This is Part 4 in my series of Mental Illness and Relationships – Positive Role Models.
I have mentioned my paternal grandmother a few times lately with my counselor…and with much joy and affection. I would have to say that this lady, whom I only had the privilege of knowing between the ages of 7 and 16, was my favourite person in the world. I firmly believe she held me together during those years and helped to nurture the qualities that would get me through the times when depression and bipolar ruled my life.
We met when my father was transferred from Saskatchewan to British Columbia. My grandparents had moved to the coast before I was born and our only trip there was when I was too little to remember. However my sister and I stayed with them when we first arrived because our house was not ready for a week. It was love at first sight between me and this marvelous woman.
We were told right from the start that she did not want to be called any form of the label “grandmother”. So, we called them Mom and Pop, just like my parents did. Whenever both women were together I ended up calling them Mom and My-mom! Looking back, I think there was some irony here with their roles in my life.
I would refer to her as my Grand Mom to others and it also could not be more fitting. She was a large woman, but it was more to describe her heart and the fact that she tackled everything she did in a big way. Both of my “Mom’s” were awesome cooks and taught me a lot about it and about entertaining. The only thing is Grand Mom never used a recipe and the things we made together were lost forever like Turkish Delight and a ham loaf that was out of this world! I have found recipes for both, but none that come even close to hers.
Another area where both Moms were a big influence on me was crafts. She taught me bead work, both freehand and loom work, which she had learned from a First Nations friend. We also spent hours doing paper crafts, hooking rugs and doing jigsaw puzzles. She designed a table that was made out of a solid piece of cherry wood (40″ diameter) and could be raised and lowered from coffee to dining table height in a matter of minutes. It was also on wheels. I ended up getting that table and had it up until a few months ago. I treasured it; however the mechanism and top were getting well worn! Grand Mom was, I believe, the person that gave me my love of the colour purple. She loved purple accents for her house.
I spent many weekends with my grandparents and in the summers I would go for a week at a time. Some of my greatest memories were during these times. But there was also one not so nice memory. One week I took a friend with me. We were swimming in the pool located in the complex. I couldn’t swim very well at this point and the pool had a sudden drop-off to the deep end. I went past this point and started to drown. My Grand Mom jumped in clothes, coat and all, but the weight was too much and while she was able to push me back to the shallower water, she couldn’t help herself. Two teens came and rescued her and it was written in the paper. This was who my Grand Mom was. She would risk her own life for mine, or anyone else’s.
As I grew up my weekends with her became less frequent, but our bonds never changed. We talked often on the phone and we saw my grandparents on all special occasions. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The rules were very strict in those days and at 14 I was not allowed to see her in the hospital when she had her surgery. For the next year she was in and out of the hospital and sick from her chemo so our visits were very rare. When I was 16, she passed away from a heart attack.
It was around the age of 16 when my bipolar started (but wasn’t diagnosed). I don’t think it was related to Grand Mom’s passing, but I think she would have been able to help me through it. She always “got” me. I was able to be my quirky self around her and in fact she kind of brought it out in me! If she had been around when I was diagnosed, I am sure she would have embraced it as being part of me and helped me through. I wished I could have realized this back then and I could have used our wonderful memories together to guide me.
My main psychiatrist kept reminding me that there are three main factors in the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar (and any mental illness) – biological, environmental and chemical. The environmental includes your way of life, work, and of course relationships. Having a positive role model in your life while going through the ravaging effects of mental illness is incredibly important. With the stigma associated with BP, having at least one person who “gets” you, even if they don’t fully understand the illness, can mean the world. I really believe having my Grand Mom in those early years helped me through the bad times. And now, in my later years I have my wonderful hubby, a couple of incredible friends and of course, my God, who has been there even when I didn’t know Him.