Guest Post: Lori Schafer-On Hearing of my Mother’s Death

Guest Post with Mary Blowers. Please note that Mary is also currently accepting submissions for her “Dreams and Visions” Anthology; more info on her site: http://marydekokblowers.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/submissions-requested-for-anthology/

Lucidity Publishing

Lori Schafer - Book Cover

ON HEARING OF MY MOTHER’S DEATH SIX YEARS AFTER IT HAPPENED:

A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness

It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.

Then came my mother’s psychosis.

I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.

My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my…

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12 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lori Schafer-On Hearing of my Mother’s Death

  1. Alaina

    Lori, a dislocated shoulder? Oh my gosh, those things HURT. I hope you are taking good care of you.

    I just finished reading your book a second time. In my lifetime I have read hundreds of books. There are a handful I liked enough to read more than once. But I don’t remember ever finishing a book and then, just one day later, picking it up and reading it all over again.

    The thing I find most compelling about your memoir is the way you bring your inner feelings to life. I’ve read other memoirs with stories similar to yours. But none convey the inner emotions of the child-woman the way you do. You must have relived it on a deep, visceral level, in order to bring that teenage girl to life so vividly on the pages of your book.

    I’m sorry you had to relive that pain again, in order to tell your story. Hopefully it will prove to be a healing experience for you in the end, a healthy way to grieve the mother you lost long before her physical death. You probably weren’t able to do much grieving when you were a seventeen-year-old running for your life. Not when it took every ounce of your resources just to stay alive.

    I have found that if we do not grieve our losses, the repressed pain will eventually come out sideways, usually in unhealthy ways. This can happen in the form of failed relationships. Also, in my case, I went through a couple of years of heavy drinking in a misguided attempt to medicate my pain. Those years were very damaging to my three children and I regret that with all my heart. Thanks to the help I found in 12-step groups, I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over 24 years. I am glad for this, but oh how I regret the havoc my drinking caused in the lives of my children.

    My time of drinking started when my father died. I had not seen him in almost a decade, when I got a phone call telling me he was dead. But in reality my father had been dead to me since I was 12. That was when he flew into an insane rage and came so close to murdering my mother that I had believed, for several terrifying minutes, that she was dead. My dad was arrested, then taken to a psychiatric hospital. During his months on the psych ward, my father was diagnosed with schizophrenia. (He also became involved with the head nurse, whom he married as soon as my parents’ divorce was final – how unethical is that? But that’s a whole other crazy story, and includes the horrific way my deeply depressed mother reacted to the discovery that her husband was having an affair with his nurse.)

    When I was 16, on the same day my dad introduced me to the 18-year-old who would eventually become his third wife, he told me his diagnosis had been changed to Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). I don’t know which diagnosis is right. I have researched these conditions and in my opinion he had symptoms of both.

    More than anything, though, my father definitely seemed to be more than one person. I wanted nothing to do with the new person he became after his “good daddy” persona disappeared forever on the night he nearly killed my mom. But deep inside, through all the years of our estrangement, the little girl in me carried a small flicker of hope that my dad’s original personality would some day return and reach out to me. When I was 34 and I got the news that he had died of a heart attack at the age of 53, I was devastated to realize that my hope would never come true. That’s when I began to drink, trying to make the pain stop. I would have been much better off if I had done what you did and wrote it out, instead.

    Yes, I am sorry, I disabled comments on my blog a few months ago when I received some comments that disturbed me very much. Although we can easily control which comments appear on our blog and which do not, just the sight of them in my in-box was too painful. So I wimped out and disabled comments. I figure if someone really wants to contact me, they can still do it through Twitter. It’s hard for people to be very abusive in 140 characters or less, LOL.

    I will send you an email so we can communicate that way. But only when you are up to it! Left-handed typing with a right dislocated shoulder – OUCH. I hope you have had a doctor take a look at that, it could become “frozen” and you really don’t want that to happen. Take if from someone who has had a few shoulder problems of her own.

    Maybe you could try Dragon Naturally Speaking? I bought it and now I just need to take the time to learn the program. I think it may be a good way to write, when I’m not up to typing for whatever reason.

