Dawn

In the June 1991 issue, in an article called "Voices From the Dark," I told the story of Dawn, my mother-in-law. It was an account of her brief career as a singer in Hollywood in the late forties, how schizophrenia had brought that career to a tragic end, and how my wife, Tara, had tried since she was a little girl to care for her. A couple of years after the story appeared, Dawn called Tara from the Granger medical facility where she lived. "I feel different," she said in the same low, breathy voice that could still breeze through pop standards. "Something's happening to me." Dawn had been taking clozapine, a so-called miracle drug. Tara dared to hope again. She had read about others on clozapine who had been restored to near-normal lives. Why not her mother? At the time, Tara and I were working on a book about Dawn (My Mother's Keeper, which was published in 1997). Here, perhaps, was the fairy-tale ending we longed for—Dawn freed from mental illness, Dawn restored to life. But she couldn't tolerate clozapine, and like the long-institutionalized patients in the movie Awakenings, she lapsed back into the disconnectedness and drug-induced fog that mark the lives of most people with schizophrenia. Today Dawn lives in a nursing home in Taylor. She's in reasonably good health, physically, for a 72-year-old. For Tara and me, dealing with her situation is not all that different from trying to care for elderly parents. Whether it's senility or Alzheimer's or schizophrenia, it's hard to know what's best. Recently Tara asked her mother a question about something that had occurred long ago. Dawn looked at her and smiled. "I wish somebody would tell me what happened," she said.

Tags: THE CULTURE

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