The Sisters of Perpetual Determination

By Katherine Flannery Dering From her Blog Word From the Trenches

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Sunday after Sunday, year after year, our Mother drove the one hour ride from our home in White Plains to the Wingdale Psychiatric facility to visit my brother Paul and to prod the staff to take good care of him. Paul, the eighth child of our family of ten children, suffered his first psychotic break at 16 and for the next thirty two years, despite all treatment attempts, he never had more than a few moments of sanity. As our father sunk into a deeper and deeper depression, unwilling to face what had happened to his young pride and joy, Mother just gritted her teeth and did what had to be done. Dad died. Paul got sicker. But sun or snow, rainy or blustery day, Mother drove the two hour round trip and gave Paul his one day per week of almost normalcy. Picnics for sunny summer days, diner or pizza shop on bad days, an occasional excursion to a pool or bowling alley. Mother could recite every gas station, burger joint, antique shop, hardware store, exit, entrance, diner, motel, bank, putting range or ski equipment shop along the 50 mile route.

When Paul was 34, Mother died, very suddenly, of a burst aortic aneurism, and the ten of us “kids” were in shock. We stumbled through funeral preparations, copying what Mother had done for Dad. She had sung in the church choir for years, and her pals did a great job singing at her funeral mass. During the priest’s homily, he spoke repeatedly about what a determined mother she was in not only raising her ten children but also for ensuring that her mentally ill son was properly cared for. After Mother’s burial, the choir and at least 80 other friends and family members gathered at Mother’s house for a funeral luncheon.

At some point that afternoon, four or five of my sisters and I went for a walk around her neighborhood to escape the crowd of mourners who, fueled in part by a large quantity of bourbon and wine, had progressed from munching on catered chicken parmesan and crudités to singing show tunes around her baby grand piano. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day.  A short way down the block, realtors were holding an open house. Since we would have to sell Mother’s house, we decided to check it out. Recalling how the priest at Mother’s Mass had gone on and on about what a determined woman she was, we signed in as a group of nuns looking for a new home and called ourselves the Sisters of Perpetual Determination. It became our family joke. The next year, after I’d settled Mother’s will and distributed everyone’s share, my siblings gave me a plaque inscribed “To the executrix extraordinaire, with thanks, from The Sisters of Perpetual Determination.”

As the months and years went by after Mother’s death, we siblings took up the mantle of trying to look after our brother.  However, this was the age of the deinstitutionalization movement, and despite the lack of a suitable half-way facility to care for him, we were unable to prevent his release from the psychiatric facility. Without constant supervision and tweaking of his medications, he went steadily downhill. His schizophrenia was severe and persistent. He was unable to make it through the maze of “freedoms” he was given, and he cycled in and out of hospitals and group homes. We had always hoped we could keep him safe until some new treatment was discovered that would bring him back to us. But poor diet, constant smoking and general aimlessness caught up with him. Despite our efforts, he died six years ago at the age of 48.  We miss him still.

Current laws, meant to protect people from unjust confinement, now condemn many people with serious mental illness to a shadow life of delusions, confusion, and homelessness, horrible group homes and/or early death. Despite promising advancement in early intervention and new cognitive treatments, many with schizophrenia never really recover.  The care of a family member in this age of almost no long term mental health care puts a tremendous burden on people trying to keep their loved ones off the streets and out of jail.  In consideration of all these caregivers do, my sisters and brothers and I have decided to share our sisterhood name with all the other families of people suffering with serious mental illness.

To the Mothers, Fathers, Sisters and Brothers of Perpetual Determination, we salute you.  We have pledged our support for legislation like HR2646 and vow to fight for improved care for our loved ones.

picture:  to r back row: Pat, Charlotte, Sheila, Paul, Ilene; front row: John, Katherine, Julia, Grace, Monica.

For more information on HR2646 and a letter you can copy and paste and send to your representatives go to www.shotinthehead.com and click on the advocacy page.

To learn more about schizophrenia and what is needed to improve our mental health system go to http://www.paulslegacyproject.org

To order my book, please go to Amazon.com

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6 thoughts on “The Sisters of Perpetual Determination

  1. You have said it the way it is sisters . Families are often told to “back off” even now ! But families are the ones who care enough to attempt to stop ill people from slipping through the cracks. Sadly things are not getting better. Policies are mind bogglingly awful. How can families even begin to be less than utterly involved given the utter inadequacy of the system. The streets of Kingston are staffed by elderly seriously mentally ill people ( sometime in wheelchairs) begging for a dime or two. Many of these people were once in psychiatric hospitals where some of their needs were at least met. No doubt there parents have died Now they are abandoned despite the best efforts of some of their relatives . The system is short on mercy and rushes to even knock out a few more inpatient beds. A failed policy big time . Patricia Forsdyke.

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    1. Bravo, Sister! We have struggled long and hard over the years to find succor for our severely mentally ill loved ones. We have been blamed for illnesses that anyone who can read the scientific books (written for all readers to understand) that dispel the old social studies explanations for these medical and neurological diseases.

      These diseases have struck down the lives of teens and twenties leaving them without the full use of their brains–confused, terrified, abandoned by medicine. before they even reach maturity.

      Someday we will wonder at our ignorance at why some people seem to be singled out for brain diseases with no cures, in a unthinking society that ignores the scientific research that could eradicate these scourges of our youth . . .

      Not only do those afflicted need our understanding and protection. But we need to scientifically research the root causes so.no one in our futures will be wounded so completely by the infecting molecules that take away our sanity and eventually our lives

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  2. Thank you Katherine for this. You are an inspiration. Until people with serious mental illness really all have access to appropriate care, then we will always have stigma because of all the untreated people that wander our streets, occupy substandard housing or are in prison. Families are the most motivated to move this issue forward. We need more research, access to helpful medications, and informed and humane service.

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  3. Good to hear from resilient families, far too often we are pictured as exhausted and helpless. We are not we just need encouragement from people like you Sisters of Determination. Thank you,

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