January 3, 2010

Sunday~January 3, 2009

My Grandma turned 80 on New Year’s Day. We had a party for her yesterday in the basement of her church in her small Minnesota town. I had prepared some words to say but found it hard to get them out after my cousin read something before it was my turn. I was all weepy because I heard a story about my Grandma I had never heard before, one that moved me and reminded me what family is all about, what unconditional love looks like.

The words that were shared were written by my cousin, Brent. On her 80th birthday, he described Grandma and thanked her for something that I’ll always remember when I look at the people in my life, especially my boys…no matter what.

Brent was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early twenties. He has lived through the nightmare of mental illness ever since, trying to overcome the stigma, the way people see him, what they don’t understand. He has gone in and out of the hospital and psychiatrist’s offices. He has spent many days walking through life clouded by the side effects from a medicine cabinet of prescriptions that fight the symptoms of the ugliest beast, but leave him tired or hungry or with his heart racing.

Brent has been fighting a battle against the lies his illness whisper to him for many years now. These whispers beg him to believe the darkest of things, and then they leave him feeling that there is no way toward his dreams.

I am certain there are few things that take more courage.

In the earliest days of his illness, we watched helplessly as something big took over Brent’s life. As a family, we watched as our math wizard, Star Wars loving, game winning, quick-witted Brenty slowly slipped into a quiet and shaking person.

A person buried under the fears of his unquiet mind.

He would stand instead of sitting during meals over holidays, one arm raised in the air. And because he was still simply our Brent to us, we continued to eat, carrying on conversations and looking up when we talked to him, standing there whispering back to the voices.

We were acting out of our love for him and ignoring the discomfort of talking to a standing person who happens to be talking to themselves while we ate because he was going through so much more. Surely we could do that small uncomfortable thing while he did so much more. We could do the overcoming in those moments, it wasn’t so hard. It never will be, no matter what he does or does not do.

He does the overcoming so much more than we do.

Over time, we educated ourselves on Brent’s illness. We learned that schizophrenia can lie in wait, hovering around the corners of a person’s mind and then springing to life, triggered by drug use or trauma. We questioned, we tried to find out, but we never knew what that thing was for Brent, the thing that flipped the go switch. We always knew that something traumatic had triggered this inevitable fall into depression, hallucinations and delusions, but Brent wasn’t talking…

We knew whole-heartedly that there was something, something that had happened.

We knew how family knows.

The truth is, it never really mattered what Brent had done or not done, what had happened or not happened. Schizophrenia is an unfair thief in and of itself.

There is no blame.

Yesterday, for my Grandma, Brent shared (through his sister’s voice on his written page) that in his last years of college he lived in a way that was very damaging to him. He said that one day, in the midst of all it, Grandma stopped him in her kitchen, that place so full of living, of homemade bread and soup, and she looked him straight in the eye and she said you will always belong to us. She knew something was wrong and then she said it like a command…

You will always belong to us.

Don’t you dare think of leaving us. Don’t you dare give up. Don’t you dare think for even one moment that you aren’t loved. You are ours.

Brent went on to say that remembering that moment has been something that has pulled him through over the years.

He does, you know. He belongs.

Isn’t that what we all need, no matter what, to pull us through?

We need to belong.

Brent with Daughter, J and Niece, A

Thank you, Brent. Your words gave Grandma the perfect gift yesterday.

And thank you, Grandma. For teaching us all about family and love. Happy Birthday.

P.S. I’m sorry I forgot your card. I’m also sorry that it took me too long to order your gift so it’s not even here yet. Life has been a bit nutty lately, but I’ll get back on track.

P.S.S. I even said “clothes shoot” TWO TIMES in my last post, instead of clothes CHUTE…that’s how out of it I am. I promise to bring you your gift and card very soon, especially now that we’re closer.

Love you, Heather

Grandma and her crew of Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren
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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Jo@Mylestones January 3, 2010 at 9:25 pm

Wow. Your Grandma ROCKS. That is such a touching story…the "you will always belong." There's a strength and love that stands so tall behind her statement.


This Heavenly Life January 3, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I love that thought. I love knowing that there are people out there who *I* will always belong to. And knowing that it's important for me to show that same unconditional support and love to others in my life as well.

Congratulations, Brent, on your bravery, and Happy Birthday Grandma EO!


Roban January 3, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Brent and your grandmother sound like two special people whose love, like you said, is totally unconditional. Happy birthday to your grandmother! I'm sure that you being with her was a gift in itself.


Em January 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Oh the gift to know what to say just when someone needs to hear it – one special Grandma you have.

And how wonderful that she's so young!!! Happiest of Happy Birthdays Heather's lovely Grandma.

Best wishes to you too Brent – so very brave and obviously so well loved.

(P.S. hope things smooth out soon Heather!!)


