I recall as a teen hearing Reba McEntire’s song “The greatest man I never knew lived just down the hall.” I remember thinking “she is singing about me and my dad.”
I often wondered if my dad’s suffering would have been easier if he had passed during his service. (I know that sounds cruel). Instead he came home damaged. Not physically but mentally. Don’t get me wrong, I love my father but to go mad and not be able to control it must be… well, maddening.
Would you want to live that way?
I do have some nice memories of my dad. When he was stationed in Germany he used to record himself talking and singing songs to us and he would mail the tapes to us. My stepmom would play them at night and my brothers and I would sit and listen as my dad spoke to us about how he missed us. He would sing to us an old hymnal “one day when the battle is over we will wear a crown.”
He wanted to be home with us.
I wish I had those tapes. How could we have known that those tapes were going to be a sign of a better time for my dad? A better times for us? They were evidence of a man that once had clarity and not the “zombie” I remember growing up.
This picture was taken the last time we saw our father “normal”
I heard there was an accident. I don’t know the details. I only know it involved him breathing in a chemical or gas that eventually caused a chemical imbalance in his brain. I was young (it wasn’t long after the photo above was taken).
I was maybe 6 when my dad came home from the military for the last time, but this time… it wasn’t my dad. It was someone else. He was now a man who no longer interacted with his children. In fact he couldn’t even stand the noise of children. We were told we made him “nervous.”
I am certain that we did not understand what had happened. We had no idea why he didn’t leave his room or speak to us. We were told to never bother him. He would shut himself in his room and he rarely came out. Sometimes at night I would hear him listening to his Kenneth Hagan tapes and other times I would hear him crying, begging God, and vomiting because he had decided he was going to wean himself off the medication again (something that was a very bad idea and he never was able to do because of the horrific withdrawals). He would usually get sent back to the VA hospital and come back to us heavily medicated.
My stepmom tried to stay with him.
She was married to him for 20 years. I can’t say I blame her for leaving. I think the years of taking care of a man, along with us was more than she could handle… especially after the schizophrenic episodes began. And there have been some bad ones. His paranoia seems to take over and he will not (cannot) listen to reason.
I love my dad and it took studying and learning about his mental illness before I could accept it. In the back of my mind I felt that somehow he could control it. I know now it is not that simple.
I was angry…
Eventually I had to let go of the anger and the blame because it was affecting my life. I had to forgive my dad, forgive God, and even forgive the military who I blamed for stealing my dad from me.
My dad has had so much hurt and loss and still manages to get through each day and that is saying a lot.
He truly IS “the greatest man I have never known.”
If you have a family member or friend that is struggling with mental illness, you can seek help and support for them or yourself by visiting http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/index.html.
You need to know you are not alone. Other people have experienced exactly what you are going through and can help.