I was probably well into my forties before I really understood that my mother never really recovered from my birth. Now the diagnosis would be relatively simple and immediate – post-partum depression. Back then I vaguely remember other terms floating like ghosts – feeling “down,” “nerves,” having a “spell” or being “in a state.”
I remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table crying and my father leaving in frustration to work in the shop out back, seldom returning until after I was asleep. And I remember the emotional heaviness as my Mom sat at the arborite surfaced table writing lists and then striking out words and phrases.
The tragic part about a missing diagnosis is that blame enters the frame.
I am certain my grandparents were frustrated and angry that their eldest and quietest daughter seemed so unhappy. In my grandfather’s eyes, a large part of the blame for my mother’s condition rested with my father. Somehow it was up to my father to be a more perfect husband, to earn more money, to be more extraverted, to be more Christian, to be a different person.
A string canopy of “if only”s hung over my father.
If only he didn’t spend so much time working out in the shop.
If only he could sell the cars he worked on for more money and collect more of what was owing him.
If only he could be like my uncle – extroverted, an evangelical styled Christian, a playmate for his children, taller.
If only …. a powerful undercurrent that could grab and draw beneath its dark water any feelings of empathy, compassion, gratitude or respect that I might have for my father.
It was only during the years following the death of my mother that I came to see that another person lived within my father and his stories about the pressures snd challenges of life differed considerably from those of my mother’s family. Still quick tempered and prone to socially inappropriate comments and behaviour but a more compassionate and faithful character than I had been allowed to see.