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My Book and How 9-11 Changed My Life and My Mother

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I've long wondered how I should lend my voice to the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. As the Jersey Shore regional editor for Patch.com, I often get called on to write the obituary of record, or to find the right prose for the event of the month -- Hurricane Irene, for example -- that commands the attention of my hometown area.

This time, I was expecting to step into the background, and let others shine. Little did I know, however, that the words were already written.

The book of my family, "A Legacy of Madness: Recovering My Family From Generations of Mental Illness," will be released on Oct. 3 in bookstores nationwide. I've resisted merging this author life with my work life. But what happened 10 years ago was more than a story. It was a turning point, a pivotal moment captured in my book that reversed the downhill slide of our lives.

In my book, I captured that moment, the moment my mother finally came home, to Point Pleasant, N.J., to live out the rest of her life. She had bounced around psychiatric hospitals and assisted living facilities for years. Around 9-11, she came home. While so many others were mired in chaos, my mother soon found stability.

It was the moment that made us look at ourselves, and realize that the best way to handle my mother's obsessive compulsive disorder was to simply let her be. From that moment on, until her death in January 2003, that's what we did. For that, I'm forever grateful.

Here is the excerpt from the book that speaks to that moment, which is also published today on Patch.com:

* * *

We pulled her out of Ancora [Psychiatric Hospital in New Jersey] after a month. Then we put her in Rose Mountain, the nursing home ten minutes from my house. During the summer of 2001, I visited her twice a week. My wife visited her once a week. Whenever I went there, I listened to her rattle on about how she wanted to go home, the same way she always had before. She did it so much, and for so long, that I grew numb to it. I had stock answers for everything.

"I understand," I told her. "I know. It's not the best situation."

I'd often bring [my son] Tommy with me and he'd play under my chair. I'd stay for nearly an hour. Then as I got up, she'd always say something to stop me.

"So how are you, my dear?" Then I'd stay for another hour, talking about myself, before we'd start talking about her again.

Occasionally, I took her on little trips, usually over to Fuddruckers restaurant in New Brunswick, where she'd get a cheeseburger. She and Tommy, who was then three, would sit next to each other and eat the same thing. Both of them would eat it quickly. At the end of the meal, they'd both look up to me, their eyes sweet and puppy-like, and say the same thing.

"Can I have a cookie?"

For the first time in years, my mother was calm. The whole time she was at Rose Mountain, she didn't have a drop of medicine. The best medicine, we came to see, was the visits. I even had her come to the condo we had bought in Metuchen to stay and talk. She'd climb the steps, hanging onto the railing that my wife had installed for her. Then she'd sit in the living room and follow the same routine: complain for nearly an hour, notice when I got antsy, show some interest in me and stay for another hour.

My father noticed the difference, too. At the end of August, he decided to take her back. I questioned it at first. But this time, he seemed deeply committed. My wife and I had sought to remove the stress my mother had lived with for three years, ever since she came out of the hospital and felt the stitches from her bladder operation. Now my father wanted to give it a try.

* * *

At first, the arrangement looked like it wasn't going to last. Once again, my father complained that my mother was being aggravating and irritating. He even hinted that he may have to call 911 again, because it was just getting to be too much. She was still repeating, thought not as severely. She was still worried about her bladder, though not as badly.

But when the September 11 attacks happened, just two weeks after my mother left Rose Mountain, my father no longer complained. Perhaps he realized there were people worse off than him. She stayed there, at home in Point Pleasant, until January 18, 2003, living relatively peacefully, and as time passed, she never said much of anything anymore.

She repeated, but she seemed too tired to continue very long. She stayed in her chair all day, watching the television, often with the sound way down. When we saw her, there was no more of the pleading. There was no more of the helplessness. She was a mother again.

She even let us kiss her again, usually behind the ear, but it was still a kiss.