We are strange creatures #mentalillness #mentalhealth #addiction #gambling

August 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

My father-in-law passed away early this summer. Husband’s relationship with FatherInLaw was extremely difficult. FatherInLaw suffered from undiagnosed mental and emotional problems for much of Husband’s life. Husband had a lifetime of frustration and unrequited love in his relationship with FatherInLaw.

When FatherInLaw passed, I felt sad for him and for Husband. I also heaved a sigh of relief because FatherInLaw’s singular life purpose to destroy family financial security was hovering on the horizon. FatherInLaw was finally diagnosed with dementia very late in life and committed to a secure care facility. He had to be kept in a locked ward because he believed he worked as a war correspondent and would attempt to get to a battle zone to do his reporting. No, he never was a professional, or any other, journalist. He did not have medial insurance to pay for his institutionalization. The money to pay for his care was drawing down the last of his trust fund, money that he had inherited from his father’s estate. When this money ran out, the cost of institutionalization was going to fall to Husband’s generation, and they could not afford it. There was only a few thousand dollars left in FatherInLaws accounts when he died. His annual care in the institution was in the neighbourhood of $85,000 per year. It was a nightmare, especially that FatherInLaw was so advanced in his dementia that he did not recognize those of his children who visited him.

It was such a sad story. FatherInLaw was the eldest son of a wealthy New England family. His father was (and is) a well known 20th century composer. FatherInLaw was a Harvard graduate with a PhD in statistics. It would have seemed his life course was set to be one of privilege and security but tragedy struck the family.

Husband had a little sister. When Husband was nine years old, his little sister, aged 5, was diagnosed with brain cancer and not long after, passed away. So very sad. FatherInLaw never recovered from this loss. Not long after, he was up for tenure but was not accepted. It seems the combination of these two events unhinged FatherInLaw. He removed himself from the world to live in his basement and hatched a scheme to write a software program that could predict the stock market. For the rest of his life, all he wanted to talk about was how close he was to completing this project. His fantasy was that, once the software application was done, the family would be secure, their financial future would be bright, and FatherInLaw would be a hero of the family. It was almost as if FatherInLaw had transferred his ungrieved loss of his daughter and not getting tenure to a mad mission of impossible dimensions.

Over the course of decades, he worked on this program, eventually losing everything he had on his ‘research’. In reality, Husband believes he had a gambling addiction and he was using the stock market as a big game of poker. We estimate he lost over a million dollars and was in the process of trying to break into the trust account set up by his father when he was finally diagnosed and institutionalized.

Ever since I met my husband in 1996, the spectre of his father had hung over his life, remote, and vaguely threatening. It was only later that we realized his obsession with the stock market had consumed the proceeds from the sale of two houses and everything else he had. By the time he was institutionalized, FatherInLaw was living in one room in a bed and breakfast on the east coast. The last time we visited him before the family finally took action to address his needs for care, we went out for lunch and then took him back to the bed and breakfast. On Husband’s insistence, FatherInLaw agreed to let Husband see his room, with great reluctance. I waited in the car. When Husband returned from seeing his father’s room he was white. Apparently his father had also been hoarding and the room was filled with newspapers and books. There was just a path through the stacks of papers from the doorway to the bed. It was after that visit that husband insisted his siblings join him in getting FatherInLaw assessed and care arranged.

Once he was institutionalized, we heaved a sigh of relief, knowing FatherInLaw did not have access to the Internet. It was very sad, but still, at least he was secure. He seemed content at the institution. When we went to visit him, and he had to take his medication, he informed us that he was part of the doctor staff at the institution and he was carrying out research by taking his medication. Sigh. There was one part of his care, though, that weighed on our minds. FatherInLaw was physically healthy and we did not know how long he would have to be institutionalized. The awful truth was that, if he outlived his resources, it was possible he would have to be committed to a state facility as an indigent because Husband and his siblings could not afford to keep him where he was.

Unluckily and luckily, his dementia progressed and he developed a heart condition. This spring, he fell and fractured his hip. Although he survived the surgery, he never awakened fully from the procedure. He died quietly with his youngest son by his side. It is difficult to recount this story. FatherInLaw was a good man, who cared deeply for his family, but because he was unable to get help, and his family was unable to intervene, his caring turned into destructive behaviour that hung over the family like a dark, foreboding cloud, for decades. His wife had divorced him to protect herself from his actions. His children were alienated and estranged because he was emotionally and mentally unreachable. The pain was sometimes unbearable for Husband.

We humans are such strange creatures. RIP FatherInLaw. Thank you for bringing Husband into my life. I am sorry to see you gone, and I hope you have finally found sanctuary and relief from your suffering.


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