Tonya January 3, 2010 at 9:34 pm

What a wonderful description of what family is really all about — that we will always belong.


sara January 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm

what a beautiful post, Heather. It comes at a very good time and reminds me of something I need to say to my cousin's son. You see, terets is his beast and because he chooses not to take his meds, he has lost everything and lives on the streets. My Aunt, his grandmother, was his one constant in his life…the one who said "always" to him. since my Aunt died, he has been calling and txting me. we live in different states. I told my husband that though he is hard to talk to sometimes, he is lonely and just needs to feel he is still part of our family….I need to say "always" to him. thx.


Corinne January 3, 2010 at 9:49 pm

What a powerful lesson. It's something we often feel towards family, but rarely say it outloud. It's amazing that your grandmother did, and then that the story was shared.
Happy Birthday to your Grandmother!


blueviolet January 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Your grandma gave a gift she didn't even know she gave. That's incredible. Happy Birthday to a special lady.


Kristen January 3, 2010 at 9:58 pm


I lost both of my grandmothers years ago but was lucky enough to have this same message, these words of inclusiveness, of belonging, conveyed to me and to all of my family members by both of them. What comfort it gives us to know that we are part of something larger than ourselves – whether it be a family or another community.

What a wise and gifted woman your grandmother must be to share these words and this spirit with all of you. And how lovely of you to share it with us. Thank you, Heather.


Billy Coffey January 3, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Happy birthday, Heather's grandma. What a wonderful lady and what powerful words. Words some part of us all crave to hear.


april January 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Beautiful post, friend. Just beautiful.


Kelly @ Love Well January 3, 2010 at 10:04 pm

That's a heritage. Your Grandma has poured out a solid foundation of acceptance and love. What a beautiful life she's living.


Becca January 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Grandmas always know! They watch and they listen and they SEE. My grandmother just turned 96 and even though she can't hear she still is the one who will say it as she sees it and there's noone who can convince me of something more than her. You and your cousin are very lucky to have such a wise and loving woman in your life! Beautiful post! Happy new year!


Boy Crazy January 3, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Reading with tears in my eyes. You are lucky –blessed — that Brent has pulled, is pulling through this. So many don't.

I hope I can be like your Grandma. What a model for love and family. Happy Birthday to her.

xo Elizabeth


Midwest Mommy January 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm

You will always belong to us…love it!


Jamie @ Six Bricks High January 3, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Awww, this made me cry. That is exactly what family should be about…belonging. Beautiful!


Candace Jean July 16 January 3, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Thank you, Heather. What a beautiful way to honor your grandmother, Brent, and the unconditional love they shared. No family goes unscathed when it comes to mental illness.

I admire the grace with which you shared this. You did your grandmother proud :)


L.T. Elliot January 3, 2010 at 10:44 pm

What amazing people your grandmother and your cousin Brent are. That kind of wisdom and love is what all families should have.

Happy Birthday to your Gram!


Jami January 3, 2010 at 10:47 pm

You have such a sweet gift, Heather, one that you give to everyone: the gift of finding the beauty in pain, the extraordinary in the ordinary. Thank you.

And happy belated to your wonderful grandma.


Steph @ Diapers and Divinity January 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Grandmas are so wise. It makes me want to be old.


Megan@SortaCrunchy January 3, 2010 at 11:02 pm

It's very apparent where a certain beautiful woman I know has gotten her overwhelming sense of empathy mixed with strength mixed with resolution mixed with joyful celebration. What a lovely tribute.



kirsten January 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

this is why women need to be In Charge Of Things: they know what needs to be said and they say it.

Your grandmother had the wisdom to call it out: call out the ownership that feels like a bind to us occasionally, but is actually our root system that keeps us from spinning out into the atmosphere. I want to be that grandma to my family someday.


The Fritz Facts January 4, 2010 at 12:09 am

That is a wonderful story. Your Grandma is a special and wonderful lady.


Kerri January 4, 2010 at 12:23 am

Wow, Heather. This was beautiful.


H-Mama January 4, 2010 at 12:37 am

Beautiful. Simply Beautiful.


Haley January 4, 2010 at 1:26 am

This is such a profound post. You shared this beautifully.

Happy Birthday to your Grandma!


michelle mceachern January 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

Your story has brought happy tears to my eyes. Happy tears that your family and escpecially your uncle has been blessed by such a wonderful lady. Thank you for sharing something so difficult and so special.


Sidnie January 4, 2010 at 3:45 am

Grandmothers are great like that, aren't they?
They show us grace, and acceptance, and love, and truth, and comfort.
Your beautiful story has brought tears to my eyes.

"You will always belong to us."
Such warm, comforting words.


Kristen@nosmallthing January 4, 2010 at 5:36 am

I was a psych major in college. It fascinated me. And I think you're right…few things take more courage.

