March 02, 2005
Publication Date: Wednesday, March 02, 2005|
Response to 'Loss of Son' column
There has been an unprecedented reader response to Weekly Editor Jay
Thorwaldson’s March 2 On Deadline column, “There is more than
one way to lose a son.”
Excerpts from some of the more than 100 e-mails and handwritten notes and letters,
show the range of responses and stories shared -- and there has been no let-up.
Names and all but generic identifiers have been removed, but will be included
in future correspondence if people indicate.
Additional stories and responses are invited will be added every few days.
“I hope that it was helpful for you to write the article, but I
sense that the pain will linger on forever.”
– A Palo Alto civic leader
• “My mother is mentally ill, likely bipolar (though she was
diagnosed as something else), and has been on numerous occasions 'a danger
to self and
others.' Not just for this reason, there is something of a constant prayer
in the back
of my mind, 'just let them (my kids) grow up safe and well.' (Hope
you remind yourself, about your son, that it wasn't for any lack of love that
– A mental-health case manager
• “Nothing is tougher than the loss of a loved one. (My wife)
has been gone for four years, and I continue to miss her as much as I did
– A former city official
• “I read with interest, compassion, and empathy your article titled, ‘There
is more than one way to lose a son.’ … I can be very empathic because
I, too, have a wayward son who has messed up his life and his siblings by his
lies and his false perceptions of his life. Though both our families live in
the nice affluence of Silicon Valley, family problems can be so engulfing and
so unfair. You work so hard, then you are dealt something you cannot fathom.
Life is NOT fair. It makes the story line of “Million Dollar Baby” so
real. You must see it if you have not already.”
• “One of my brothers has had similar struggles with drugs,
alcohol, and crime, although he's not bipolar. He's doing well now, at
the last few years (he's 44). I never gave up hope, as had all other family
members. However I also simultaneously tried to ensure that I wasn't an enabler
when I did try
to help. I think some family members played the role of enabler
for decades to his -- and their -- detriment.
“After a lifetime of doing otherwise, they finally declined any
request for help, even for what I considered to be sensible pleas.
“Third, a variant on your theme, there is more than one way to lose a brother.
My older brother is filled with rage at me, and I don't understand why ….
It hurts, and I mourn that I've lost a brother, however not the
brother that I've been preparing my entire life for losing.”
• “Only another parent can have any idea about the kind of pain you describe ….
Our wonderful son … has been struggling for seven years now with a heroin
addiction. It has been harrowing … and a great anguish ….”
• “I understand some of the problems of mental illness because
my brother's son was diagnosed is sociopathic, and I have witnessed first-hand
and suffering that goes with the diagnosis.”
• “I think it means so much for people to hear that their
experiences aren't singular and that they don't need to carry around a
forever just to love a relative who is sick.”
• “My condolences for the experience with your son. … I
lost a cousin in a murder-suicide event some years ago. The progression
describe is eerily familiar.
“What seemed at first to be quirky, almost amusing behavior, in
time veered further and further from the pathway of normalcy.
“Then it was so far from normal that he was beyond reach.
“When he died, I (and everyone around him) asked myself what more
could I have done to rescue him. You are not alone.”
• “I rarely discuss what I'm about to share with you with anyone. … There
is so much to say about the pain and anguish and desire to
make things ok and fix it or not add to their daily ordeal. You want to be positive
and not create
more stuff that might add to the problems.
“You want to fix it and help them get better any way possible. You
want the answers and you have a million questions. As you depicted
those with any experience with family mental illness are more often familiar
it staying behind closed doors or not discussed often.
“There is a stigma of sorts unlike any other disease that I know
of and a pain threshold that does not have a normal gauge before (one
is) almost destroyed by this loved one. Any age has not been protected from
Having not heard if your son had offspring of his own that
his legacy was unclear. It is a haunting reality no doubt that it came
on later in your
son's life. For you, the memories of the good times cannot
bring solace now but maybe someday you'll get there. He remembers too.....
