Through the generations – my story (part 5)

My youngest sister was born when I was eight years old. She was referred to as a “change of life” baby as my mother had apparently reached menopause at the ripe old age of forty-two. Six weeks after her birth my mother was stricken with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in every joint of her body. And so began my mother’s years of wheel chairs and confinement to bed.

When my baby sister was six months old my sisters and I were left with an aunt for the fourth and last time.  Our mother had once again been hospitalised with depression. The main difference this time was my baby sister.  The aunty we stayed with on this occasion was understandably less than enthusiastic to find two small girls and a baby in her care. Squeezed into the small three-bedroomed house were now six children, two parents and two grandparents (one with dementia).  As the eldest of my little band of displaced children my aunt and uncle told me that the care of our baby sister fell to me. This involved all nappy changes, sterilising of bottles, feeding and comforting.   Somehow we muddled through and all three of us survived this period of neglect.

By now my father was struggling to make his business pay it’s way. The story goes that he would accept payment in kind from clients which included items such as cabbages and oranges. I am told that everyone was feeling the economic crunch.  My parents kept the business going as long as possible but eventually my father had to close his dream down and begin a career as an accountancy teacher at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) colleges.  To supplement this income my father also worked one day a week at a local accountancy firm.

This work load was not so bad while my father taught at a local college which was only forty-five minutes drive away. However, once he was transferred to a college ninety minutes drive away over a mountain range things began to pile up on him. To save fuel my father bought a motor bike to make the commute. This was not such a hardship as a my father had had a long love affair with bikes which he found gave him peace and freedom that was lacking elsewhere in his life.  Nevertheless to this day I do not know how he managed the ride over the mountains in winter when black ice covered the patches of road as he travelled home at night after teaching his classes.

But it wasn’t the mountain road that finally saw the end of his riding days. It was a piece of flat mud-covered road that he travelled on the way to his second job at the accountancy firm.  We were told that he lost traction in the mud and came off his bike, hitting his head on a solid wooden guide post at the side of the road. This accident did not kill him but left his brain damaged and my beautiful intelligent father became a shadow of his former self.

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Through the generations – my story (part 4)

As the storm clouds threatened to take over my mother’s life my father started his own business, an accounting company, which he eventually ran from home in a purpose built office separate to the house. My mother worked with him putting sixty hours a week into the business while running the house and caring for two demanding little girls who consistently deprived her of sleep.

This gruelling work load eventually took its toll and  before I was five years old my mother was hospitalised for the first time with major depression.  She stayed in hospital for several weeks during which time she was subjected to Electroconvulsive  Therapy (ECT) and placed on heavy medication that left her feeling groggy and disconnected from life and the world around her.  As always in a crisis my mother’s spirit family, led by Steven, gathered around her offering comfort and support. My mother tried to resist them because she knew too well the consequences of ‘communing with the dead’.  Their loving energy that promised to soothe and heal proved stronger than her fear of god’s retribution and she began once again to talk with spirit.  Unfortunately seeking such solace resulted in dire consequences, not from god but from the medical staff at the hospital. My mother’s stay was lengthened and and her doctors began considering that their patient had experienced a psychotic break.

Could my mother’s shame be any deeper? Hospitalised for a mental illness and needing one of her sister in-laws to care for her two daughters.  For years to come my mother’s hospitalisations were to be referred to by my father and his family as ‘stays in the nut house’. The stigma of her illness was immense.  When my mother returned home this first time she presented my sister and I with a wicker doll’s cradle each.  She had woven these during her stay in hospital as part of her therapy. Even then I could sense an air of humiliation around each cradle and something in my mother’s eyes as she gave them to us made me want to look away in shame.

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K Baker

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