When I was 15 my mom went mad...really mad. My older brother and I locked ourselves in our bedroom by propping a chair against the door to keep my mother out. My father had called.
"I found a rifle in the trunk of the car wrapped in a quilt," he told me.
"What should we do?" I asked.
"Stay in your room. Don't leave with your mother," he answered.
They were separated. He'd been having an affair. She found out. He moved out. We were in Oregon. I'm pretty sure the weather doesn't really contribute to mental health in that gloomy state. Still...
We spent the next couple hours listening to the ravings of a madwoman as she smashed dishes, screamed, cried, and babbled in an unfamiliar voice. It's difficult to be the sons of a nurturing, pentecostal, stay-home mom and not reach out to her when we heard her in that state. But there was the rifle...
I don't remember how that year resolved. Most of the next six months are no longer in my memory. My brothers tell me stories, but they lack confirmation in my mind. They seem plausible: family meetings ending in fights, periods of silence and fear, dinners where everyone is asked to "be honest," but no one really wanting to hear anything approaching a clear-eyed assessment. We moved back to Oklahoma. There's a longer story that involves my mother climbing out of depression and madness only to fall back into both when menopause set in, but I'll save that for a memoir.
We went to a funeral today. Susan's maternal grandmother died Sunday after a protracted battle with age. She was 86. Susan has spent 10 of the last 11 weekends away, spending time with her "mema" and her family. My wife has twelve siblings, none full brother or sister: halves and fosters abound. Mema was the constant in most of the kids' lives. When their parents were too fucked up on meth or alcohol or divorce to care for their kids, Mema fed them, loved them, told them stories, mothered them. She divorced the man who molested most of the girls in the family. Too late for the girls, I'm afraid. Still, she was a good woman.
Mutt preached her funeral. He's been a family friend for decades: married most of them more than once and buried a few. He actually choked up at Mema's funeral. He told the family, that incorrigible, reprobate, damned family, that the rapture would be here soon and they needed to be saved to be included. Why did they want to be included? Because that way there would be a giant family reunion in the sky, and "everyone will be there." (Except the ones burning in hell, but some things you don't say at a funeral.) Fifty or so members of the family there, of which about five go to church, yet we still get to hear a sermon about salvation, "I'll Fly Away", and warnings about realized eschatology.
Susan's family has struggled with madness too. We've talked about the likelihood that we'll be infected with it. Since most of the family members we know showed signs before 40, we feel pretty confident that we'll be okay. I learned at 15 to be fatalistic about madness: whatever happens will happen, and barring the drooling and shuffling that goes along with strong anti-psychotics—the kind of drug that removes what it is to be human and emotional and alive and giving a shit—the mad one will do what she chooses. Prayer won't work. Counseling won't work. Hope won't work.
So the hot, hopeless, hairdresser wife was in the tub tonight, crying, worried about a friend and about her family, and she finally arrived at the theodic epiphany that trumps all soteriology: "If someone asks God for help, why can't he just help?" Amen. Selah...