By Sarah Lohroff

I can picture her smile, her crackling laugh that only seems to appear when my dad says something absolutely ridiculous that even he didn’t initially find that funny. I can hear her words of encouragement that make me feel cherished even though words of affirmation are not my love language. I could sense when something was bothering her and I remember working up so much courage to ask, only to have it wasted by talking to the ground in a monotone mutter. These are what I remember most about my mother. There were good times and bad, and after nineteen years I still haven’t been able to solve the riddle that she is. I may be closer now than I have been yet, but I still have a long way to go.

            Elaine Alice Frazier was born to Edward and Elizabeth Frazier on April 27th, 1963 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has one younger brother that she did life with growing up and his name is Eric. I cannot recall too many stories that she has told me about her childhood, and that was a lot so it gives you an idea of how much I listen, but the ones I do remember I’ve held onto to this day. One story that for some reason had me in such awe was a story of when she and Eric would take turns standing on the furnace vent because it got so cold in the winter, they would time each other down to a T and everything. Maybe I remembered it because that’s what my sister and I did growing up, but maybe it was because it reminded me that my mother was a child at one point who had to grow and learn just like everyone else. I feel like children often see their parents as these beings that surpass all limits of humanity, and have the keys to enduring success in life. Of course, this isn’t the case, but as a little girl, I thought that to be true of my mother to an extent. She always had answers to questions that, at the time, seemed so unfathomable to me. But for her they were nothing. And looking back, that was the secret to being the all-knowing parent, it was just being further along in life than your child.

            But as much of an omnipotent guru that I saw my mom to be, I also knew that she had a dark side to her. This side of her never got a name, I just knew it as this alternate shadow that could be present at one moment and gone the next. I was afraid of that shadow. It was the side that I didn’t dare stand up to because if I did it would end poorly for me. I was never hit across the face or anything like that, but I was abused with words. Words were her way of communicating love, but they were also her way of communicating hate and blame. “You know what your head is filled with? Nothing.” “You just make me so frustrated sometimes.” I can still hear the tone she used with me, the tone of anxiety and despair that make you believe it was your own fault for getting lashed out at. I remember when she “helped” me with my math homework, and it worked for the first couple minutes, but then it ended in yelling, tears, and a more intense feeling of worthlessness. The most hurtful things she has said were about my worth as a daughter and a person in general. That first statement has always stuck with me. It has made me incredibly sensitive to what others say about my knowledge of the world. I have always hated being called dumb or retarded, and to this day I still hate it. I hate the word retarded itself more than I hate being called it because of what it is saying about a specific group of people, but that’s another story for another day. All I know is from that point on, life would be a hike on eggshells.

            I’m eavesdropping while sitting on the stairs at our old house. It was a little house on Rosemary street that had just enough room for the four of us. This house had an L-shaped stair case that wrapped around a white wall leading to the upstairs. You couldn’t see the lower level just by standing at the top and I had always found some sort of comfort in that, especially on the really intense nights. On the intense nights, I eavesdropped on my parent’s arguments that started off calm, but then churned into a storm that thundered nonstop until I heard the door slam leaving behind an echo in the miserable silence. Sitting on those stairs was like sitting by a fire, you’re close enough to feel the heat and watch it do its thing, but far enough that it can’t pull you in and burn you. But even then, I wreaked of smoke and it left me wondering if she was going to leave for good. As much as I didn’t want her to, it seemed like a reasonable solution for my dad’s sake. I had always found it interesting that my mom was the one to leave when she got angry and not my dad. Fathers are usually the figures we see as the threatening aggressors in the family, but not in mine. My father was the calm one in the situation who loved his wife and just wanted her to stay so they could work things out. None of us ever knew where mom went after she left unless she told us upon her return when she was back to normal. Most of the time I think she just went on drives by herself to get away before causing any more damage. There was one time where she didn’t come back until the next day and I thought for sure if this kept happening it would lead to divorce. What was I to do if my parents divorced? Where would my sister and I go? The Millers were a family that my parents were particularly close to, and I remember going over there all the time and play with their kids. I mention this family because my mother told me one day that they would be the ones my sister and I would be sent to if ever anything were to happen. After being told that, I grew a newfound disdain for them.

