I am grateful for Henry by Xavier Amador
http://www.xavieramador.org/ “I am not Sick, I don’t need help!” presentation at the 2011 Nordic Psychiatry Academy by Xavier Francisco Amador. It is a 76 minutes Video Presentation, which is very worthwhile to listen.
All the passages below are taken from Xavier Amador’s book, “I am Not Sick I Don’t Need Help!” It is 10th Anniversary Edition of 2010-12.
On April 23, 2007, while standing on a sidewalk and helping a woman put her groceries on a bus, my brother Henry was hit by a car and died at the scene. There’s a videotape of what he did, taken by the bus company, though I don’t yet have the strength to watch it.
That was so like him. Although often lost in delusional thoughts and distracted by hallucinations, he was aware of people around him, especially those in need, and he cared.
That was not what he or I had planned for. When I first wrote about this, only two months after his death, I was much too close to my loss and mourning to know what good could possibly come from it all-but I had to trust that someday something would.
Saying Goodbye Twice
Standing at the lectern, looking out at the people who had come to Henry’s funeral, I was struck once again by what a full life he had had. His friends filled the church, prompting several of my family members-who had had very little contact with Henry after he became ill 25 years before–to say things like “I had no idea he had this many friends!” and “I never knew his life was so full.”
As they met and spoke to more and more of his friends over the course of that day and the next, some in my family expressed deep remorse and sadness that they had missed out on so much of his life. I didn’t feel that sadness because I had not–my brother and I were very close and loved each other’s company immensely. Henry was my hero.
The reason I had this relationship with Henry while others in our family did not is not because I am a better person; I am no saint. The reason is that after he first became ill, I was somehow able to mourn who he had been before, while most of my brothers and sisters (there are nine of us) seemed unable to.
At first, I know we all felt it–it was impossible to accept that he was no longer there in the way he had been. Handsome, kind, and loving with a magical sense of humor, he would never become the person we all had envisioned he would–a loving husband and father, a responsible caregiver and successful man.
When he became ill with schizophrenia, we all longed for the “old Henry” and made little room in our hearts for the “new Henry.” He had the same problem.
For the first five years of his illness he, like us, was stuck on the plan he had had for the future, and he became depressed that what he had planned now seemed impossible to attain. Prior to becoming ill, he had always worked, gone to university and had girlfriends. That was over now. Not until he had mourned his old vision for the future did he discover that the core of the old Henry was still there and realize that new plans needed to be made.
The last year of his life he was especially happy. This is not some wishful revisionist delusion on my part–it is confirmed by all that were close to him. He had many friends; he worked odd jobs with his friend “Pops,” and his girlfriend Mary had become a big part of his life.
Mourning when mental Illness strikes
The research is clear on the importance of mourning. By mourning what has been lost, you open your eyes to all that is still there. Moreover, you open your eyes and heart to new possibilities.
In a review of the research on literature we published in the spring of 2007 in the Annals of General Psychiatry, my colleagues and I found that people with schizophrenia who had successfully mourned were less likely to feel suicidal. Studies of family members of people with schizophrenia have found that those relatives that who have mourned the loss of the way things used to be are less likely to be critical of their mentally ill loved ones, and feel less burdened and stressed.
Some research findings are intuitive–they just make sense. This is one of those instances. I saw that same transformation in my brother and experienced the improvement in his hopefulness about his future and our relationship. I’ve seen it repeated time and again in the patients and families I have worked with this last
Closing one door opens another
It is like any other major change in life. When you mourn, you feel sad because you are saying goodbye to what was and what you hoped would be. But by doing this, you feel at peace–and even happy-as you say hello to what is and what can be. I have counseled many families and also consumers on the importance of going through this process. Families that successfully mourn are able to let go of their anger at their loved ones. They learn to separate the illness from the person. Communication gets healthier, and even the course of illness can improve because of the lessened tensions between family members.
But I never before experienced the stark truth of this wisdom so completely as I did when my brother died. Now that he is gone, I find I have no regrets.
I cherish countless good memories of him. I remember our nearly constant laughter together, his helping me build an outdoor fireplace in my home which crackled with flame and heat for my family earlier this evening, his giving me permission to write about him, the pride he felt in me and l in him, and so much more.
I recall our many conversations, how often he would ramble and it would be hard for me to listen. Despite all, he would always end by saying, “You’re my baby brother, and I love you.”
After Henry became ill, many things changed. But not the fact that he was smart, handsome, kind, and loving. Or how he could make me laugh–splitting-your-gut laughter–in any situation, even at our mother’s funeral! He usually did it with kindness and reverence for the feelings of other people–except for those rare instances later in life when the illness got the best of him. Because he felt less inhibited, he was far funnier than he was prior to becoming ill and he knew it.
Many people have written to me to offer their condolences, to share their good memories of Henry, and to wisely say how lucky I was to have him as my older brother. They are right.
But they left out one vital thing, a lesson I learned anew as I reflected on the seemingly insurmountable task of saying goodbye to him all over again. I was especially fortunate that I was able to mourn after he first became ill–to say goodbye to what I had hoped for–so that during these past 25 years, I could laugh with him, make new good memories with him, and realize just how lucky I was to be his “baby brother.”
Henry worked with me to get well and our relationship was a good one. He helped many people through his example, his influence on my thinking, and his willingness to let his story be told in my books and articles. We will never know how many lives he saved and how many people with poor insight he helped to recover.
I have received many letters from kind souls telling me he had that impact–I am sure there are many more who have not written.
I have much to be grateful for.