And your grandma? Those words are awesome. What a gorgeous story. Simply perfect. We rarely know the effect our words can have on a person. So wonderful of him to give her that gift. :)


natalie January 4, 2010 at 8:12 am

This is so close to home. My husband is the only one of his siblings that is not debilitated by severe mental illness. We watch them struggle to function because of voices and paranoia and mind-numbing depression. But they are ours, quite simply.

Thanks for sharing.


Kazzy January 4, 2010 at 9:59 am

Whenever I hear stories of my grandmother's strengths and fights for her family I too am overwhelmed at my cool heritage. Thanks for the great story. You are following in those footsteps, you know. :)


LutherLiz January 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

I love this story. Everyone could use someone to remind us that we belong!


Jen January 4, 2010 at 11:26 am

Heather, you always give me goose bumps. Always.


Aidan Donnelley Rowley January 4, 2010 at 12:08 pm

What a compelling and humbling snapshot of struggle and belonging. I believe that at bottom we all long (and constantly) for a sense of belonging, but it is so easy, too easy, to forget how much harder this longing must be for some. You paint a lovely and redemptive portrait of your cousin and broader family.

It is wonderful to be back reading your words in this brand new decade.


Evolving Mommy Catherine January 4, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Grandma's have a way of loving that can only come with years of accumulating wisdom. I hope someday to have enough wisdom stored up in my banks to love like that.


deb January 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Heather . Thank you for gifting us the way you do.
I was leaning into your words as always.
They are profound and yet so authentic.
And Happy Birthday to incredible woman.
The gift of peace and continued grace for your Brent.

and that belonging wisdom. It's the truth.


Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus January 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I am in tears,
in awe,
in gratitude
for women who love like your Grandma loves,
and for men who live courageously like your Brent does.

Thank you for sharing this story.


Gale January 4, 2010 at 2:48 pm

What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it, and for sharing your Grandmother's feelings toward Brent. The stigma that accompanies mental illness unjustifiable, and yet still largely unaddressed by society. You honor Brent by bringing it up here.

My family has also been touched by mental illness, although my cousin lost his battle at a heart-breakingly young age. I am happy for you that your story has a different ending.


Sabrina January 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Lovely post Heather! Thanks for sharing. Happy Birthday to your Grandma!


Mommy Mo January 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm

This post brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully told, beautifully lived, beautifully loved.


Rachel January 4, 2010 at 4:03 pm

What an amazing story, Heather. So touching. We also had someone with Schizophrenia in our family, so I am very familiar with the pain and difficulties it brings.

Thank you for sharing this story of hope and love – simply amazing.


Debbie January 4, 2010 at 5:53 pm

How incredible for him to be able to express to her, and you all, how much that one statement meant to him. And how amazing that our simple statements can mean so much.
Hope her 80th year is a blast:)


wendy January 4, 2010 at 9:57 pm

What a neat birthday for your grandma. I hope she has many more. and the family that surrounds her –she must be so joyful.
nice tribule from Brent, there isn't anything really more important out there then knowing we belong.


MommyTime January 4, 2010 at 11:10 pm

What a lovely post and a great reminder to all of us to fight for the ones we love. Thank you.


Elaine A. January 4, 2010 at 11:24 pm

You have an amazing family. So glad you moved closer to them…

Happy Birthday to your Grandmother. She ONLY exactly 3 years older than my Dad!!


5thsister January 5, 2010 at 7:29 am

It's so good to be back and to catch up with you! This was a terrific post and I appreciate you sharing a glimpse into your remarkable family. God bless you all!

I do have a little something for you over at my place if you're interested. Take care!


Growin' with it! January 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

you always have a beautiful way of taking a subject or situation or just plain ol' life and making it real and understood with compassion and love. we can't help but follow along and get captured in to thinking more purposefully.

love that about you!


Hänni January 5, 2010 at 11:29 am

Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman. And Brent, what a gift Brent gave her. Thank you for sharing.


Lisa Page Rosenberg January 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Beautiful. Happy tears.


Greta January 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Very nice words Heather! I think Gramdma's must be the smartest people, and right behind them Mother's. There is no fooling them, they always know when something is not right.

I love the big group shot of the grandkids and gret-grandkids. What a tribute to your Grandma to have them all there!

Happy Birthday!!!!!!


Amber Lynae January 5, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I love this post. I just learned more about schizophrenia as well as, the power of love.

It is always powerful to know that we belong.


Jessica January 6, 2010 at 9:03 pm

What an amazing story. I was just thinking today about people who can say the perfect words at the right moment . . . truly healing power in those words. I want to remember them.


Daisy January 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Family, love, understanding: so valuable. Stating all three out loud to the person who needs to hear: priceless. Truly priceless.


patty January 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Tears stream down my face as I read your post. Thank you for sharing…and for loving Brent…and for seeing beyond the mental illness–so few people do.
May you be blessed today.


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