    Take care and Happy Holidays.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. lorilschafer Post author

      There’s a lot I’d like to say in response to this – more than I can effectively type right now ;) I actually already had the Dragon software so the first thing I did after the injury was break that out, but so far the misunderstanding level has been so high that it hasn’t been terribly effective – a ton of manual editing. Plus it seems to get confused in online environments because of all the links. Planning on giving it another try later and I think I’ll respond to your email instead – which is also full of fascinating information. One quick thing, though – I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve received comments on your blog that you found disturbing. I know we have very different stories, but I’m still shocked that you’ve been subjected to that. So far, my experience with readers has been nothing but positive *fingers crossed* and the Twitter contacts have been great. It is so, so cool having people tweet me about my book – I get to talk directly to readers, and even famous authors rarely get to do that. I have gotten so much support from people online and I hope that you can look forward to the same. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Alaina

    Your reply gave me goose bumps. Thank you. You know that writer’s remorse feeling that happens sometimes when you’ve opened up a vein and bled all over a page and then you wonder: Yikes, did I say too much? Do I really want to be this naked in public? …I was feeling some of that after posting my review for your book.

    But I am determined not to be a wimp about this. What do appearances really matter? This is life and death stuff we’re talking about here. People suffer and people die every day for lack of accessible, viable help for mental health issues.

    Which is my wordy way of saying you betcha, I would love for you to share my review on your blog, or anywhere else you wish to do so. I believe your memoir can make a real difference in real lives. If I can help in any way with that, I am thrilled.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Alaina

      By the way, what you said about the stressed mice developing “mental illness” reminds me of a quote I love:

      “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” ~Viktor E. Frankl, MD, PhD, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING

      After surviving the sheer insanity of a Nazi concentration camp, I’d say Dr. Frankl knew exactly what he was talking about, wouldn’t you?

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. lorilschafer Post author

        That sums it up exactly!

        By the way, I couldn’t find a comment button when I was going through your blog, but I read about your reluctance to write your story. Not just because of the stigma, or the potential for public shaming, but because of how difficult it is for you to relive it, and I just wanted to say, I hear you. I wrote a 100-and-some-odd page book, and frankly, it’s been horrible. I haven’t felt so vulnerable and emotional in years. I can’t say I expected to achieve some sort of catharsis, but I also didn’t expect to feel bad about it, either. I suppose I assumed I would retain the level of detachment about it that I achieved long ago, but that isn’t what happened at all.

        The really neat thing, though? Meeting people like you. The amount of love and support I have received from strangers since I published this book has been simply overwhelming, and even more importantly, for many readers my story does just what you say – it breaks down the stigma. They’re glad to hear someone else sharing this kind of story – and it encourages them to share their own. So even if it hasn’t been particularly pleasant for me, it is so, so gratifying when someone tells me how moved they were by my story or how much it relates to something in their own life or how glad they are that I told it. That makes it worth it to me. I hope that will make it worth it to you, too.

        I do want to feature your review on my blog – probably not until after the holidays, as I dislocated my shoulder last Sunday and I can barely keep up with my work as it is. Turns out I’m not a great left-handed typist! But I think you open up some really neat areas of discussion, and I’m looking forward to delving into it further :)

        Liked by 1 person

      1. lorilschafer Post author

        I just read it. Literally brought me to tears. Your observations – not just about my memoir, but about the science behind how people are affected by events like these – expressed so precisely what I think and how I feel that I was simply stunned by your insights. I’ve read studies done on mice, for example, in which they were subjected to certain types of stressful stimuli and developed what might be termed mental disorders – except that they weren’t. They were normal, hormonal reactions to extreme circumstances – reactions that were designed to allow those creatures to survive under conditions in which no animal should have to live. It isn’t about personality, or about a person’s strength or weakness, but about biology. It is, for lack of a better term, natural.

        I would really like to feature your review on my blog, if you wouldn’t mind. It isn’t quite appropriate for me to respond to it on Amazon, but I would be very interested in discussing a number of the points you raise, and my website would be the perfect forum for that. Let me know what you think – here or at lorilschafer(at)outlook(dot)com. And thank you for that review that is so much more than a review, that also offers an analysis of a situation that affects so many of us living in sadness and silence. I’m moved beyond words.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Alaina

    This made me cry. Not only is your excerpt superbly written, I relate on a visceral level because this is my mother, too. Different details, same insanity. Going to Amazon to buy your book right now.

    Liked by 1 person

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