Saturday, April 07, 2007

My Grandmother on the "Other Side"


By the "Other Side" I don't mean the hereafter. She is alive in a state mental hospital for the rest of her years. In the last few years she moved there, though one might argue it was a long time in coming. I haven't written much about her, as I wasn't that close to her. My mom had an on and off relationship with her. When I was young, they didn't talk for a few years. I remember ducking down in the car if we should happen to be on the same road.

She was an alcoholic. She smoked cigarettes and fell asleep more than once with one in her hand, almost lighting her apartment on fire. She tried to kill herself (um not to successfully) more than once, and always was sure to get us on the phone or leave a message before she attempted. She gave me her cat once, then came over to try and take sniffy back. She was your average loving grandmother......NOT!!!

She had been married to my grandfather for a little while. From what I understand it was a violent relationship with abuse happening from both sides, often after drinking. My grandfather was little more than an alcoholic gambling shell when I "knew" him. He would do the same suicide calls to the house. He died when I was in my twenties. I hadn't talked to him for years, and for some reason I still cried when my husband broke the news to me. I attended his funeral, and I remember mostly my mother getting up and basically saying what an @ss he was in life. While I didn't disagree with her, I thought, jeez this guy couldn't have even one day of someone just trying to think kindly about him.

I cleaned out the apartment for my mother (disgusting----don't even get me started on the mattress with the band aids over holes). He had a nice sleigh bed set, which I sold cheap as I couldn't get over the film of cigar smoke staining the walls and everything yellow, plus other stains that I couldn't get out of my mind. I did "inherit" his ford fairlane which was equally coated with yellow filth that we never got out even after trying to clean it several times.

So these were my other grandparents. I don't have much else to say about my grandmother, other than in adult hood, I did attempt to keep a relationship open. I felt sorry for her. Plus my "good" grandmother had guilted me long ago when I was a little girl. I remember saying joyfully to the "good" grandmother that I loved her so much more than my other one. She yelled at me for that. Unfortunately, she never fully understood what was going on with "the others". That guilt trip survived well into my adulthood however, and I felt it was my duty to visit the "other grandmother". She had stopped with the "suicide" calls since I had left home (or as far as I knew). She seemed lonely. I never got close to her or actually liked her, but it was tolerable and I felt it was the least I could do.

I kept up the relationship even after the estrangement from my mother. That is, until one day, a letter came in the mail from this "other grandmother". It basically said my mother was going to commit suicide because of me. This "coincidentally" was followed closely by one of the few letters from my mother. Anyway, that was about enough from the both of them, and for my mental health. Even if you aren't' close to someone, the immense responsibility that they are trying to foist on you for their "life and death", no matter what they do to you or mistreat you.....well most normal people would know not to do that.

Even people with mental illness know not to do that. There is a large difference between a friend saying something like "sometimes I feel suicidal". I share bipolar (though have never felt suicidal but know the bad downward spirals) with family and friends. And not one person who cares for me, even being in a bad state has said "you are going to cause me to commit suicide". Maybe it is because of their mental illness, but if it is, it is something that I am just not emotionally equipped to deal with, especially in the life sentence sort of way. It would be different if either one ever said something like "I know what I did was wrong or inappropriate" but that has never happened either. Even then, I don't know that I could deal with it happening over and over again. It's a bit much, honestly. Plus I got my very own mental illness demon to deal with. These sort of things don't exactly improve my own outlook or mental health.

Again it's different if someone is expressing a feeling that is not attached to another person not acting in a way that you want them too. So if any of my friends , who suffer from the same thing I do, and have expressed these sentiments to me "I feel or have felt suicidal" don't worry. I care about my friends, and am happy they would feel so comfortable with me to tell me something so personal and frightening. Plus it opens up to talking about how to go about seeking help et. It's a hard thing to talk about, this mental illness. In one way, I am uniquely able to deal with it, as for most of my life, I knew something was coming down the pike. And am I relieved that what I have to deal with is it . Also that Celexa works so well for me (knock on wood).

When you are estranged from your family, and you are as open as I am about it, it is also a tool they will use to explain the estrangement. And that is fine with me, people who know me, family and friends know how I am. People who haven't gotten to know me, well they are going to think what they are going to think anyway. And those are family members. I don't seek or need to control that. It is what it is. If anything, my mental illness caused me not to make waves for so long, and not stand up for myself. It allowed me to become damaged by constant abuse for the fear of loosing these people. And now it's like, what was I afraid of? They were only holding me back.
By the way, on that side of the family, abuse alchoholism and who knows what else, can be traced back at least to my great grandparents. I heard a story of my great grandmother breaking her cane over one of her kids or grandkids backs. Nice. Interestingly enough, I have renewed some correspondence with one of my cousins on that side, and have e-mailed one of my Swedish relatives that put together a book of our family's history. Apparently the illness even is father back, but one of the relatives was a talented musician (explains a bit about my musical talent) and also founded a library in the area. They do say creativity and mental illness often go together!!

1 comment:

crse said...

you know, i like to say that mental illness is kind of like diabetes. You cant help that you have it, but you can definitely control its symptoms. So no, it is not a "they cant help it" thing. Its actually sign of a personality disorder and a prime manipulation. I have a client who has a contract that she is allowed to talk about her feelings but if she attempts to manipulate by threatening, she is immediately sent to the hospital without further discussion. And i had to chuckle to myself. Every christmas my mom would threaten to kill herself in stupid dramatic ways. And our spouses still wonder why we get so tense around the holidays!