Dealing with a Schizophrenic Parent
As I indicated in My Remembrance, our childhood was difficult for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons was because of the obvious problems that our mother had. She was always violent and prone to sudden outbursts, which could turn physical at any moment. She could go from smiling to punching you in the face in a matter of seconds. You would never see it coming.
We did not know back then what was wrong with mom. She was obviously not like other mothers. She did not have much of a loving side. She avoided social situations. Her violence was nothing like the behavior that we saw from other parents.
Her behavior got worse as she got older. By the time she was in her late forties, she was hearing voices and becoming paranoid. She thought “the bad people” were everywhere. She refused to leave her house, even to cross the road to her mailbox.
She began to lose weight at a rapid pace. She did not look well, and my older brother became concerned for her.
By this time, she and my step-father had split up for the last time. She lived alone, across the yard from my older brother and his first wife.
When these symptoms first became bad, I lived out of the area. When I moved back, my brother’s wife called me and expressed their deep concern for mom’s welfare. They wanted me to come see mom for myself and then have a talk with them concerning what to do with mom.
When I saw mom, I was horrified. She had lost so much weight, that her eyes were sunken in. She kept talking about “the bad people,” indicating that they were outside and watching her.
Although it broke my heart, we decided to meet with a local counseling agency, to make a plan for what to do next. The three of us met with a counselor, told her of mom’s behavior, and expressed our concern that she was going to die if we did not do something.
A plan was made to have her removed from her home and sent to the local hospital for evaluation. Since we knew that she would not leave under her own power, we had to send the police.
I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing this happen to mom, so I went straight home and waited for word of how it had gone. When my brother’s wife called me, it was clear that her mood was low. She told me that the police had tried to persuade mom to leave, but mom had refused. Left with no other alternative, they handcuffed her and forced her out of her home.
Mom was quite upset. She didn’t understand what was happening. She thought she was being arrested. She cried and protested.
When I heard these things, I burst into tears. I could picture our mother’s fear. I could imagine how she felt, not knowing why she was apparently being arrested.
They examined her in the local Emergency Room, seeing immediately that she had a lot of problems. With my brother’s consent, they moved her to a hospital in another city, one that had a Psych ward.
They kept mom for about a month. We visited her several times. It was always a sad visit. She was quite angry with us for what we had done. She didn’t want to speak to us; she felt betrayed. We felt helpless; we didn’t know what else we could have done.
She had a lot of therapy that month. They also put her on anti-psychotic drugs. She seemed to improve, so they let her go home. The doctor warned her, however, that if she ever became a danger to herself again, she would have to be put into a home.
My sister-in-law really shined during the time that followed. She went over to our mom’s house a couple times a day and gave her the medicine, knowing that mom wouldn’t take the medicine on her own. She checked on her frequently and did mom’s shopping for her, as she had done for a while.
The problem came when mom’s refills ran out. She refused to go to the doctor for an examination. If she wouldn’t leave, we couldn’t get her more medicine.
In the time that followed, my brother and his wife split up and eventually divorced. Since he lived next door to mom, he handled her needs as best he could. I didn’t see her much, as I couldn’t bear to see her that way.
Things eventually became too much for him, so I began to take over the role of going to get her groceries once a week. I never stayed long; hearing her talk to the voices made me nervous.
My brother eventually remarried, but I remained the one who did mom’s errand running, even though they were right across the yard from her. Mom trusted me more than she trusted my brother, and she didn’t like his new wife at all.
After doing this for about four years, I returned to work. I asked them to start doing mom’s running. They reluctantly agreed. I could tell they had no interest in doing it, but felt forced into it.
My brother and I talked from time to time. He would update me on how mom was doing. He said she was losing weight again and he was worried. I said that if she was to be removed again, I would not be a part of it. I would support it, but I would not be the cause of mom being frightened.
Before that day came, I got the dreaded phone call. Mom had passed away. She was only 58 years old.
I remember that as I cried, I kept saying, “It’s not fair. It’s just not fair! She’s too young to die!”
I think we all felt ripped off in so many ways. So much of our lives were spent feeling helpless and not knowing what to do. We were never given much in the way of parents, but they were all we had.
Mom’s memorial service was small. A few people came to support us, but no one really knew her. I struggled for days with what I wanted to say. I couldn’t say the usual things: “She was a good mom. She was always there for us. I have this one special memory.” None of it applied; none of it was true.
What my sister and I eventually came up with was letters to mom. She and I each wrote one. We read them in front of those who were gathered. We said what was in our hearts. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.