Not too far on the heels of my adulthood, I started joking with my folks that they didn’t do so bad. I mean the cops never brought us home. Mom and Dad were never called by Officer Krupski to come down to the station to pick us up. Never booked or in a lineup. Maybe not a high bar, but certainly a marker of “not so bad.”
Yesterday, the cops came for my mother.
She has been suffering from depression and anxiety since my father died in June. She was sometimes unable to control her anger. It was loud. She was feeling like she couldn’t trust people. At the same time she didn’t feel that she could trust herself to make decisions–despite being perfectly capable. She wanted someone else to take control. She couldn’t stand being out of control. She fell and went into a nursing home for recovery.
The hospital provided an opportunity to address her mental health. Working class people don’t seek psychiatric care. Maybe, just maybe, we might see a priest. People who see therapists are weak or can’t control their families. And people would find out. There is a stigma. You can take medication for high-blood pressure, but not for debilitating sadness.
In the hospital, my mother started taking medication that made her feel safe to try. She went from saying “I can’t” to “I can,” from saying “me, me, me, me” to asking about other people, from blaming everyone else to helping other residents learn the ropes of the nursing home.
When she moved into her senior apartment, she was full of hope and potential. She was everyone’s favorite, including mine. Phone calls were balanced. When for years she hadn’t asked about me or my family, now every member of the family was addressed and caressed. She would talk lovingly about my father, remember to ask about the football game two days ago, and tell me that she felt so close to me when we spoke.
She fell in the grocery store. She was still a little wobbly, but was helping out one of her friends from the apartment by returning her bottles. She was off her meds for the two-plus days in the hospital. In that short time period, us Sibs saw a return of the anxious, self-oriented, suspicious mother. We knew then that the medication was critical to her self-reliance and success. To say nothing of our own selfish needs to have a mother that we liked.
Me: Is it wrong to want her on the medication?
Sib: Better living through chemicals is not a bad thing. Do you think she is happier when she acts unhappy??
About two weeks ago, phone calls became litanies of anger and distrust.
Me: Your mother said, complaint, complaint, complaint.
Sib: Well your mother said, mean thing, mean thing, mean thing.
Me: She was getting so upset.
Sib: She is so hard to talk to now.
Then the light bulb went off. She was going to crash again. And, again, we couldn’t do anything to stop it. Only her kids saw her paranoia and anxiety, and that it was getting worse. Monday her doctor did not see any reason to change her meds. She wasn’t complaining to him and didn’t show any increased agitation. So the train wreck that we were watching was set into motion.
And the cops came for my mother yesterday. And the paramedics. And the ambulance.
And I realized that my mother isn’t suffering from being old. She is suffering from mental illness. And I also realized that she has been suffering for decades.
Me: Remember that time when we were like ten, and mom was locked in the bathroom and we were begging her to come out because we were afraid that she might hurt herself?
Sib: And when we would come home from school and she would be screaming at Dad like he was messing around with her sister.
Me: And we were like ten and twelve and we called Auntie to see what really happened? Now that was a family rift.
Sib: And when you moved out, I would come home and she would scream the same scream at me. Like every day?
Me: And we thought she was a bitch. But not like she was sick. Do you think that Dad was masking her behavior? And when he left, there was no one left to shield her?
Sib: And Dad took the brunt of her anger. We saw that.
(Both a question and a statement) She has been very sick for a long time.
So when the cops came, my mother told them to take my sister, not her. Her daughter was the bad guy. But the professionals could see that there wasn’t a bad guy in the room. Just someone very sick. And someone watching her mother get strapped onto the stretcher who was very sad.