is their call. Ally and I had tried to go back and forth in email, but it just didn’t really work well, there was lagging in the service, I was working, it was tough to get an actual picture. She was trying to stay positive, and trying to do what she could, but was certainly struggling.
I had no basis for this kind of thing and everything is so different when you’re a missionary. There are many rules and restrictions of what you use for medication, you’re not seeing a consistent doctor, nor in Ally’s case one familiar with a mission and what that life is like, and you don’t have time to ‘rest and heal’. I’m trying to reconcile what Ally is telling me is happening to her and how she’s physically feeling with the Ally that left home and it was difficult to do. In hindsight, we both recognize some things from her past that showed she had some anxiety, but it had never been debilitating… at least that I knew. That tough mom thing. Everything is so pronounced on a mission, and Sister missionaries often get a bad rap… some certainly is deserved, some is not, and I didn’t want Ally to be ‘one of those’. I start going to the temple weekly, I try and write inspirational letters, adding humor and fun with less detail about home for I don’t know what to do to help at this point. I envision the scenario in my mind of flying to Texas and ‘happen’ upon her and her comp so I can physically see her and have a heart to heart chat about what’s going on. They call again and the meds don’t seem to be working for her, they want to try something else but it takes close to 3 weeks before any influence could be felt. They are trying so hard and I’m so grateful, I know they love my daughter and really are trying to help her. And help her stay.
I finally got to talk to Ally, about mid-August. But she is crying so hard that the conversation is difficult to hear and understand and we make little progress. Her mission president’s wife is present and Ally doesn’t feel like she can really talk to me. She mentions coming home and I tell her that’s not really up to her, you don’t “self-release”. They have brought her close to the mission home so they can keep an eye on her, and she has glorious companions. I don’t know what to think, feel, write… is it better that she comes home, or will that be harder on her, what is the answer? I have withdrawn into myself, I don’t talk to many people about it, I’m not out and about, I don’t want people to ask me about Ally as I don’t know what to tell them. There have been prayers, fasts, pleadings… it doesn’t seem to help Ally, she is like the ‘walking dead’, her letters are hard to read and how many times can you come close to sobbing in the celestial room?!
It became apparent that the only way Ally would get better was for her to come home. That just seemed to come calmly and we’d deal with everything else. We had about 2 weeks notice she was coming mid-transfer. My fear still was that I didn’t want this coming home early to define her, and to this day we have that conversation. We had a family trip planned that we hadn’t told her about, but with her coming home small miracles happened so she could come with us. It was a tough trip as she wasn’t “Ally”, but it was a beginning. A great counselor, a helpful prescription, time, rest. It wasn’t easy on her, and it certainly wasn’t easy on me or our family. Still isn’t as we come to understand how it is for her. And as this happens, you learn of others that struggle with the same, and your amazement grows to have been witness to how they function and now knowing of the struggle they travel with.
I keep things more inside and not on the stage as I call it, but she is trying to help others by her experience and that is a blessing. But it’s not her defining moment. Nor is her diagnosis. And I still don’t understand how, why, when and she gets frustrated. But hopefully, we’re all learning some patience and empathy for the different roads we each take in this life’s journey. I try to help when she needs me, and I’m still not warm and fuzzy, but there is progress. I don’t think anyone’s life turns out as they planned. I’m more of a pragmatist, and I believe that is the purpose, to learn HOW we act when things don’t go as we planned – that’s the point, it’s not our plan that we should want. And that is what makes us reach up, to remember that there is ONE who came and experienced all, that He may know our struggles and be there for us. We may not always notice when He steps in – at least I don’t, you are just ready for the next step somehow. The Spirit is a gift, our Savior is a gift, and I know I’m so grateful for both on the journey!