Mental Health – You Can’t Go Home Again
The Fourth House
By – Sheri de Grom
I vividly remember a conversation I had with Tom’s father in 2001. I wrote about it in my journal.
Tom and I visited his parents yearly. Each visit was difficult at best but the toll they took on Tom was nothing short of one more slice into his already damaged psyche. Looking back, it’s relatively easy to diagnose Sid,Tom’s father, with any number of unacknowledged disorders.
Sid spent considerable time berating Tom and I never once heard him say, “Son, I’m proud of your accomplishments.”
Tom’s parents held to their idea of all artisans’ being lazy and good for nothing. Their opinion was if you didn’t wear a coat and tie every day, you weren’t gainfully employed. Truth be known, Tom made far more money the years he worked within his given specialties than at any other time. Compared to any business professional, his gifts surpassed his peers.
Sid and I talked little over the years and one conversation ended when I told him, “You are the meanest man I’ve ever met.”
Sid’s response to my observation, “And I’m damned proud of it.”
Tom and I traveled to his parents for a family reunion. A migraine had settled in for me and nothing in my arsenal helped. When it was time for Tom and his mother to leave for the reunion, I stayed at home with Tom’s dad.
God works in mysterious ways, and the conversation I had with Tom’s father that night will always represent a miracle to me.
The house was dark. Tom’s father had been bedridden for years (his choice) and it was only a matter of time before Tom’s mother could no longer care for him at home. I was in the adjoining bedroom to Tom’s father and after Tom and his mother had been gone from the house for about thirty minutes, Sid quietly asked, “Are you awake?” I ignored him. I did not want anything to do with his man who had carelessly and thoughtlessly emotionally battered Tom all his life. His cruelty haunted Tom.
Sid, a little louder this time, “Are you awake?” I faced my pillow and cried silently.
The third time Sid called even louder, “Sheri, are you awake?”
Sid had never used my name, not once, in the almost ten years Tom and I had been married.
Through my own pain, I recognized the quiet desperation in his voice. I replied, “Yes, Sid, I’m awake.”
Getting out of bed and reaching for my robe, I walked to Sid’s bedroom and said, “Is there anything I can get for you?”
“Yes, I would like to talk with you.” I was astonished and slipping my body down the doorjamb of the bedroom door, not far from his bed. I wondered how I would be capable of talking gently with this man who was obviously in emotional pain, yet had caused so much anguish to the man I loved. Sid thanked me for sitting down and then he said, “Can you tell me about my boy?” I was chocked with emotions. I’d never imagined I’d hear those words from this man.
For the following hour and a half, I told Sid about the son he had never known. I told him about what a kind, compassionate, brilliant, creative, and accomplished son he had. I told him of Tom’s many achievements and successes. I told him about Tom building a scale model of the Eiffel Tower from toothpicks during his sophomore year of high school. I added what a triumph it had been when he became an Eagle Scout, spoke of his many scholastic honors, both undergraduate and postgraduate, his many military awards and accolades, his daily living skills and his remarkable talents as an artisan. I enlightened Sid that Tom was a marvelous father and husband.
Sid admitted, “I wanted to attend his graduations; I wanted to say that’s a good job son; I wanted to say, welcome home; but I never knew how.”
Finally, we talked of death and what it meant for each of us. I believe Sid knew death was close, and he would never have the opportunity to tell his son all the things he was proud of. Additionally, he did not know how to be a father; he’d never felt he fit in with Tom’s mother’s family in North Carolina, and sadly, he was emotionally and physically absent throughout the entire life of his son, his only child.
A few minutes later Sid slipped into what seemed to be the most peaceful sleep I’ve ever witnessed. It had nothing to do with me; it was all about the fact that he finally knew more about the son he’d never had the courage to ask about. I’m convinced that despite his lack of parental knowledge and inability to display simple acts of kindness, knowing of Tom’s many achievements provided Sid peace and happiness.
Does my conversation with Sid forgive him for treating Tom the way he did? My opinion is that it certainly does not. Tom has carried the cumbersome baggage of his father’s neglect and cruelty with him all his life until his therapist gave him an assignment to write an eviction notice for his father to vacate his mind. This occurred when Tom was eighteen years into therapy.
Tom wrote in memorandum format: “To S.J. de Grom, From: The mind of T.L. de Grom.” The text reads, “It seems that for the last 50 or so years that you have taken up space in my life and in my mind. Since your death almost 8 years ago you have taken residence in my mind and continue to judge my every effort and cloud almost every thought. I have determined these actions not to be in my self-interests and detrimental to my well-being. I therefore am sending this eviction notice. For all of the negative thoughts and self-talk that you have inspired and the total lack of positive input. I find that your time here can no longer be tolerated. You are to vacate my mind and take with you all of your judgments and other baggage and leave by Friday, February 28, 2003. No extensions will be given and the findings are absolute. You must be out by Friday.” The memorandum was signed, “Tommy L. de Grom. Owner of his mind.”
I’d thought it was important that we visit Tom’s parents at least yearly. Now, looking back on my persistence, I wonder why I was unable to understand that Tom couldn’t visit his parents’ home anymore. After each of our annual trips, we’d return home and Tom would become suicidal and then become hospitalized. Once I recognized the horrible pattern the trips home initiated for Tom, I no longer insisted on visits to his parents.
Multiple truths exist in Thomas Wolfe’s famous quote, “You can’t go home again.” I’ve learned the words can be interpreted and redirected in many different ways and often changed during an individual’s lifetime.
INDEX TO PREVIOUS FOURTH HOUSE BLOGS:
for the Patient and the Family