Thursday, December 03, 2009

The passing of my grandfather, and the end of an era of misinformation

The figure in the bed was not recognizable. It was a shrunken, dehydrated, thin, discolored, unconscious person who looked nothing like my grandfather. I arrived at the hospice straight from the airport. I wanted to see him before it was too late to say goodbye. But I was not prepared for what I saw.

In the year and a half to two years since I had seen him, Pop's body had grown more weak, more sick, and more full of pain. I did not realize how badly he was doing. I had cards in my living room, a whole pile of them, which I kept forgetting to send. There were postcards with pictures of different tourist-y areas that we had been to with Pop when he used to visit here when I was a kid. I meant to take them to my dad's office and ship them up there, since I can mail a package there for free, and I kept forgetting. For months, I forgot. I never got them to him in time. I got them to him while he was lying there, dying. The nuns said he could hear us when we talked to him. The nurses said this too. I'll never know if they were correct or not. I hope they were.

The things I had to say were things I instantly wished I had said months earlier. I wished I had mailed the cards. I wished I had called more often. I wished I had said that I loved him before he got to this point. I will probably wish that forever.

I had apologized in the past for the accusations I made while I was floridly psychotic years ago. I had explained that I had a mental illness and I wasn't thinking clearly at the time. But somehow, I knew I hadn't said it enough times. I had thought there was more time. I had thought it was too difficult to explain it again, even though I knew that he had never forgiven me for the accusations. I knew that, but I didn't know what to do about it. So now, watching this man dying, I had many regrets.

Mostly, I cursed my illness for making me think the thoughts I had thought were true, and I hated myself for being vulnerable to this illness, for not knowing better, for not being able to know the truth, for saying the horrible things that I said. I regretted how I screamed at him when I was psychotic, and how I called the police and had them go to his house and investigate, and how he never understood (probably) why I did those things, and how I never was able to make it clear because almost no one in my family will ever discuss mental illness.

I hated myself. I hated the situation. I wept. I don't mean that I cried; I wept. I was sobbing, huge, heaving sobs, unable to breathe. We were alone in the room. I held his hand. I sobbed and said I was so, so, so very sorry. I said I loved him, and I meant it. Looking at this weak shell of a man, I remembered him as his old self, how he used to look, and how back then he wouldn't have liked any of this. He wouldn't have liked the sobbing or the holding hands, or any of it. He was a proud man, and not a sentimental sap. I knew that. But when somebody is dying, I was learning, the atmosphere changes. You say things you couldn't say before. You do what you thought you could never do.

I hate this illness. I have to say this right now, because writing this post, what is going through my mind more than anything is how much I hate this fucking illness. I hate it. I hate Schizophrenia, in all its forms. I hate psychosis, and I hate the fact that there is no cure for it. I hate how psychosis destroyed my relationships with my family members, and how the legacy it left will never be erased. I hate that my grandfather thought I had intentionally lied about him, when really I had only been saying what was going through my psychotic mind. I hate that I never knew, never even had a clue, that I was psychotic for years. Years. Years that were wasted. Years I can't get back. Years when I could have had an explanation for myself and for others, to understand what was wrong. Years that are gone. I hate this illness.

A few days after I arrived in Baltimore, my grandfather passed away. I was down the hall when it happened. Everyone in my entire family (on my mom's side) had been there to visit at some point before he died. My cousin had a wedding two days before he died, and because he would have wanted us to be there, we went to the wedding, my sister and I, and my grandmother and other relatives. I hadn't planned on that. Since my life became disrupted by this disease years ago, I hadn't heard much from most of my family, and I wasn't invited to any of the other weddings that my other cousins had during the past few years. Never got an invitation to them, but this year, I was invited, and I happened to be in town, so I went. I had to step outside during the reception, a few times, because the noise was making me hear things, and I was sad and needed to cry.

