Mom spent the first half of her life resisting having kids. Then she met Dad and, after having five of us, spent her last three years contemplating the consequences.
Mom wasn’t alone. More than 30,000 American mothers see a seemingly normal, full-grown kid go away with their voices each year. Mom saw two go over the falls in as many years.
On this very special day–the 93rd anniversary of mom’s birth–we are pleased to welcome my sister Elaine as our first guest-blogger.
Mom’s not around, but Elaine, as the oldest, was deputized early. She’s been both a sister and mother to us. So here, in her own words, is my beloved sister’s story.
Thirty five years ago, stressing how important it was to break the silence and share our experiences with losing a loved one to schizophrenia, my mother helped launch one of the first state chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Thirty five years later, here I am, sharing this. What a long strange trip it’s been.
As the oldest of five, I used to pride myself on being the “fixer,” the problem solver, the peacemaker.
There was nothing I wouldn’t do for my three younger sisters and one young brother. I saw their first steps. I saw them crawl out of their cribs. I saw everything they did for the first time and cheered them on the whole way.
My mother, a busy attorney ahead of her time in the fifties and sixties, needed a deputy, and I was it. So truly they were more like my kids than my sibs half the time.
As we got older, my mother would always tell me that they were my babies and I should take care of them. I loved it, every minute of mothering, and felt very protective.
Then, in 1976, just as Vietnam had ended the year before, our own war began at home:
Our first sister was diagnosed, beautiful Michelle on the right in the photo above, followed shortly by another the next year, sweet Austine, next to Chelle on the left up there.
And then out of nowhere mum died on us, as if she’d seen enough. She had.
I was the oldest, the protector, a survivor, and I was not about to let this disorder destroy us. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to experience with my sisters the classic stages of the denial of death.
It begins with denial and ends with acceptance, with various twists and turns along the winding way.
Sometimes I have to laugh at my old self, the one that one day just decided to make the decision that, if I just loved my sisters enough, they’d be better.
I remember one day taking them out for a day of shopping and beauty in Boston. I remember a spectacular autumn day under clear blue skies, complete with a new wardrobe, haircut and facials.
I knew they had a blast and everything seemed to go so well, but the voices only grew louder.
I thought I’d found acceptance, but it was only retail therapy.
If I couldn’t quiet two sisters’ voices, then perhaps I could drown them out in the next stage to follow. Every night after work, I’d pick up a nice bottle (or two or three) of red wine on the way home. I’d make a lovely dinner, uncork the first bottle of red, turn some Bob Seger or Bonnie Rait up to full volume, dancing and twirling but, damn it, the voices only grew louder still.
I thought it was acceptance, but it was only substance abuse.
After that stage, I decided to kick it up a notch, literally, through prayer. I brought the girls to Saturday confessions and Sunday church services. I even attended born again meetings, took part in a ‘laying on of hands’ ceremony, and reiki healing. You name it, we tried it. Nothing was too faddish–yet nothing worked.
I bargained, begged, cried, screamed, and finally . . . accepted? No, not quite yet.
I thought it was acceptance, but it was only desperation.
I resigned myself to the fact that our sisters weren’t coming back, but when I “buried” them and said goodbye, I also threw part of myself in the grave along with a past that I never wanted to know again. I put the pre-war period behind me. I lost touch with friends and family. Even old photos were tossed out.
We were isolated in many ways but started new dreams and planned different futures. Mine, through two marriages, would not include children. I wasn’t about to make the same wager that mum had made and lost. Besides, hadn’t I already done motherhood?
And then our little brother wrote a book and it was as if we were all waking up from a very long nap, and he was nudging all of us to get up now to meet the new day in Boston. We all understood that it was time to get dressed and get going.
Why? Because by rising to be counted, as we did as kids, weren’t we taking the first baby steps to start living again?
A long strange trip it’s been indeed, but at the end of the road, there is, finally, a hard-won acceptance.
Kindly, Elaine Tracey
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Last reviewed: 12 Oct 2013