(for Sarah, Nadine, Betty, Judy, Kay and too many others)
Yesterday, a young man killed his mother and then drove to the school where she taught kindergarten and killed 20 kids ages 5-10.
How could anyone do that?
I’m kind of glad I don’t understand. I don’t want his actions to make sense to me. I don’t want my brain to work that way.
I have more than one friend whose adult sons and daughters live with mental illness. Sometimes medications help, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just make people feel weird and they don’t take them. Sometimes nothing helps.
My friends, their moms, are left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.
My cousin spent 20 years wandering the country in the grips of schizophrenia. His illness began in his mid-twenties. My aunt and uncle knew of no way to help and were afraid to tell their friends. For most of his years of wandering, my aunt and uncle didn’t know if he was alive or dead. *
They were left with unshakeable love, broken hearts, and prayer.
My friend has spent thousands of dollars trying to find help for her daughter’s bi-polar illness. No combination of medications works well or for long. Her daughter, now in her 30’s, lived on the streets at times and now lives with her mom and her teenage daughter in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood near the university. My friend has legal custody of her granddaughter.
She is left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.
Last winter, as I sat in front of my gas log fireplace and listened to freezing rain, I wondered about a man I know who had no home. He was unable to manage an apartment, bills, and grocery shopping, although he wanted to. He hated going to the shelter. It’s hard to sleep in a room full of not-so-clean, snoring, farting, crying men who at any moment might start yelling or take your shoes or go through your stuff. Many of their brains don’t work right. They are ill.
I learned not to blame. Schizophrenia and bi-polar illness are diseases of the brain, as surely as my rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of my joints. I’m lucky. My medications work. I have medical insurance to help me pay for non-generic prescriptions and doctor visits and surgeries. I know people who have no money and no insurance. They don’t get better.
Mental illness is a powerful force. It is real. Medication may or may not help. Crack and heroin are easier to get and seem to help. Then they create another set of problems.
Even doctors and physician’s assistants and nurses who really care run out of things to try.
I guess they, too, are left with broken hearts and prayer.
We need to do better. The mentally ill man (boy, really), begging on the corner of Madison Drive and Market Street is someone’s son or brother. Yes, maybe he’ll take your $2.00 and buy beer or cheap school wine instead of food. Why not? It lessens the pain and stops the questions, for a moment.
Why would anyone walk into an elementary school and kill 20 little boys and girls? I don’t know.
I do know he was once a baby boy, just like my cousin, just like my grandson. A child of God, just like all of us.
Jesus said we are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Some of us need more and we are failing them and their parents and brothers and cousins and daughters.
Surely we can offer more than unshakeable love, broken hearts and prayer.
*My cousin, in his 50’s, is okay today, living in an assisted living apartment and helped by an exceptional support agency in Minneapolis, where his brother lives. My aunt knows that today he is safe and warm. She is one of the lucky moms.