A couple of days after he died, it was Thanksgiving. We were at my aunt and uncle's house, and I was thinking how strange it was to be there, because there had been long periods of time when they wouldn't have wanted me in their home, and when they never talked to me. But things have changed, and, hopefully, people could see that I had changed. The day after Thanksgiving, we had the wake. That was hard. The person in the casket looked completely foreign to me. It was so different-looking from my grandfather that my brain had a hard time accepting that the person was actually him. I thought maybe there was some mistake, and he would come out from around a corner, laughing at us all for not getting the joke.

The day after that was the funeral. The first one I've ever been to in my entire life. All of my cousins, my sister, and I got to take part in it. My grandmother asked me to read something for the funeral. It was picked out by the Catholic church where we had the service. It was sort of a prayer. My mom had said that she didn't think it was appropriate for me to be involved, ostensibly because people still blamed me for the things I said when I was psychotic years ago. But my grandmother asked me to read it anyway, which was nice of her.

The day after the funeral, I went home. The day after that, I got my injection which I would have gotten a week before if I had been home to get it. Luckily, I didn't experience too many serious psychotic symptoms because of missing the shot. I have Had some issues with hearing things, and thinking that people are CIA agents and Illuminati spies, but all in all, I held up relatively well, I think, considering the circumstances. My family doesn't all hate me anymore, and it was nice to come away with that knowledge. Maybe everyone never did hate me, but in my mind they did, and that was so painful for such a long time, it was nice to see that I was wrong about it, or that, at least, people were willing to get along with me.

During the trip I stayed at my grandparent's house part of the time. I hadn't been there overnight for ten years, because that's how long it had been since I first became psychotic and was not wanted in their home again. My last trip up there, I stayed with my dad's parents because my mom's father did not want me staying in his house. This time, I was there to see him, and it was okay with my grandmother that I stay in her home. I know she doesn't know much about mental illnesses, but apparently she knows enough to understand I hadn't meant what I had done back then, and I am better now.

NAMI Florida sent a bouquet of flowers to the funeral home. They were lovely, and I told my grandmother they were from a mental health organization. She wanted to give NAMI a thank-you card.

Since this blog has never been about my family - partly because I don't have permission from them to write about them anywhere, and partly because they may read this - I normally don't discuss family occurrences or issues here. I have to be particularly careful about that these days, so when I wrote this post, I waited a few days before posting it here. I think it says enough of the truth to make sense without giving a bad impression of anyone or disclosing too much personal information that I don't have the right to write about here.

My grandfather died of cancer. It's a wretched disease, obviously. Since this blog is about a mental illness and my life with that illness, I didn't focus this post on cancer. Cancer matters to me, too, of course. But what damaged my relations with my family was never cancer. It was mental illness. And I am still recovering from that damage, as are my relations with other people which were damaged. Someday, maybe, the people will really understand. Perhaps I will manage to write a book, in which I'll explain everything in detail, and people will realize, I was not making false accusations against anyone because I was a bad person when I said the things I said about my grandfather years ago. I was very confused and very sick, and operating on a base of misinformation and ignorance to what was actually wrong with my brain. I hope that someday, I can also forgive myself.


  1. I had been wondering how things went when you went to see your grandfather. It's good, I think, that you were able to see him before he passed away, and to tell him what you wanted to say. It sounds like your grandmother is perhaps coming to some understanding of the sounds like she was reaching out to you when she invited you to stay at the house and to participate in the service.

    But the part of your post that brought tears to my eyes was when you said "I hate Schizophrenia." I do, too. I hate it for what it's done to my son. I hate it for the fear that fills me when I think of his future, especially when I'm gone.

    I'm learning a lot from you. My son lacks self-awareness and the cognitive skills to explain what's going on with him. Thanks for using your talents to help others understand.

  2. I hope you can forgive yourself Jennifer, as it was your illness making you act in those ways, not your "true self". I needed to read this post today, it moved me more than I can say. Life is harsh, and too short, and it's important for us to live it well and honestly - as you do! Lots of love to you x

  3. This post meant a lot to me. I also hate schizophrenia. I HATE IT! Each day is new and we just have to tell each other that we care and tell each other that we do love them. Your post made me get tears. I hope you are doing better.


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