Weep for Anne

In March of 1978 I left the house at 30 Green Street and taking nothing but a guitar and a suitcase, flew across the country for a week of VISTA training in Seattle, Washington. A week after that, I took a train through snow-covered mountains and crashing waterfalls to Boise, Idaho.

Two days after arriving in Boise, I reported for my assignment at the Adult and Child Development Center. The director led me to the office that housed three other VISTAs. It was there that I met Paul. One look at his smoky eyes, and I knew I was a gonner. We were engaged by June, and set a wedding date of August 31.

When the week of the wedding arrived, Paul and I traveled back to Massachusetts by train. I had briefly met his parents during a side trip to Tucson in June, and they arrived a couple of days before the wedding, along with Paul’s brother John, his sister Anne and her husband Jim.

At the rehearsal dinner, my future in-laws were much subdued- and no wonder. My family was big, loud, and outspoken. Our family dinners were rambunctious events where teasing one-liners were hurled across the table like dinner rolls, and bursts of laughter erupted every few sentences. Paul’s small family had set its roots as mid-western farmers. Dinners were eaten quickly and quietly, punctuated by minimal small talk, so they could return to their work. I looked across the table at my fiancé and wondered if trying to meld our two families would be as successful as a spaghetti and ice cream casserole.

Paul looked more bewildered than I.  I couldn’t tell if he was nervous about his family’s visit, or the wedding ceremony, or if he was having second thoughts about the whole marriage, but he silently shoveled food into his mouth, avoiding eye contact, saying nothing. I stole a glance at my mother, who returned my gaze with questioning eyes.  My stomach churned and I couldn’t help but wonder if our families would end up like the Hatfields and the McCoys.

anne stoutimore spencer0001Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice rose over the din- a happy, celebratory voice, filled with laughter and warmth. It was Anne.

Anne was beautiful. She was vibrant and well-educated and articulate. Her smile lit the room and her eyes danced. She engaged my younger siblings in conversation and joined in the teasing, and by doing so, bridged the gap between the two very different families. And in the early years that followed the wedding, she and I shared clothes, opinions and conversation during family reunions and phone calls. She gave birth to two chocolate-eyed children during the years that I delivered three with eyes the color of the sea. We exchanged gifts at Christmas and cards containing snap shots of our growing broods.

And then one day, Anne called and calmly informed me that Hitler was residing in her refrigerator. She knew this because he spoke to her. She was dead serious and my heart sank.

The next years were a steady downward spiral of my husband’s beautiful sister. Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, her laughter turned to bitter accusations and her conversations were peppered with claims of abuse and outlandish threats. She went in and out of hospitals, and endured countless trials of medication but her glow was never to return.

A few days ago, I learned that  Anne passed away in her sleep, and although I am relieved that forever her torturing voices are silenced, I weep that she and her family were relentlessly tormented for so long. I weep because when we don’t know how to respond to those who live in a different world, we say nothing.  I weep that we speak candidly about cancer and chicken pox, but we whisper about mental illnesses. I weep because for yet unknown reasons, a bright star was extinguished far before its time.

But God does not let us linger in anger and sadness. I was reminded of this when I read an email that Anne’s son Joseph so eloquently wrote:

“Well, my Mom died yesterday around 4AM.

In life she suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia and bi-Polar disorder. I never really had what most would call a normal relationship with her. The first half of my life was spent suffering from the stress involved with her illness, the last half was spent coming to terms with it and finally getting rid of any bitterness in my heart that built up over the years. Nothing short of God helped me through that.

She was the most giving person I’ve ever met. Never had I met anyone that would give like that. Even when she had nothing, she would still find something to give. I’d get hot chocolate packets in the mail from hospitals that she would be confined in. I’d get letters from her as well. I’m happy that I made the best efforts I could to reach out to her. In the end though, death was the most liberating thing that could ever have happened to her. I’m glad we were able to see her before she passed.

Life is so short, and before you know it it’s over. She passed away so suddenly, in the middle of the night without anyone knowing anything beforehand.

Love those you’re close to, rather or not you’re on good terms with them. Before you know it it’s over and the only thing you have to look back on are memories.”

Well said, Joseph. Well said.

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3 Comments

  1. Kerri Smith

     /  June 22, 2013

    Wow, I don’t know what to say; but thank you. I just read this and I am weeping for Anne. I am so sorry for your loss. It is time for us to speak out as a nation for mental illness. As a nurse who understands that addictions and mental illnesses are what tears most families apart, I STAND and speak and want to be a part of the solution. Thank you for bringing this focus and attention to Anne’s story. As I continue to sob, I say thank you.

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  2. I am so sorry for your loss, my friend. Your writing eloquently lets me share in your pain. Hope to see you soon.

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