The Regret in Her Eyes

Her usually lively, luminous, brown eyes stared blankly from under slack skinned lids that drooped secretively allowing no reading of intent or stability. Her usually softly voiced speech cadence that aimed words at my aging ears which often required an agitated request for repeating now speed raced from chapped and peeling pouty lips betraying her usual slow-paced body movements and physicality. Her shoulder length hair hung limply pinned to one side with the fewer pinkish purple dyed strains over powering the many naturally darker hair strains. Her slim eighteen year old body leaned forward in urgency as she sat across from me in the gray chair, at the gray table in the gray room of the mental facility was carelessly dressed in sweats and a t-shirt as the words spilled forth so fast that I could hardly keep up with or understand. But what I did hear were the breathlessly repeated ones – “no one listens to me.” Even as I knew these words were being spoken by my sweet loved one who was not in control, I suspected the words came from a place of truth. “Even me?” I asked. “Sometimes” was the response as she averted the half lidded blank eyes from my anxious ones.

I had prayed that there would be no more “episodes.” I asked God and the angels to bring peace and protection from those inner demons that the medical world diagnosed as Bi-polar. I prayed that the medication, growing older and the change in circumstances at home would ameliorate and calm her life. Her first episode had occurred when she was only eleven. It was Christmas day and we were celebrating the day’s final gathering at my home after everyone had made their other required rounds of visiting and exchanging gifts, making my place the final eating and gift exchanging destination of the day where we celebrated time together with loads of food, laughter, games and always at least one cuddle under blankets movie the selection of which could be a hilarious short story in itself.

However, this Christmas was to be different. Only days before her anxious parents had taken her to the emergency room with symptoms that included her saying that she was hearing voices. She was checked physically and it was determined that she was mentally fragile and was assigned a psychiatrist and was released from the hospital with a prescription and an appointment with a therapist.  That Christmas day she entered the brightly decorated room without smile or reaction to the warm “Merry Christmas” that greeted her appearance. She had transformed into this well-behaved “Stepford-like” child whose eyes and demeanor seemed unaware of the colorful surroundings or the loving offering of the magi gifts of Christmas they hoped would assuage the whispers of mental instability and mysterious actions by the usually well-behaved child beauty. I had hoped and prayed that she had been cured of this strange melancholy that had overcome the excitable, lovely child whose smile and charm could warm the most frigid heart. However, as her long shapely fingers picked listlessly at the shiny red and green ribbons, the dull eyes only glanced at the extravagant gifts given with much cheer and received with such apathy.

Now, an eighteen year old emancipated minor, we thought, she had overcome the demons; it had been over a year with no episodes. I prayed that the melancholy events were a thing of the past. I prayed that the medication and her now being able to choose who to live with after her parent’s ugly divorce had placed her in a space that brought peace and harmony in her life. Yes, she was still the excitable one who screamed with happiness, and “was sad” when anyone or anything was struggling or in pain. Yet, it had come back. The menace had taken control again, covering her with its spirit sapping power; temporarily leaving her a conflicted empty shell where life and emotional balance once resided. How does one protect ones children’s children from the pain in life especially a pain that is of the spirit? Her secretly made decision to stop taking the medication was made she said, because the meds made her feel “crazy.” No one knew her secret until an argument with her mother escalated into an attack that resulted in a call to the police and a ride to the mental facility in a nearby town.

One has to look for the good in every situation no matter how impossible it seems. That”s the only way to overcome the challenges of life.  She had finished her first semester at the local community college with a 3.3 GPA.  She had to miss her second semester, but that’s OK. Her therapist changed her medication to a reduced strength. She assures me that she takes it every day now. She has enrolled for her second semester and I can only hope and pray that this, my second grandchild, will be ok. Her eyes have returned to the liveliness of old – quick and expressive, lovely and warm. Could I as a grandmother have done anything differently?  What regrets do I have regarding her mental health? Am I taking on a challenge in life over which I had no control?

Was it her parent’s divorce? Or was it more specifically her father, my son, leaving and joining another family? My son fought in court for months and won – getting primary custody of her; however, the adjustment was difficult with a new stepmother, three other children and a new baby sister. She told me that she thought her father, whom she loved dearly, had abandoned her as well as her mother.  It was an ugly breakup as most family breakups are. There were other family dynamics that may have impacted her psychologically; however, it’s the relationship with her father that she seems to find missing, changed or lacking in substance that has trumped all other issues. At eighteen, she chose to live with her mother, leaving the complicated living arrangement with her father behind, yet missing and loving her baby sister and the complexity of feelings for other family members.

I must listen to her. I must not tune out the random words that I sometimes am not sure of. I must get a hearing aid. What else can I do? What should I have done? I regret; but I do not know why – or do I?

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