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When No One Wants To Build a Snowman - Chronically Whole

When No One Wants To Build a Snowman

February 1, 2016 | Posted in: Grief, Mental Illness, Parenting and Chronic Illness, Relationships

Quieres hacer un muñeco?


Don’t speak Spanish? Maybe the English words will be much, much more familiar to you. “Do you wanna build a snowman . . .” Yeah, sorry. Now the song is stuck. I have three daughters, and they (and I) loved Frozen so much the youngest really did learn this song in Spanish. Whether or not this will be profitable in her classwork as a Spanish major has yet to be determined.


I watched a sarcastic take on the movie after it came out, and one of the things the writer had issue with was how the sisters’ relationship remained healthy. Wouldn’t Anna have harbored just a teensy bit of resentment, he wondered? A slight tinge of, “Um, Elsa? Go fall off an iceberg. I’m done.”


I wondered the same thing at times. I wondered it because I understood too well how Anna probably felt on the other side of that door. I’ve seen it. Up close and personal, in my own house. I watched sisters, my daughters, sit on opposite sides of that door, and I agonized over whether they would ever figure out how to get past the hurt it represented.


They shared a bedroom, and pretty much everything else. Eighteen months apart, our first two girls were always assumed to be twins, and they acted like it. We loved that sibling rivalry never seemed to create a rift between our own Elsa and Anna.


But something else did.   


When she was barely fifteen, I watched our oldest daughter go over the ledge of depression. Literally. I saw her tip over it, right there at our kitchen counter. I had no idea you could see that happen, but I did. I fell over a cliff at the same time, helpless and flailing in a void I had never expected to inhabit, unsure of what had just happened but aware that it was very, very bad.


Depression didn’t just “happen” to our “Elsa.” First came the chemical predisposition of Tourette Syndrome and a family history of alcoholism. She had the genetic time bomb, but it didn’t have to explode. But that fall, in a few months piled all together, came a series of identity-crushing blows from her hyper-competitive high school, judgment from her (our) church, and finally the tragic death of one of her closest friends. That’s why I could see it—I sat ringside for the events. When the third and final blow from the school came, I held her as she sobbed in our cheery pansy-painted kitchen and sobbed myself when the look of utter hopelessness glazed over her eyes and stayed there. It would not leave for almost a half-dozen years.


During those years, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about suicide watches, cutting, and drug addiction. I learned to cling to God deeper and stronger than I knew possible and to love like Him more completely than I had ever had a clue.


Her little sisters learned that their world was forever different.


Our Elsa moved downstairs, away from her shared room. She moved farther than downstairs, in reality. For years, I witnessed big sister locked in her “room” of isolation. I saw her unable to relate to her family, unable to let others into the world she could not escape. I watched her, like Elsa, afraid of the stigma that made her different, run away to a world where she felt safer though it was as far from safe as it could be.


I watched her little sister sitting outside, thinking, “We used to be best buddies. And now we’re not. I wish you would tell me why.” That scene in Frozen managed to depict something that maybe they never intended but that is too common in houses where things are hidden behind locked doors.


Mental illness tears apart sisters who just want to build snowmen like they used to. Click To Tweet


In an animated world, I guess you can go back to the way things were once the storm is over and love has conquered. But in this world, it’s a little more complicated.


It’s hard to call through locked doors and get no answer.


It’s painful to trust and hope and have it squashed. Again. And again.


It’s scary to never know what normal is or how long it lasts.


It's tough to have your life controlled by things you had no say in. Click To Tweet


Sometimes, little sister just walks away. Maybe for good. You can’t blame her. If your sister refuses to let you into her life for years, would you feel like rushing off to her rescue and ultimately sacrificing yourself for her? Dubious, I’m thinking.


Do you wanna build a snowman?


Probably not.


There wasn’t any magic to bring these sisters back together. Usually, deep love looks more like plain hard work than magic. In four months, big sister will walk down a wedding aisle, and little sis will stand next to her. This is a miracle from Jesus, people. Not just that her older sister is whole and well, but that our Anna learned to reach past her deep hurts and try to trust again. She leaned into Jesus when she felt betrayed, and very slowly, He taught her to release the anger. It’s not a one-time proposition. There are still scars, and there are still fresh hurts that happen because they have gone down such different life paths since their days as “twins.”


But the healing is happening. Maybe sometime during next Chicago winter, they will build that snowman.



Jill is a writer, speaker, pastor, mom of three, and author of five books. She likes to travel, grow flowers, cause trouble, and research her next project. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and dark chocolate. Her passion is partnering with the next generation of faith. She blogs at http://jillmrichardson.com/.

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  1. Cate Russell-Cole
    February 2, 2016

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    Jill, thank you so much for your heart breaking, but hopeful article. I have suffered with chronic depression (genetic) all my life and know that sense of being locked in and powerless to do anything about it. Being suffocated by an emotionally abusive family with a sociopathic mother did a great deal of extra damage.

    My family just yelled at me. I am deeply blessed to read about the love in your family and yes, it’s hard work, but thank God for beautiful families who care and thank God for the Lord’s deliverance. He has slowly taught me how to cope with these episodes and I deal with them less and less. Right now the Lord is teaching me to cope through the Psalms and that has been one of the greatest healers and comforters.

    May the Lord bless and sustain all of you, as you continue on this journey and may many, many snowmen be built in the future.

    • Jill
      February 3, 2016

      Leave a Reply

      Cate, thank you for commenting. It takes so much strength to take the path you have toward learning ways to cope. I pray for loving people to surround you as you walk it. Bless you, sister, He loves you so much.

  2. brianna
    February 2, 2016

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    Oh Jill…this post…it breaks my heart, scares me to death, and gives hope all at once. So well written. So heartfelt.

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