            My childhood was not all agony, there were so many more good times than bad and I did my best to hold onto those. We were a tightly tied family that always looked out for one another, it was just once in a while we found ourselves tied by string instead of rope. I’ve attributed most of my best childhood moments to my father, and it was because I was closer to my father growing up. We used to go to the biggest mall in Grandville, Michigan where we would ride oversized carousel horses, stuff ourselves with cheap Chinese, skim all types Barnes and Nobles books, and then end it with Dairy Queen’s famous Oreo blizzard. We did that so often that it’s the first thing I think of when I walk into that mall. It is still just as beautiful today as it was then and it’s like the epitome of my nostalgia and I love it. Anyway, the point is that my father and I were closer and I could tell it hurt my mother sometimes. My sister was closer to my dad as well so it kind of left my mother in the dust. When it came to Mother’s Day my sister and I would fight over who got to sit next to dad at the restaurant and on Mother’s Day, you can imagine how much heartache that caused my mother. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only time I overtly expressed my favoritism towards my father. Whenever we went grocery shopping my family would split up, one child with each parent. The daughter who got to go with dad was the source of envy for the other.

            It didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time that I was naturally more drawn to my father, but knowing all the things my mother did for me anyway leaves a small tinge of regret. Sure, her words hurt me at times, but they also spelled out her love for me. In high school, I tried out for the soccer team for a couple years, never made it. This was a soul crushing moment for me as I felt that they were not acknowledging my eighth-grade pro-athlete skills. Sports were everything to me and it was hard coming to terms with the fact that sometimes, you think you’re meant for something, when in actuality, it isn’t meant for you. I showed up at our church where my mother worked after receiving the news and I broke down. Her coworkers were there and watching, but it didn’t matter. I needed my mom. The only thing she said to me was, “I’m so sorry honey.” Initially they sound like a typical thing any mother would in an attempt to comfort their broken daughter, but with my mother it was different. Her words were powerful. She could say simple things with deep and complex context that kept me perplexed at night. To say that words of encouragement are her spiritual gift seems like a bit of an understatement because they do so much more than that. They speak to and influence the God of the universe. So that statement of sorrow with a term of endearment slapped on the end meant more to me than words can describe. And that is the mother that I want to remember for the rest of my life.

            Years after my childhood blossomed into teenage years my relationship with my mother shifted. I understood a little more of the stress that she had been through and continues to go through. I began noticing her needs instead of getting angry when she didn’t always attend to my own. I was still selfish at times and held her up to these expectations that she will care for me, but a sense of independence developed in me and before I knew I wanted to take care of myself. I liked making my own money and buying my own clothes. Life was fabulous. But no matter how good it was, I wish I had given more to my mother. I wish I had taken her out to lunch more often or bought her favorite candy bar. I did occasionally bring home her favorite chips, but I just know I could have done more. As odd as it sounds, part of the reason I didn’t pour into my mother as much as I could have is because I still felt this sense of animosity. It was a very miniscule amount, but nevertheless, it influenced my attitude. It didn’t take much before my mother and I were going at it about my shorts being too short and my friends wanting me to stay with them at a summer lake house. The subject of the argument was not the problem, it was the fact that this kind of thing had happened so much in the past. I had learned to associate my mother with this Nazi type of figure that would scold you if you stepped out of line. That is probably also part of the reason I was so drawn to my father, he was never violent in any way towards me. He may have yelled a couple of times but what dad doesn’t yell at his daughter at least once.

