My sister, Elaine, is mentally ill, and she has been that way since she was twenty-three. She is seventy now. She lives in a nursing home near me. We have been bound on our journey together by love and my strong desire to protect her. The life she has been forced to live is a terrible one, and I am in awe of the grace with which she bears it. I don't believe I could do the same. She rarely complains, but once, when I told her how much I admire the way she handles her challenges, she said, "I wouldn't wish my life on anyone."
Elaine has a strong will. It's both her strength and her downfall. When so much has been lost in stays in mental hospitals, through Electro Shock Therapy and drugs, she still has her will, her wish for some form of independence.
When Elaine first came to live in the nursing home where she is now there were about six occasions over a few years when she left the residence without signing out or telling staff where she was going. Twice she went to the city, seventy miles away, where she was born and where she had lived in a group home for many years. When I warned her that she could be moved to the locked floor of the nursing home and that I wouldn't be able to protect her she replied, "Why should I not be able to go out and do what I wish like everyone else?"
It finally happened. The decision was made to keep Elaine on the locked floor. Even though I had known this was a danger, I was still in shock. I understood it from the nursing home's point of view, but I felt it was the wrong decision. It would mean that there would be very little quality to Elaine's life. The people who occupied that floor were all in advanced stages of Alzheimer's or Dementia.
I had hoped to get Elaine back the freedom she had lost. I brought in advocacy lawyers, my local member of the provincial parliament and people from the watchdog arm of the Ministry of Health. I was fighting a system. Nothing helped. I was so angry and stressed during this four or five year period. Everywhere I turned I hit a wall. I felt very alone with all of this.
One day when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the fruitlessness of all my efforts to change the situation, I spoke to a woman who said to me, "The victory, for you, is in surrender." I was surprised by her words. When I thought of the years of struggle, all the effort, anger and tears, I knew that nothing had changed, and I had nowhere else to go, nothing left to try. I knew that what this woman suggested to me was true; I needed to surrender. I needed to accept what was. In that moment I let go and, for the first time in a long time, felt some peace.
I visit my sister regularly and advocate for her where I see a need. Our times together are better than when I was stressed and upset. We enjoy each other's company. Ironically, she was moved off the locked floor when she lost her ability to walk. We take walks in the neighborhood with me pushing her wheelchair.
I have learned that there are many definitions of success. Sometimes it is accepting what is. Sometimes it is letting go.
There are so many aspects to love. Love, to me, is the most important thing we are here to learn. I have expressed this belief through other people's stories in "Heartbeats, True Personal Stories of Love" which will be coming out as an E book on Amazon this summer. There are 50 inspiring and uplifting stories in "Heartbeats."
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