On Mardi Gras night in February 1977, my mom, 18, and my dad, 21, were getting ready to leave her parents’ home to watch the Mystic Krewe of Comus parade on the streets of Uptown New Orleans. While Mom was finishing her makeup, my grandfather called my dad into the living room and gave him a prized ring. A few minutes later, they heard a gunshot in the back yard.
They rushed out back to discover that my grandfather had a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest, and he was gone.
In an instant, he changed the trajectory of not only his life, but those he left behind. A funeral home director, his partner embezzled money and he fell on tough financial times, did the best to protect his family, but, ultimately, succumbed to the thought that his wife and two daughters would be better off without him. Although they tried their best to deal with it, my grandmother never got over his suicide, neither did my aunt, nor my mom.
He didn’t know it, but my mom, at the time of his death, was pregnant with me.
I was born in the shadow of his death, and his absence has cast a pall over everyone he left behind. For much of my childhood and adolescence, he and is death were taboo subjects. It wasn’t until I was a college student in the late 1990s, experienced bouts of anxiety and depression and took some psychology classes that I began to get a better understanding of mental health, how it affects people and how it can be treated.
I began a dialogue with my mom about my granddad, mental health and our family’s experiences. I’m glad that we live in a time when stigmas about mental health are fading. People are realizing that not everyone’s brain chemistry is perfect, that some need help – therapeutically and medicinally – and that’s OK. Much like a diabetic that needs help regulating their insulin, some people need help regulating the chemicals in our brains.
Upwards of 150,000 Arkansans live with a serious mental condition, and only about 50 percent of them receive treatment. If you or someone you know or love is stuggling, we’ve provided resources that could prove beneficial. Reach out. Help is available. So is love and compassion. You are not alone.