It was a typical Saturday afternoon and my mother and I were shopping together. Suddenly, out of the blue, my Mom dropped a verbal bomb on me. She told me that my Grandmother had been through “a bout of depression” when she we in her 50’s. I was completely surprised by this, so I attempted to extract every single detail from my Mom about this depression.
From what I eked out, my Grandma had been hospitalized and subjected to shock therapy. Mom had to take a leave of absence from her teaching job and moved back home in order to take care of her mother. This is not the Grandma that I knew.
Almost every day, I remember my sweet grandmother. She passed away about thirty years ago and if you knew her when I did, you would never have known she had been through such a tough time in her earlier years. She was a delicate, happy, and kind woman. Grandma was just a smidgen under five feet tall with perfectly coiffed silver grey hair her tiny white gloves always close at hand. In spite of her very proper demure appearance, Grandma had a wonderful sense of humor and playful attitude. One day she showed up to go swimming in a wild daisy covered blue swimsuit and flashy bright green oversized Lucite glasses! She had a reputation for frequently calling my Mom’s friends to share a dirty joke or two. (My Mom was not amused!) One time, at the age of about 85, and just after my husband and I had gotten married, she leaned over to him as he was driving her somewhere in the car, and asked, “so…how is she?” He almost drove off the road as she was clearly asking him how good a sexual partner I was!! She was hysterical!
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, when I was in my 40’s, that I was able to piece together that puzzling information my mother had shared with me about Grandma’s depression. I had been experiencing sleepless nights and memory loss that left me scared, embarrassed and alone. My emotions were like the ocean: dangerously high crashing waves followed by low tide and little ripples. I was in perimenopause. I realized what Grandma had been going through – menopause can cause severe depression in some women, and back in the day, this sort of thing was sometimes treated quite harshly – even with shock therapy. I called my Mom and asked her if she ever went through any of these frightening perimenopause symptoms and her response was, “I didn’t have time for that.” I now understand my mother’s desire to always be “fine.” Or as she puts it, “fine, fine, super fine.” Who wouldn’t have that attitude after seeing their mother go through what her mother had?
My generation and those that follow have an opportunity to do things differently. We can openly approach life’s challenges and support each other, rather than suffering in silence. We can speak up and out and get the help that we deserve. I’ll be spending this mother’s day with my 91 year-old mother, whom I cherish and adore. Whenever I ask her how she is, she still replies, “I’m fine, fine, super fine,” and I always smile and think of my Grandma; wild bathing suits, crazy sunglasses, white gloves, R-rated jokes, and the sweetest little woman I have ever known. She was inspirational.
This Mother’s Day we honor all the women that have come before us; all the women who suffered in silence.