I Couldn't See the Whites of Her Eyes
This post isn’t about me. It’s about my parents.
She had me when she was seventeen. She got pregnant in her final year of school. Her parents were mad at her. She had just ‘ruined her life’. She could have aborted, but she didn’t.
She married my dad (who was twenty at the time) and they had a happy eight year marriage… until he suddenly developed a mental illness. Then things fell apart. They got divorced, for her own safety and the safety of us kids (I have a sister who is five years my junior). Anyway, I had a good eight years of being in a normal nuclear family. They argued but who doesn’t right? There were trials before their divorce obviously, my father had a nervous breakdown and ended up uncharacteristically beating her in a frenzy. I was in first grade when it all started. My father, who was an accountant, would come home after ‘a few beers with the guys’ (as a way of drowning his inner anguish) my mother would yell at him, they would argue, but he never physically harmed her until the next year when his condition had gotten worse, and he ‘snapped’ so to speak. He had a nervous breakdown, he yelled about God and how he quit his job because God told him to do it. He ran around the town naked handing out religious tracts. Yes, this is true. I was too young to fully understand it although my mother tried her best to say ‘’Daddy’s ill”.
At the same time, during these episodes, I would go to stay over at my grandparents house, which was a ten minute walk away. The weekend I did that was the weekend a huge fight broke out between them, the next day when I wanted to go see my mother, my grandfather who had gone to the hospital to see her said “You can't see your mother now darling, maybe in a few days time” and I saw the anguish in his eyes – it wasn’t even his daughter, and he was extremely hurt at what his son had done to the mother of his grandchildren, to his daughter-in-law who was like his very own daughter. But he was there for my sister and I, ever since birth, my grandfather was there. Providing for us, caring for us, he was worried, praying for us. So when he told me that, I didn’t question him. After a few days, when we were allowed to see her, I was shocked, her face was beaten, she had bruises all over, and her eyes were bloodshot. Like red. It scared me. All I saw were the iris of her eyes. She tried hard to smile.
Those days mother didn’t know what to do, my father was in and out of hospital. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He suffered hallucinations. Sometimes he would be heavily sedated, and others he would be ok to speak but his mind was always ‘occupied’ with conspiracies. I overhead him complain to my mother how ‘everybody was against him’ on one of the days we had gone to visit him at the mental rehabilitation centre. I was only 8, I hardly understood it all. What I did understand though, was that he was sick. And I forgave him for beating my mother during one of their arguments. He had never done that kind of thing before, and he never did in the future. It was really a one time thing. Needless to say they divorced the next year and my father went to live with his parents as they preferred it to in-hospital therapy. They brought him home, all he had to do was stay on his medication and everything would be OK. He didn’t all the time, and there were some serious physical struggles, which thanks to my uncles (who lived a phone-call away) things were under control and they managed to get my father to the hospital for treatment when this happened. My grandparents continued to be avid churchgoers and my grandfather who was a pioneer Pastor in his community, continued to preach.
Fast forward to twenty-six years down the line, my father's condition hasn’t degraded, he has been on his medication for over two decades, and contrary to what the common notion is for people who have schizophrenia - he has not worsened yet considerably improved. He takes a monthly shot to control the hallucinations. He seems more stable to me than most people without the disease! Since being diagnosed he has driven me to college and back to write my exams, he helped teach me to drive, he drove me to my friends houses during my teenage years and came with me to the mall when I didn't feel like shopping alone (OK, he may have wandered off to the bookstore and gotten engrossed in a few religious books but still, he was there and he was in the present moment), and he also was there to remind me when I had to be responsible and renew my drivers permit for years thereafter. So although I ‘lost’ a normal father who could work and provide for his family, I still have one, who loves me and my sister more than anything, and has helped, despite his condition - to keep us grounded, along with other close family members.
I am grateful that these major obstacles have not gotten in the way of God’s blessing for my life. I am grateful. Period.
”God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”