            The amount of times that my mother and I butted heads seemed to decrease as time passed and I grew more in my understanding of the world and of Christ. The year I graduated high school was the year that my parents latched onto me like never before. I had forgotten how quirky my father was until he ordered these shirts with the phrase, “Summer of Sarah” branded onto them. We were going to do everything we could before the summer ended, it was like a time crunch bucket list. Opening that package with the fresh smell of new shirts was honestly such a surreal moment for me, in terms of embarrassment and in terms of sheer appreciation for who my family was. I’m glad to say that all the embarrassment has faded away, what remains is an act of love, an act of love that no play could portray just right. For the first event of the last summer with the Lohroff’s eldest daughter, my family and I went on this Segway tour downtown. I had never ridden a Segway in my life, let alone been on a tour on one. I was super pumped, and so was the rest of the family. It’s a beautiful morning, we get down there, get our maneuvering tutorial, and then head off. I’ve lived in Grand Rapids all my life and I learned more in that half hour tour than I did in eighteen years, it was honestly so great. But good things have to end eventually. We’re about forty-five minutes into the tour and my dad is lagging behind everyone. My mom stayed back with him, but he asked her to go ahead of the group to the tour guide and ask him to fix his Segway. Well, my mother was at the top of a hill and the rest of us were at the bottom. For some reason, her Segway breaks as she is rushing down this hill to get to the guide and all of a sudden, I hear this ear curdling scream come from behind. It’s my mother. She’s flying down the hill, unable to stop, and none of us could move in time so she crashes into the back of my sister’s Segway and just eats it. I remember it so vividly because it felt like it happened in slow motion. I don’t think I can tell you how scared I was, she didn’t move for a solid minute after hitting the ground. I thought she died. I remember the insane amount of anger that I felt, I tried so desperately to place the blame on someone for what had occurred because it wasn’t possible to me that this was something God was using to bless our family. Eight hours and three broken bones later, my mother was finally discharged from the hospital and we’ re able to go home free of any immediate concerns.

            The Summer of Sarah plan had totally botched, and we just ended up staying home to care for mom. That summer was harder for me than I had expected. My mother suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis, which put her through enough hell already. So, to see her in more pain was just too much. I believe that whatever the reason God let that happen to her, it was between her and God. I don’t know what God was trying to show our family in that situation, but I do know that I learned some important things about myself. I get angry too often, intense situations make me angry. I wasn’t even sorry or attentive to getting my mother help and comforting her, I was just angry. I wanted someone to pay for suffering of innocence. What does that say about who I am? How will I react when I find myself in another situation like that? That moment pointed to something in the future and I can’t say I’m dying to know what it is. Aside from my personal lesson, I learned to have compassion for my mother and that love really is an action. When you constantly put someone else before yourself you actually love them more and it’s a crazy concept, I know, but God knew what he was talking about when he said it was the greatest commandment. And he did, because my love for my mother grew and grew as I continued to care for her and do things that felt ridiculous at the time, but are now times that I look back on that I actually got to pay her back in a way for all the good she had done for me.

            The day I was dropped off at college was a day full of sorrowful tears, but also joyful ones. Everything I had become was about to unfold through eagerness to meet new people manifested in awkward small talk for the next eight months. My mother was the only who cried, and I teared up as well because I was going to miss her the most. Sometimes I wonder if I really missed her, or if I was just pitying her because it was where I’m sure many families cried. Was it just standard procedure to wave goodbye with a tearful eye? Did I really miss her?

            Coming home from college my freshman year was like vacation. I liked seeing my family when it wasn’t every day like it was in grade school. But every time I went back my mom would say goodbye to me separately. She’d call me up to her room where she could have me all to herself. She would ask me how I’m doing and then she would pray. I’m reminded of how powerful her words are. They’re the same words that made me believe the world would be a better place without me. Sometimes I don’t believe her when she says how valuable I am because I remember when she told me how worthless I was. This went on throughout freshman year whenever I went home.

            That summer I basically worked full time, so I didn’t have time to socialize with the family. But there was one distinct moment that I wanted to talk about that changed my entire perspective of my mother. We were eating lunch together in the car after my allergy appointment. We were discussing the medication that I was taking for my allergies. One of the side effects of the pills was extreme depression and suicidal thoughts. My mother took that very seriously and said that if that ever happened to contact her immediately. Then I proceeded to tell her that it wasn’t a big deal because I’ve wanted to kill myself before. Upon hearing that, she goes, “Me too.” She didn’t act surprised, she didn’t try to fix it, she didn’t try to mom me by wrapping me in a reassuring love that tells you everything will be okay when in reality it’s not what you want to hear. All she said was, “Me too,” And it was like getting hit by a semi. Silence fell over the car and I felt darkness even though were directly in the sunlight’s path. All I remember was leaving and carrying that with me for the rest of the day at work. It was the first time that I was able to attribute all those times she lashed out at me to something that makes sense. That angry shadow that bursted out for seemingly unknown reasons got a name, depression.

