Support for the Living

Today is the anniversary of my Mom’s death.  Three years ago she passed away from non-small cell lung cancer although she never smoked.

In her last weeks, we contacted a hospice to help her and us through the awful, final phase of accepting that death was imminent.  I cannot begin to describe how much their support and guidance aided both my dying mother and those she was leaving behind.

As I reflect on what worked for the family during that time, I’m trying to devise a way in applying those principles to a model of support a family can employ when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness.   Having been recently diagnosed with Bipolar II, I can personally vouch that what follows is very similar to what a cancer patient goes through – a period of grieving followed by a long process of dumping chemicals into the body in hopes of controlling the affliction.

Grief is not a linear process.  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, over my sanity and the loss of my mother, are visited by me quite often.  Sometimes all at once during hypomania, sometimes in lingering fashion when I am feeling depressed.  But the thing I suffer from most is the loss of dignity that comes with stigma, much like the loss of dignity a cancer patient can suffer when going through what comes along with dying from such a horrible disease.

In the US, we have become a bit better at talking about and accepting terminal illness, and even honoring the wishes of those wanting to end their lives.  However, we are not as progressive as the Dutch.  My husband is from The Netherlands and rightfully proud of their advanced view and ability for a terminally ill person to take action. Overall, we in the US are still not very good at it.  And, I hate to say, we are even worse at dealing with mental illness.

I envision a day when a structured program, like that of a hospice for the dying, will be in place for those diagnosed with a mental illness.  There will be centers where there is no stigma attached to walking through the door, family members will all willingly include themselves in the support and treatment plan and the person diagnosed will be afforded dignity at a time when ‘sanity ends’ and a new life begins.

I have not told my family about being bipolar, to date only my son and husband know.  On this anniversary of my Mother’s passing, however, I do know that would she be alive today I would have confided in her.  And, I know exactly what she would have said and done.  “It’s OK, hon.”  Big hug, maybe tears.  “Our family has always been a little nuts anyway.”  Big smile & a laugh.

RIP, Mom.  I miss ya.

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