This is the first of weekly poems and prose to follow by Anna Marie Lawrence, who is helping to transform the Northern Lakes CMH system to be one which expects recovery. She hopes to inspire others on their recovery journey. We invite you to visit this Virtual Recovery Center each Thursday for the next installment.
According to Mom, at a time when our family budget was extremely tight, Uncle Norman bought a baby stroller for me so Mom could show the neighbors her new baby. Of my earliest collection of thoughts, I remember shivering with excitement while sitting on Uncle Norm’s lap the day he came home from World War II. All of us in the family were happy to see him home.
About a week after he came back, he asked Aunt Mary Jane how much money she had saved from what he sent her. “Nothing,” she said, “I spent it all.” Mom said they had a terrific battle.
Uncle Norm built an apartment in our basement so Mom could use the rent money to support my sister and I after the divorce from Dad. Uncle Norman was known to family and friends as a person who would give you the shirt off his back. The war did much to change Uncle Norman. As nice a person as he was, severe emotional troubles ate their way into his life. Aunt Mary Jane once told me, “I couldn’t stand it anymore; those facial expressions, the hollering and loud grunts. I had to get a divorce.” That was the second divorce in our family, reasons unrelated.
As time went by, Uncle Norm’s mental state got worse, though he fought it as best he could. He was lucky to have a boss at work who was understanding and respected Uncle’s part in the war.
About two years before he died, Uncle Norm was diagnosed with cancer. Any emotional anxiety he may have had from his mental illness was magnified with the stress of having cancer. When he laid dying in the Veteran’s Hospital, I was able to see him for the last time, and for the first time got to tell him that I loved him. Uncle Norman was a man with a mental illness. He was a United States Army Veteran. He was loved.