            Depression was not my first guess, but it got the pot stirring. I felt like I was finally starting to understand my mother. She had a past, a past that I didn’t find out about until the first semester of my sophomore year actually. But I found out the hard way. A little before Thanksgiving break I sunk into a deep depression that no one could explain. I skipped classes and just laid in bed all day crying for no reason. Eventually I decided enough was enough and that I was going to end it all. I cut everyone off so that there may be no unfinished business. I wrote a note telling my close friends and family that I loved them. And with that, I had it all planned out. I was going to overdose on medication until I was gone. Only by the hand of God did I end up not going through with it. It was like angels and demons were playing tug-o-war in my mind. One hand held the pills and the other was empty. But now, if people ask, I’ll tell them it was the hand God was holding. After that hell of a battle, I just slept. I don’t remember falling asleep, but I did.

            The next day I was forced to go to therapy and I didn’t even feel like I existed anymore. The girl I used to be was gone. I was diagnosed with severe depression and had to be sent home for safety concerns. I want to tell you that my mother was the first one I ran to, but she wasn’t. I isolated myself from everyone. All I could think about was getting back to being my old self. My original plan was to be home within the next couple days but no one would let me. I fought so hard for those couple days by attending all the therapy and doing what people wanted me to in hopes of returning. I now see that trying to back after a couple days was like trying to leave the hospital when you’re still hooked to your IV. I needed to rest and heal, that was my only job for the time being. House arrest lasted through Thanksgiving Break and I learned so much during that time, especially about my mother. See, my mother suffered from an eating disorder and depression when she was about my age. She starved herself because she thought she weighed too much. I had no words when she said this to me. That moment is forever burned in my mind and I remember exactly where were when she told me. We were driving home from church and I was still pouring my sorrows of how badly I wanted to go home. But learning that one fact about my mother set off the lightbulb. All those times my mother lashed out at me in the past were not out of anger, they were out of sadness and hurt. She hadn’t started taking medication until years and years after so many outbursts. I finally understood who the shadow that I learned to fear was, it was still my mother, just hidden behind a beast, a beast of depression, anger, and pain that had no problem eating her up whenever it had the chance. It is my responsibility to try and tame that beast as much as possible, I owe to her as a daughter to be brave and brilliant for her when she can’t always do it herself. If she needs help, I need to help. If she needs love, I need to have open arms. There were times I felt utterly destroyed by the person she used to be, but it made me stronger as a person and hypersensitive to people who suffer from the same symptoms as her. To be honest, sometimes I still wish I could take those days back that I lost myself, but I know God will repay me for lost time. I wish that I didn’t have to crash through rock bottom, but I know it made me more like Jesus in the end.

            My mother’s story changed my life, it was in my darkest hour that she revealed hers. All this time I had kind of pitied my mother because of her sufferings, but now I look to her rather than down on her. Our stories were like looking down two roads. The sides are pretty far apart, but as you near the horizon, they appear to merge together. I still adore her as my mom though, I still ask her to buy me things at the store because I’m poor, I let her fix my hair and nit-pick at little blemishes on my skin. I let her do all this because she’s my mom. I rejected it when I was young, but now I see that it was her weird way of showing her love to me. Besides being my mom, which she will always be, she is also a fellow believer, and I say this because going through the same thing that she went through as a student has lead us to talk about the hard parts of life as two people who understand each other’s strife on a painfully similar level. It wasn’t one of those problems where she pulled the, “I was once a teenager too.” No, this was real. This was two believers trying to find Christ in the mix of it all. In some ways, my mom will always be a mystery, I’ll never know what she does when she shuts herself in her room for hours at a time. But this is something I’ve learned to be okay with. There are so many things I’ve learned to be okay with, and a lot of it was because of her. This is my mother, my fellow believer in Christ.