The Legacy of a Mom Who Raised Men
Imagine a life where you were in constant fear of something. Whether it’s a matter of where you are going to find the money to pay for a tank of gas or whether it is believing the gunman you think is holding your child hostage is real. Fear of being in a crowd, fear of feeling inadequate, fear of having no pride or that your family is ashamed of you.
It is, in fact, fear of daily living.
That’s what it was like to be my mother during the majority of her life. It’s the mother I saw on the surface level and the reason she projected herself to those that did not know her well as a hermit or a welfare case that refused to take life into her own hands.
Thanksgiving day when I was a wee little child of an age where I have almost no memory of its happening, my mom was sent to a mental health facility for a nervous breakdown. The rest of her life would progressively break down from that point forward and – needless to say – Thanksgivings were always touchy holidays in my family.
Like all of us, she had good days and bad days. Unlike most of us, her good days were mediocre at best and her bad days were utterly devastating. I know it is hard to fathom and truly understand, but her really bad days usually meant even her best days from that point forward would never be better than what her best days were before that moment.
My mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was chronically depressed in addition to several other ailments. What I described above is what she outwardly projected. But the mother I knew was what few people got to see and experience in their interactions with her.
You see, it would be very easy for me to compose a message that expressed the negative impacts of growing up and spending formative years while exposed to mental illness. To not acknowledge the fact that it did have impact would be avoiding the matter. However, there are blessings in all circumstances when you also know and understand that God is in control of all matters and that nothing happens without his guiding hand.
On the one hand, what kind of God would allow such a thing to happen to a person or curse that person’s children? How could a loving god allow a person’s mind to literally deteriorate into a state where they are often unable to discern fact from fiction or compel them to live in constant fear? She spent a lot of time in bitter anger at her lot in life and blamed God for a lot of it.
And who could blame her for having feelings like that?
But just as it’s wrong to not acknowledge the curses of a life, it’s equally (perhaps even more) negligent to not acknowledge the blessings that her life’s legacy provides. Here are just some of the ways I will always reflect fondly on the life of my mom, Valerie Gramling:
- My mother was a tenacious fighter. As my brother mentioned to me, he thought she would outlive us all simply because she was relentless when she put her mind to something. She might have had a mental illness, but she certainly was not weak-minded.
- My mother was a survivor. She was resourceful and courageous when it came to overcoming life’s challenges. Mental illness, physical ailments, divorce, layoffs, etc. She handled life’s curve balls. She may not have hit it out of the park, but she hung in there and got her hacks with every pitch. She rose above physical challenges like diabetic symptoms, perpetual nightly vomiting and heartburn from a hiatal hernia, unknown internal bleeding, and recovering from the somewhat rare Guillain-Barre syndrome… with a broken leg… while in a nursing home during her mid-forties!
- My mother knew nothing about boys, yet she raised two men. My brother and I would not be who we are without my mother. She knew only about Barbie Dolls and painting finger nails, but was thrust into a life of matchbox cars and slingshots while herself still being a teenager. She wasn’t perfect, but she tried and was determined to do the best she possibly could.
- My mother introduced me to the classics. Simon and Garfunkel. Boston. REO Speedwagon. Jackie O and JFK. Henry David Thoreau. Donna Reed and Mr. Ed. My mom had a fondness for an era in which she was raised – and shared those experiences with me.
- My mother was accepting of all people. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, she was willing to ask how you are and – even more impressive – actually care. It wasn’t a token expression. She listened and made you feel like you mattered to her. Because you did matter to her.
- My mother was practical and crafty. Mom taught me to type. She taught me to tie my shoes, count to a hundred and do the alphabet. She also shared the simple joys of doodling, cooking, baking, even crocheting and arranging dried flowers inside picture frames. She was good at it and made me believe I was even better.
- My mother was a mother to more than her own. She opened her home to the posse’s of two different generations through her sons. My brother is six years older than I and our home was their main meeting ground many years before it was the main meeting place for my own friends during our teen years. Our friends called her Val rather than Mrs. Gramling and were accepting of her as a sounding board, friend and a mother to those that either did not have one or were estranged from their own.
- My mother taught me right from wrong. I had a father who’s best advice was “if you do something wrong, hide the evidence.” My mother lived by the rule of “if you do something wrong, be honest and we can take it from there.” Thankfully, I have followed her guidance more than my dad’s in that regard.
- My mother was always quick to express the pride she had in her children. I always knew my place with her. Not a conversation would go by without her expressing how proud she was of my brother and me.
- My mother took joy in simple things. Giving gifts to my mother was easy. She loved everything that was gifted from the heart. And she would tell you many times over many days and weeks how thankful and appreciated she was.
- My mother loved everyone more than herself. While it may have been a symptom of her own self-destruction, my mother valued everyone in a higher esteem than herself. It’s incredibly unfortunate that she found almost no value in her own life, but it does not diminish the truth that exists in the fact that we are called to love everyone and she managed to do something where most of us fall well short.
These few bullets represent just a portion of the impact that Valerie Gramling’s life represents. She spent much of it feeling like she didn’t matter, that her place in the universe was insignificant. Even in sharing this with her, she could not overcome the grip that darkness had on her soul.
My hope and prayer in sharing this is two-fold.
First, may you understand and know that my mother – one Valerie (Miller) Gramling – was not insignificant and that she did indeed make a difference through her life. Secondly, whether you are suffering from mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, depression or any of the myriad that exist, or whether you simply think it otherwise… YOUR LIFE MATTERS!
About Chad Gramling
Chad Gramling makes his home in Indiana with his wife and three daughters. He's the founder and primary blogger at 1Glories, a vision cast onto his heart and detailed in Listen Up Kids: Foolish Dreams, Syncing with God & Running to Win.