“The point I feel like sharing with you is my own mother committed
suicide over 30 years ago and to this day, she remains a part of my
almost daily thoughts. Randomly things will trigger a thought of her.
… “As a mother of an almost 4 year old, I reflect now on who
I am as a mother and how her relationship with me as a child taught
me lessons on being this woman I am today in spite of her illness, eight
drugs she was taking constantly, etc. The crazy part is WE
LOOKED NORMAL! We
hid it from everyone around us and until the bitter end you
would not believe the way things appeared from the outside.
“And years later, it finally was safe to bring out in the open and
talk about it and think about it and deal with it. …
“I look at how this is the way it is and maybe in another lifetime
the medical world can find the panacea and help people with chemical
imbalances more effectively and allow more peaceful existences. To say
the least, it is not easier
to be the one living with this disease day in and day out and
control constantly and unable to get out of their own way.”
– A former colleague
• “I was deeply moved by your column in today's Weekly. I
have bipolar illness and I am a recovering alcoholic. I've been writing
that I hope to publish someday. I also hope to do some kind
of work where I can become a social advocate to improve education and health
suffer from addiction illness and mental illness.
“I'm by no means ready to go public with my story, but some day
I will. My struggles and suffering have been hidden and internal. I'm
lucky to have a healthy family, a beautiful home in Palo Alto and a distinguished
career. But sometimes all that made it harder to get well and sometimes
“… Maybe together we can up with some ideas about how we can
make our community and world more able to meet the needs of your
son and all those poor souls suffering in jail who need medical care and addiction
treatment instead of punishment.
“With heartfelt thanks for opening the door for me to speak up.”
• “There but for the grace….”
• “My brother's story is so close to that of your son. At
28 he's in prison in Texas for the third time, to be released this time
in July. Bipolar. Using. Disappearing. All of it. Also he has a child. So painful.
“I watch my own 20-month-old son and wonder how I could withstand
it if he suffered the same .…
“I yearn for the day when this disease/these behaviors are better
understood. When our hope can rest on something more solid.”
• “At times, the work I do can be more exhausting than you
might -- er, check that; YOU do know!
“Your piece came to me at a time when I was emotionally spent. Words
cannot express how your story helped me to regain much fervor,
and to remember why I continue to do the work I do ....”
– A public defender
• “We need to be able to tell the truth about the painful
realities of our life. Mental illness is not only an individual condition,
it is part of a community system. There may even be a contribution to brain
the environment, such as mercury.
“We have such shame about our imperfections, mental illness, abortions,
addictions, clutter, academic struggles, financial problems.
People try to keep these things secret from one another and we end up isolated
not able to learn
from one another or benefit from one another's love and
then can't organize to find solutions that would address
the underlying causes or
meet communal needs.”
• “As soon as I saw the headline I knew I had to read the
article. My son will be 40 this month and wasn't diagnosed as bipolar until
age 33. Your pain and mine are experienced by so many who are afraid to talk
“… A cousin of mine who is bipolar once said to me, "Remember
that no matter how hard it is for you at times, it is harder
– A Menlo Park resident
• “… We too have a son who was originally diagnosed
bipolar, but is now believed to have schizo-affective disorder -- which
lies somewhere between BP and schizophrenia, with symptoms of both.
“So much in your article rings true for all families that it would take
volumes for me to respond. I plan to do some of that in a letter to the editor. … Thank
you for an article that strikes a tremendous blow against
stigmatizing people with mental illness. It is disgraceful
that in our society,
of stigma it is easier to admit to being an alcoholic than
to admit one might have a biological
illness in their brain. With your help
– A Palo Alto resident active in the National Association for
• “Oh Lord, what a story. I've now read it three times, wondering
what the hell to say to you. It is just so tragic, screwy and almost
• “None of us can be sure when our children are born that
they will be as perfect as we see them at that first instance. As they
we have less and less control over them.
“… This bipolar disorder is not new to me. There are two other
young adults in Menlo Park that we know well whose families are
going through similar experiences. I also have a cousin with a daughter who
was diagnosed as a
teenager. In each of these, the families have dealt with the
in their own ways.
