"I hate you! I wish you were never born!" my mother would often tell me. "I hate you, too!" I would exclaim back, "I wish you were never my mother!" That is a terrible thing for a mother to say to her child, isn't it? It was a terrible thing for me to say as well, but it was a commonplace fight for me and my mother during my adolescence. "Your mother argues with you all like she is your sibling," my father would say, exasperated. My mother had schizophrenia and never grew up just like her mother before her and her mother's mother. It is hard to believe she managed to be a school teacher until retirement. My father would have to become president of the school board for her to keep her job and the subsequent retirement in those last years of her illness.
Me and my mother have a wonderful relationship these days. Mom came over yesterday just to sit upon my porch with me and talk. She brought me a care package of my favorite foods. We spoke of weight watchers. Her nightly jaunt to a friend's house for finger sandwiches. Just the characteristic small talk between a mother and son. Long gone are the days that we would fight like cowboys and Indians. My mother still is like a small child in many ways, but I show a kindness and understanding that I didn't have within me as a young adult and child.
"I would just leave my kids and go wandering out into the neighborhood around the school," my mother told me of her symptoms. "I can't believe I would do that."
"You were sick," I replied with an understanding.
"The principal would drive around until he found me and would send me home for the day. That is when I started sleeping all the time."
Mom's hands started shaking, talking and reminiscing about the last hard days of trying to hold it together.
"Do you think I was a terrible mother?" she then asked.
"I think you and I both did the best we could under the circumstances," I replied. "We didn't ask for this disease. We inherited it."
My mother seemed to take great comfort in my words and soon left to go home. For so many years, our illnesses were secrets in the family that just festered and served to sever family bonds and relationships. Nerves and ties would become frayed under the great burden of us trying to go about our natural lives despite almost insurmountable odds. Now we freely talk about it and are open with each other. I don't know when this great sea change occurred, but I like it. It was time to let those skeletons out of the closet so to speak. Our lives have changed immeasurably for the better because of it.