I come from a beautiful and proud African-American family. My mother is the one who kept us together but for various reasons, including the economic changes in America in the 1970s and beyond we have split apart. I can remember a time of togetherness and the first Christmas in the first house my mother bought. When I recited this story about the first Christmas, I could not remember any presents she bought us that year. But the best thing was that she gave us a home.
I’ve been writing a lot about home recently these days. My family has been on my mind a lot too. The first thing was the song Grandma’s Hands. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv5pagal-ls My Grandmother was not very wise, in fact she was barely educated at all. She married two different men, both of whom died before her. There was a very brief marriage to the first and the second was to a man who worked on the railroad. He was a drunkard but the fact he worked on the railroad gave him a pension.
My Grandmother sat in church a lot and she had a lot of symptoms of mental illness– dementia, they called it. But my mother, being a nurse, wondered whether her mother was being over medicated. Once her meds were reduced, she could talk coherently and remember to go to the bathroom by herself. So the first lesson she taught me was about mental illness and medication. Not all mental illness is actually a mental illness.
The second lesson I learned from my grandmother was about seeing our elderly parents for who they are, not what we want out of them. I mentioned the railroad connection from my grandfather. Well, the railroad pension and social security made my grandmother a valuable person. And her daughters fought over who was best qualified to take care of her.
I think that after she was free of the dementia she lived a better quality of life. But the struggle with my aunt has always haunted my mother. It was one of those lessons I never wanted to learn. Imagine if my mother became incapacitated and I suddenly developed the desire to take care of her. She has retirement income. And what if I struggled with my sisters instead thinking about what would be best for our mother?
From my mother I learned many things. The value of hard work, for one thing. She worked well into her late 70s. And she never treated anyone differently based upon the color of their skin. She worked with people of any kind of skin color but she did not let patients abuse her.
My older sister taught me the value of standing up for myself. She was always there for her sons even as her body failed her as lupus set in. She and my my mother taught me to listen even when I sometimes didn’t feel I was being heard. This quality helps me in my role as a peer specialist. It’s difficult for me to put some fancy title on what I do, because a lot of the time it really is listening and giving people the space to feel that they are being heard.
After reflecting upon the holiday that I just spent with my family I have some more thoughts and clarity about this subject.
1. My family did not raise me to be poor. Nor was I in a poor household. This statement cuts a lot of different ways. we never wanted for anything. We were never evicted or had the lights turned off. Quite the opposite, in fact. My mother took in her sister and her children after they were evicted. Our house was always warm because mom hated cold, drafty homes.
2. My family taught me to respect others’ opinions. They’re Christian, but I’m not. They have come to understand my boundaries. I was not grabbed by the scruff of the neck and taken to church.
3. We demonstrate our love by the things we do. I just told a young man (he’s 40 and I’m oh my gosh 60) at the barber shop just a few minutes ago that 75% of life is just showing up. And the other 25% is what we do when we’re there. We’re not highly demonstrative but I now that I am loved and how deeply I love them.
4. Family is the beginning and the end. They are there when you emerge from the womb and their mark will be upon you as you are leaving this earth.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
- A story about Peer Specialists (skwillms.wordpress.com)
- Mental Illness As Magic In ‘Gingerbread Girl’ (thinkprogress.org)
- Why saying mental illness is the same as a physical illness is a bad idea (mentahealthmatters.wordpress.com)
- My Mother’s Mental Health (mizreelmikkoi.wordpress.com)