By David L. Brown
This is a personal note for today, which is a special day in my life. If my wife Patricia still lived, this would have been our 50th wedding anniversary. Sadly, she passed away June 21, 2011.
Our life together was rewarding and yet troubled due to mental illness that struck her in her late 30’s. She had been very smart, hard working, cheerful and productive but after a terrible nervous breakdown and hospitalization she was never the same. For the last 30 years of our marriage she was on anti-psychotic medication and suffered several more relapses that required hospitalization, including one for more than 60 days in 2002 and another a few years later.
The Polaroid snapshot shown here shows Pat a few years before her first breakdown. It portrays the confident, charming, friendly wife I shall always remember. Sadly, there were many subsequent years during which she was a different person altogether. Not that she was bad or unfriendly, but the confidence was gone. She still had moments of humor and we had some good times, but they were few and always interspersed by troubled times of problems. In addition to her mental illness she was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes had periods of paranoia during which she imagined threats from things that were not real.
I miss Pat more than I can tell, but am going forward with my own life. Last spring, after she had been gone for about a year, I wrote a poem about Pat and our lives together. I want to share it with my friends and readers, so here it is. It is very personal but I feel it is important to share Pat’s story. Please join me in remembering a kind and generous human being who brought much happiness into the world, but whose life was blighted by the dark cloud of mental illness.
Twice I Was Married
An Autobiographical Poem
Twice I was married
Yet not to different wives.
First for twenty years to Pat,
My loving wife,
Vibrant, smart and sane.
Then for thirty more
I shared my life with Pat,
The same yet different,
My troubled, childlike wife.
It was a Pat transformed,
The victim of a dark and evil thing
That crept unseen into her mind
Like poison or a spell.
Schizophrenia. It is a thief
Of souls, destroyer of lives.
For thirty years we lived beneath
The awful shadow of that thing
That stole her spirit and her pride.
In vain I hoped for better times,
In silent agony.
Sometimes strange voices spoke to her
That were not there.
Most times her medication
Held the terrible demons down,
Yet still the sickness waited,
Festering there inside her head
And gaining strength from year to year,
To twist and warp
Sometimes she didn’t want to live,
Twice ingesting pills like candy,
Later drawn by stomach pumps
In busy ER bays.
At other times hot blood had flowed
As wrist was sliced with knife,
Yet not too deep.
The years passed on,
The rhythms of our lives together
Rose and fell like gathering tides
From crest to trough.
Hope remained, and yet each crest
Was followed down and ever down
To new and deeper lows.
Paranoia is a funny thing.
There was a time when she believed
That I’d arranged her kidnapping
And hired actors to pretend
As nurses and psychiatrists.
In the psych ward that time she used
The public phone to call police,
Reporting her imprisonment.
When she told me that, she laughed,
Later, when a drug had pushed
The demons back.
Her end came suddenly, surprise
To me yet carefully planned.
At seventy years of age she’d borne
Her troubled mind for thirty some.
I left to run some errands, to a store,
And as I stepped toward the door
To leave she called to me
“I love you.”
I did not know that those would be
Her final words to me or anyone.
When I returned she’d done at last
What many times she’d tried.
On the patio, in a chair
She lay as if asleep, at peace,
A bullet through her troubled brain.
Yes I was married twice,
But not to different wives;
To two quite different versions
Of the same. One that was
Happy, bright and young,
The other sliding slowly down
Into the darkness and despair
That mental illness brings.
Those years were hard and yet
There was that one essential thing,
A common thread that tied it all
Together, linked my marriages
Into a single whole.
It was that thing that she
Expressed so well to me
In those last precious moments of her life.
It was the magic words she spoke:
“I love you,”
Her honest way of bidding me goodbye.