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A soul lost to a devastating illness

When the telephone rings at five o’clock in the morning, you know the news is not going to be good.

And that morning in June, 10 years ago, The Legal Genealogist‘s family had been expecting some bad news.

My mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Billy, was born in 1919, and had been ailing for some time. He had had ups and downs, and more downs than ups there in 2005.

So when that phone rang, and when I heard a cousin’s voice on the other end of the line, I was sure that’s what she was going to tell me. That we had lost a member of our family.

And we surely had.

But not the family member we had been expecting to lose.

“We’ve lost Meredith,” my cousin said.

MeredithMeredith.

Laughing giggling dancing Meredith.

Caring daring questioning Meredith.

Whirling twirling grab-your-hand-and-pull-you-in Meredith.

Meredith.

First cousin once removed. Daughter of my cousin Kay. Sister of my cousin Barrett. Granddaughter of my Aunt Cladyne. An integral part of all of our lives.

A young woman full of promise. An honor graduate of North Carolina’s Guilford College. An avid environmentalist. An outspoken political activist.

A young woman I had spoken to not three weeks earlier to plan a whirlwind “come up to New York and we’ll do Broadway” visit.

A young woman just weeks away from her 30th birthday — the reason why we were planning that New York visit.

And … sigh … a young woman suffering from the clearly genetically-based depressive illness that has plagued my family for generations.

It has manifested in some of us as simple clinical depression, if anything about clinical depression can be described by so gentle a word as “simple.” In some of us, in more complex forms — bipolar disorder, or dissociative disorder with depressive symptoms.

We know it’s been in the family for several generations. My grandmother’s Uncle John was committed to the Texas State Asylum in 1884. He’s not the only one in the family we can trace this through, not the only one who spent time in hospitals because of it, not the only one to die because of its ravages.

Those of us who have felt its power don’t talk about it outside of the family. We understand, only too well, that it is a biological disease related to biochemical factors many of us have inherited. But we also understand, only too well, that we are, still today, living in a time when just the words “mental illness” are regarded as disqualifying. If you don’t believe that, you don’t remember Senator Thomas Eagleton…

But what we learned with Meredith is that those of us who have felt its power need to talk about it more — much more — at least inside of the family.

To understand its genetic origins.

To understand — and be able to watch for — its symptoms.

To understand its risks.

To understand that, sometimes, we will win against its power.

And to understand that, sometimes, no matter what we do, no matter what we try, no matter what anyone does… we will lose against its power.

The way we lost Meredith.

Meredith.

Laughing giggling dancing Meredith.

Caring daring questioning Meredith.

Whirling twirling grab-your-hand-and-pull-you-in Meredith.

Meredith.

Who would have been 40 years old yesterday.

Meredith.

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