“This picture I am sharing is one of the few I have of my mom. It’s was also one of my favorites growing up. I’ve always loved it because she looks genuinely happy, something that her later pictures never showed. There was a sadness and darkness that crept into her face later that was the face I knew, and it largely has shaped who I am, I think, too.
I was told that her mom was beautiful when she was as younger, and she was creative snd carefree. Her dad joined the Army at 18 and came home after a few years and they had her. Her mom always told her that they had planned on having a very big family, but her brother (my uncle) never was sure that was really true. He said that she would bring it up mostly when she was in one of her moods where she would complain about her life and use various things to blame them for the life she had. Somehow even only having two children was my mom and uncle’s fault in her mind.
When my mom was about 7 and my uncle was 4, she first started showing signs of Schizophrenia. Living in a rural area of upper NY in the 1940s there weren’t options for a proper diagnosis or treatment. According to my uncle, my mom would tell him about how fun their mom was when they were little, but a lot of her stories about fun were just early signs of the illness. Like the time she dressed up in a fur coat and costume jewelry and went into town and tried to convince people that she was the niece of Queen Mary. One time she told my mom that her father was a spy and they found them so she couldn’t go to school anymore so my mom and uncle just stayed home and did what they wanted.
My uncle remembers the dark times: the many suicide attempts, his dad’s drinking problem that got worse and worse until he drove off a bridge and into a frozen river in the middle of the night and died a few days after his 10th birthday. My mom was 13 at the time, and became a pseudo parent, taking over whenever her mom was having episodes, which were often at that time according to my uncle.
My mom still won’t talk about most of her life growing up with any of us kids. She has had her share though of issues as well….depression, suicide attempts, alcoholism, addiction to pain medications. I ever felt safe as a child in her presence, although she never physically harmed me. There was always emotional abuse, but I really didn’t have a name for it. Not until I was older.
I hope that this cycle breaks with me and my kids. I think I’m a good parent, and I don’t seem to have any of the mental health issues that my mom and grandma had, but I have always had some fear that it just hasn’t shown up yet. I try to still live every day to the fullest, but it is always in the back of my mind. Even more so when I look at pictures of my mom and grandmother when they were younger. Did they know that something wasn’t right before it really wasn’t or did they just wake up one morning and everything had changed? I try not to think about it a lot, but I really hope for my kid’s sake they will never have the stories to tell that I do.”