The Hardest Thing I've Ever DoneEach of us has our share of traumatic events. Some are life-altering, others merely stinging. I've had, perhaps, more than my share. Coping with three schizophrenics, several traumatic deaths, and the loss of our first baby before birth establish my bonafides in this regard. For most people, any one of these would be more than the normal lifetime allotment. For me, time has mostly worn them smooth. They are part of me. They form the background for the personal portrait of my life.
As I grow older - and live a more peaceful life - it becomes difficult for individual memories to clearly stand out, but a few still do. They are the ones that leap back when times are tough or subconscious thoughts trigger nightmares. These insidious ones are terrible enough to rip rationality and creating cuts that never heal. But, even amongst these traumatic events, one stands out as the hardest thing I've ever done.
The Evil Voices
My mother had been institutionalized twice before to drive the evil voices from her head. She'd been given powerful drugs and shock treatments. She palmed the pills and the shock treatments were ineffective. Her ability to appear normal, even in the throes of psychotic events, fooled even the professionals. Neither session lasted more than four months before she was classified as stable and released. And, each time she was released, the voices came out of hiding and she began to talk to the television or have long and tortured conversations with the imaginary people in her head.
My father longed for a more permanent solution. One that would bring the cheerful woman he married back to live in peace. It was time to formally commit Mom to a place where she'd stay until fully and truly stable. In those days, it was much harder to help the mentally ill. He had to shop for a sympathetic judge and hire lawyers to defend us and her. We hatched a plan to cajole Mom into the car for the trip to the hospital.
I was 14 when the day came.
We opened the garage and parked the car close. I lured her outside and grabbed her before she could slip away. I picked her up bodily and put her, screaming and kicking, into the car. Dad held the door closed until I could get in and hold the lock down. The forty mile drive was as long as a trip across the bleak outback. She finally stopped screaming, but began begging instead. She pleaded with me to release her. She tearfully explained she was fine. She mumbled assurances she'd never be "bad" again. In that moment, I had no reason to believe she wouldn't say or do anything to rejoin the voices in her head. I could only devoid myself of emotion and grimly hold the lock down. Forty miles, bent over with my arm painfully extended and turning a deaf ear to her anguish.
The law required she be inside the hospital before orderlies could take control. When we arrived, I pulled her from the car and gently picked her up again. She was strangely quiet and allowed me to hold her in an embrace that would have been a loving hug not so long ago. At the top of a wheelchair ramp I slowly handed her to a massive orderly. As soon as my hug stopped and his strong arms took over, she began screaming and kicking again. She knew what was behind the door - painful shock treatments, long and empty days filled with other psychotics, and an endless round of meds. This was a state of the art hospital of the time, but it was merely a nicer version of the medieval bedlam my grandmother lived in for most of her life.
Court Is In Session
Dad and I entered the hospital director's office. It was a windowless room bathed in dim light and holding dark leather couches. The judge sat at the director's desk and asked the orderly to bring Mom in.
Her restraints were off as she entered. She was disheveled and had the wild eyes of the newly imprisoned. She'd been through commitment hearings with her own mother and knew there would be no release this time.
The judge began taking testimony from Dad and the doctors. She fixed a malevolent stare on Dad. He was no longer the man she'd loved and married, but the font of her misfortune and target of hates.
Then, it was my turn.
How Could You Do This To Me?
As I began to speak, the begging began again. I was her last best hope. "How could you do this to me? You know I'm fine. Tell them I'm fine. I want to go home. I just want to love you. You're my son. You know I love you." She sniffled and cried in anguish.
But I spoke firmly over her protests, eyes focused on a small patch of the dim wall. I explained her behavior. I told of frightening incidents. I explained I had studied schizophrenia in school and offered my diagnosis - paranoid schizophrenia - more like a young intern than a 14 year old son.
He asked Mom for her testimony, but she remained silent and this time glaring at everyone - including me. She knew which way the judge would go. She knew she wasn't going home anytime soon.
The judge approved the commitment order and the orderly reached for Mom. She shrugged him off and drew her hands through her mussed hair. When satisfied with her appearance, she slowly rose and walked out the door with more offended dignity than I've seen before or since. I heard their footsteps retreat down the hall and ending with the clank of a heavy metal door. Mom was remanded to the custody of her inner demons, sentenced to the horrible things that had to happen before she could emerge with her mind cleansed.
The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done
I realized in a forcefully detached way that I helped put her there. I wasn't angry. I wasn't sad. I didn't blame myself nor did I visualize her recovery. I didn't see this as a step toward becoming what she used to be - a loving wife and mother full of life. My head was just filled to bursting with a single thought.
This was the hardest thing I'd ever done.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, April 17, 2007