By Joy Ford
Key Themes: carer’s story, grief, poetry, schizophrenia, mental health services, suicide
AS FEATURED ON ‘THIS MORNING’.
“With this book I want people to realise that even if you do manage to get help for a loved one who has become seriously mentally ill, it does not mean they are safe from harming themselves. Hospitals are only as good as the staff that run them. ‘Care In The Community’ is very spasmodic, especially in rural areas. I also want people to realise that seriously mentally ill people are not people to fear, they want to feel, and be treated as ‘normal’ like everyone else.” – Joy Ford
‘One In Four’ uses a mixture of prose and poetry to tell the important and tragic story of a teenage boy who becomes seriously mentally ill, with paranoid schizophrenia, from a mother’s point of view. It travels with her and her son through the quagmire of ‘Care In The Community’ and the problems of living on the cusp of two counties. This excellent narrative shows how people can slip through the net, leading, in this instance, to the death of a very much loved child, brother, and grandson. Joy’s son did not want to die, it was the illness that killed him, aggravated by the neglect of the hospital he was in. The story travels through the effect this tragedy has had on the mother and the struggle she has coming to terms with the loss of her son. This is a wonderfully poignant, if emotionally involving book. A fitting memorial to Edward.
About the Author
I found writing this cathartic though upsetting at times. It brought back my troubled childhood, though I do not go into detail in my book, and a difficult twenty-five year marriage. The highlights in my life were also remembered; three years studying art, my teenage years in the sixties when I felt free and had fun. The birth of my three beautiful children, and the love I feel for them, the publication of my first book in 1985 and several poems over the years. Meeting a man who accepts me for who and what I am with no expectations, my lovely grandchildren and extended family. Sweet memories of my youngest child, but also the pain of him not being in my life, something that will always be with me. As I am beginning to heal I want to be able to support mentally sick people in some way, and am hoping to help in an art and craft group with the Gemini Project in Oxford.
Scared of rejection
Or to be placed in a fool collection
In a class of my own
Teaching myself to be alone
I try not to listen
But thoughts don’t stop,
Making their own conviction
They are causing demolition.
If only I could lock away my brain,
I’m sure I could gain remorse
And find a girl to put me back on course.
We were walking along the side of St. James Park in London on a warm June evening when she turned to me and suddenly said, “Edward’s death was his gift to you. You must remember that.”
I felt shaken by her words and the familiar hot feeling of unshed tears burned behind my eyes and my throat ached, all I could say was “What?”
“Edward taking his own life, it was his gift to you. You must realise if he had lived he would have killed you or murdered a member of your family.”
She spoke with such conviction that my sadness turned in that moment to hot anger; I shook my head wanting to shake her words out of my mind. How dare she I thought, wanting to scream at her so I waited until I could speak calmly.
“Edward was never a violent person,” I said at last my voice was shaking “and when he became ill with schizophrenia he remained a gentle person, but he became very fearful of people and situations and tended to keep himself to himself. Before he died he was terrified, he thought people were out to harm him. People with his illness very rarely harm anyone, other than themselves. And that was my greatest fear and I was right to feel like that, because that is what he did, he took his own life. But he did not want to die; he said that continuously the day he made his first attempt. He died on his second attempt that same day, even though we had placed him in a place of safety.”
The rest of the evening I felt strained and sad, I found images of my youngest child in the forefront of my mind. My friend, I knew she meant well but like many others she thought “I should be over it by now” just three years after his death, and I’m beginning to realise the death of one’s child is not something you “get over” you just learn to live with it. An empty space appeared in my life when my child died and it will remain there forever. Eighteen months after my son’s death my mother died, I was sad I grieved and I miss her not being in my life, but I always knew she would one day die, that is the way things are. But I never expected that to happen to my child, I spent time preparing my children to become independent, so they could live happily once I have gone. Nothing prepared me for my child dieing, and with such horrendous injuries, it is the worst pain I have ever experienced, and it does not go away, it sits deep inside me like an icy spot where he once lay and from time to time it rises up and the pain is in my head, my eyes run with tears as I think of him. It’s always there on waking I often find myself sighing his name as memory hits me, even before my eyes open.
My friend in her clumsy way was just trying to make me feel better I realised that. But found it hard to forgive her irrational fear of my son, who would never have harmed a soul, even when in a psychotic state. I did not blame her, before Edward became ill I was as ignorant, and thought seriously mentally ill people were to be feared. My only knowledge came from the news papers, T.V. and films were people doing terrible murders and harm are described as ‘schizo’s’ or ‘psychos’, I knew so little even though I had suffered from bouts of depression most of my adult life, but I have been lucky enough to only require medication and contact with my GP until Edward’s death.
Edward lived for two decades, and when I converse with people I still mention him as I do his living older brother and sister, if something arises in a conversation. I will not deny his existence because it may make someone feel uncomfortable. He was part of my life for twenty years, and those years he spent with me helped to make me the person I am today. Edward was my youngest son, he died on April 1st 2002, he’d been diagnosed with paranoia schizophrenia ten months before, when a mental health trust started calling me his main carer rather than his mother, and he became a client rather than a young person with a serious illness.