“The hardest thing they have each had to do is to let go. As a defense
mechanism I know you cannot keep going to his rescue only
to be disappointed when he breaks down again. He has to make choices himself.
not up to you to protect him forever.”
• “I am a son who was out on the fringe and made it back with so much to
be grateful for. I can’t tell you how moved I am
by your piece, except to say that it has renewed my belief
make a difference or at least try to help someone.”
• “My wife and I as well as others at work were immensely
moved by your article. As parents of occasionally scary teenagers we sympathize
with your saga.”
• “Your column today … left me in tears. … I'm sure other parents
in the same situation have felt as desolate as you, and will find your eloquent
words of great comfort. I am sending your column to my brother's wife in … Maryland,
who inherited a bipolar stepson when she married my brother
(now deceased) many years ago.
“She still finds it too painful to discuss with the rest of the family,
except for assuring us that [he] is living in a group home and managing. [His]
brother and sister, whom I am close to, grieve. They will be comforted by your
• “You did a real service in opening up and setting forth such a difficult
situation. You will have comforted many people. … Those folks and others
will be comforted by your words on not blaming themselves, and seeing that such
tragedies can happen in many families. … You might
want to read the New York Times Magazine article from a
described his experience with his son's drug addiction.
I read it to my kids.”
– A local school board member
• “Life can be so unfair.… Your beautifully written story will affect
everyone who reads it. There is much there to think about. Our health care system
is not set up to catch and treat medical conditions as ‘a bipolar condition,’ ADD,
Schizophrenia or even manic-depressive personalities.
‘I have another friend who has such a similar story with his son.
I know your story will move him to tears. In the seven years I
have known him, he has constantly struggled with his son. The end point is
not pleasant for
– A Palo Alto neighborhood leader
• “I, too, have a bipolar child. She went through many hospitalizations,
many terrible times, but has been taking her medicine faithfully
now for several years and seems to be doing wonderfully well as a wife
and mother. I am so
grateful for that, and so sorry that your son's life is not
you for saying how terribly sad, how dreadfully hard, it
is to try to help a child with bipolar. Most people don't have any idea.”
– A Palo Altan involved in civic affairs
• “… I understand -- from a fraternal rather than paternal
-- standpoint. Wow.”
– A Palo Altan with a schizophrenic brother who is out on the
• “… It is ironic that Josh spent evenings with his
grandmother who was dying of breast cancer and the effects. My nieces spent
much time as 6, 7, 8 year olds visiting their grandmother, who couldn't eat due
chemo during her last years, dying of breast cancer.
“Both nieces became anorexic, later bulimic, into eventually alcohol and
drugs. The oldest survived, the younger died from a drug overdose ….
The oldest niece was hospitalized at Children's Hospital
at age 10 with anorexia. That was almost unheard of then.
“The charm, the flair, the intelligence of these young people almost
seem to camouflage the early stages of these elusive illnesses.”
• “It's been about twenty minutes since I read your piece in today's Weekly ….
I was stunned into silence ….
“When my late mother was institutionalized for mental illness in
the 1960s in New York my dad told us (my sister and brother) to tell
people she was away visiting family. Years later, when we moved to Palo Alto
part, to escape the stigma and start over) she was not able to tell any
of her employers about
her struggle with the chemistry in her brain.
“When my dad left the scene a few years later my mom was unable
to hold onto a job, which resulted in both my sister and me dropping
out of high school. (I finally finished Paly the following year, my sister
ended up with a GED, a brilliant person who has worked in
low paid clerical jobs her
“‘Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of
their power to injure our heart,’ wrote Proust, in
a line that I carry around in my heart.
“We have a long way to go to fully remove the stigma of mental illness
and to make more available the effective long-term support
the removal of that stigma will make possible.
“Your latest column gives us a potent new weapon. I am deeply grateful,
as I know my mom would have been.”
– A member of a school board in the Midpeninsula area
• “Profound thanks …. Those of us who suffer from bipolar
disease know it as a virtual brain cancer -- sometimes in remission but
seldom gone for good.
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