The first turning point came when our car initially broke down in Hawaii. I was 6,000 miles away in Delaware, caring for my 90 year-old-parents. Well, really, just my Dad. Mom had a few falls but still made mashed potatoes from scratch and watched over Dad to make sure he ate. She has done this for 67 years, even when Dad doesn’t want to eat. My wife resourcefully managed to bypass the damaged part and soon got the car to work again. I thought things could return to “normal” for me, as well.
I had left Hawaii in December 2017 to care for Dad during his 4 subsequent hospitalizations. I thought he might be dying. I also believed at the time he was primarily experiencing advanced dementia. But he also had what we later learned was Bi-Polar Disorder (BPD), a difficult condition that runs in our family and affects personality and mood, occasionally in an extreme and dangerous fashion. It often appears in adulthood. It is preceded by depression, which can manifest itself in adolescence or even childhood.
I know a little about BPD, because I had been diagnosed with Cyclothymia, or bi-polar “lite” ten years earlier. I later realized I had it for most of my adult life, just as I came to believe that Dad had it for most of his adult and senior life. More tellingly, I lost my 26-year-old son in a police-shooting when he was in a manic and dangerous phase of his BPD in 2002. Aaron had suffered from depression since infancy, and BPD for his entire, but short, adult life. Of course, I did not think I had BPD as bad as Dad or Aaron did. I had the “lite” version, I reasoned. To be safe, though, I also recently increased my medication for BPD based on my psychiatrist’s recommendation.
Dad’s condition deteriorated pretty quickly. Perhaps it was the combination of dementia and BPD. About two months ago, he started calling me a pansy, a failure as a father and husband, and crazier than him. I took it in stride. I learned to employ certain strategies from his doctors and health care providers, and my brothers and sisters who had cared for Dad while I lived far away from the east coast.
I walked away when his comments stung and hurt. I stopped reasoning with him. I diverted him from unpleasant topics, brought up the weather, his childhood or how he raised his seven children and got them each a Catholic education while working at a car factory. Or, I ignored him, letting his comments drift over my head.
A Second Turning Point
I cracked. One afternoon, I yelled back at Dad. I tried to humiliate him. I ran him down for 30 minutes. Mom even feigned a fall to stop my tirade. Afterward, I apologized profusely.I managed to get through that day and the next, when I went to confession. That Sunday, I even preached a homily on the Parable of the Sower.
That was ten days ago. I cannot remember now what I even said. I certainly felt like the rocky soil where the Word had withered because of a lack of roots. I was so ashamed of myself that I got sick and could not eat. Then my wife called me and told me she could no longer bypass the broken car part. She had been stuck in our house for two days, unable to go anywhere. She wondered if we should buy another car.
A Third Turning Point
In the process of communicating about this with our son in Hawaii, who lent his mother another car, I learned that he thought I had abandoned Mom in lieu of caring for my parents. My Reaction
Combined with my shame over my outburst to Dad, this new turning point led me to experience a bitter hurt and more brokenness. Perhaps my wife had inadvertently expressed her frustration to my son over my extended absence? I could not be sure anymore in my growing mental health crisis. I had believed I was a loving husband and father, as well as a compassionate and caring son. But all of that had changed in a few short minutes.
Maybe it was the Lord, or maybe it was a manic sense of impulsiveness, but I decided I needed to go home right away and address the broken car and relationship issues. I felt like I had lost the trust of the most important people in my life. Surely, God could no longer love me, either, I sensed.
I looked into my deepest being and saw only emptiness and darkness. Apart from God, I was nothing. I felt despondent. The temptation to live apart from God was horrifying.
I asked God to help me forgive myself and trust in Him. I felt nothing.
The very next day, Dad’s doctor noted that the medicine for BPD seemed to be having a more positive effect, in spite of his occasional outbursts and rants. When the doctor left, I called my wife and said I was coming home. She seemed stunned and disbelieving, and said it might be better if I stayed in Delaware. I said I had to come home to help her out. I dissembled more when I told Mom and Dad that I needed to leave them to take care of our car and some home repairs.
I did not tell anyone how empty and depleted I felt inside. If I were honest, I would have shared that I was completely broken and shattered. I needed healing and that would only come by facing my anger and arrogance and setting things right with my wife and children, God and myself.
My wife picked me up at the Hilo International Airport on the Big Island of Hawaii in a borrowed car. Two days later, our 12 year-old-car was repaired for $59 and is drivable again.
My wife and I have spent the better part of three days addressing our relationship.
The car was fixable and inexpensive; relationships are beyond cost and not at all easy to fix.
At Turning Points, We Must Trust in God
Dad has had a number of outbursts since I left. He seems to be getting worse. They are upping his medication again. My six siblings are watching him and Mom. I feel I let Dad and my family in Delaware down.
Perhaps, he is experiencing a psychotic break, while expressing the little sense of reality he had left to me.
Perhaps, that is also what happened to me, in another turning point of unprecedented developments.
My siblings are taking turns staying overnight and making sure Dad takes his meds. He does not think he needs them. They even arranged for “Meals on Wheels” to start home delivery for my parents. I thought Mom preferred to make mashed potatoes, but she is giving up the “wire masher” for good. Dad says disparagingly that there is “no free lunch” and that he will end up paying for this government largesse in some unexpected and unpleasant fashion. He is right, of course, as the agency delivering the meals told my siblings they depend on donations for the program.
In my anxiety and rage, I almost lost everything I cherish, and may still face greater disappointments. Along with my BPD, things are surely going to be tougher.
I may be more like my Dad than I care to admit. I want to deal, though, with my brokenness and anger and rage now, before I destroy myself or others. I will also have to make adjustments to my spiritual life when I confer with my spiritual director. God has a lot of work left to do on me, and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
I believe in God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness. Beyond that, I have to “will” myself, in spite of myself, to be more aware of God’s plan for me. My BPD has been a gift and an unexpected turning point that led me to see my brokenness in all of God’s unyielding light of mercy and forgiveness. The Master Mechanic will do all of the rest, I trust.