It’s hard to watch your mother cry. And not be able to help.
It happened every few weeks or so, after she would “check in” on her sister, who lived right around the corner in the tiny row house where they grew up with their parents years ago.
Her sister refused to speak to her, and the entire rest of the family. no matter what she tried. Talking. Reasoning. Pleading. Nothing.
Paranoid schizophrenia does that to you, I’m told. It can alienate you from the people who love you most. People who want the best for you, as my mother wanted for her younger sister.
Although their parents had passed years ago, her sister remained in the family home alone, refusing treatment and medication that once had her thriving, working, worshiping, shopping, interacting. But then she stopped the medication. Felt she didn’t need it any more. Lost her job, retreated into her world, disrupted local churches. She claimed people were listening to her thoughts, poisoning her food. She cut off everyone. Yet because she wasn’t hurting herself or others, she had the right to refuse treatment. To suffer alone.
She suffered alone while my mother stood by, relying on watchful neighbors to notice signs that she was alright. Safe. Eating. Moving about. Taking care of herself. Until one day she wasn’t. And needed intervention. And it happened again. And again, until she WAS hurting herself through lack of care.
She was committed to a mental hospital by state authorities. Refused visitors, especially her family. But she was safe.
My mother still cried. Grieved. For years. Until my mother herself passed and her aqua blue eyes wept no more.
But her sister lived on. For years. Until all the older brothers and sisters had passed. Even well after that.
I received one of those calls from a cousin you usually don’t hear from by phone. “Oh, she passed? How sad,” we both teared up. As sad as her life.
As I hung up the phone, I spied a photo of my mother, and imagined her perched at heaven’s gate, welcoming her sister with joyous squeezing, rocking “I’ve missed you so much” arm locks, with blue eyes that now sparkled with reunion tears. I pray that was the scene today in heaven.
And for all of you who’ve shed tears, and struggle with tough decisions and tough days hinged on the mental illness of your loved ones, I pray for you as well. And wish you the patience, resilience and faith to stand by those lost souls, even when you’re pushed away with nothing but love in your heart.
RIP, Aunt Helen.
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.