|Grandma Stanfa, Uncle Bob, and my dad, Denny Stanfa|
My Uncle Bob lived with
my grandmother all her life—all except the years he served in the Korean
War. And then, the times he was in and out of veterans’ hospitals.
As young children, my
sisters and I alternated between observing him in hushed laughter, being afraid
of him, and attempting to treat him the way the mentally ill should be treated.
After my grandmother
died when I was thirteen, we worked together as a family to try to allow my
uncle to live alone in her house. We brought him occasional meals and took him
to doctor appointments. My cousins mowed his lawn, and my mother and I took his
half-feral cat to the vet. We joked that the cat was crazy, too—probably insane
from the half-dozen weather radios that Uncle Bob kept blaring at all times
throughout the tiny house.
He told me on one of
those visits that the radios helped drown out the voices.
I didn’t know how to
react when he asked me if I heard the voices too, or when he mentioned receiving
messages from the “All Powerful” who was spying on him.
As a child, I had never
heard of post-traumatic stress disorder. Not until I asked my dad to tell me
more about my uncle did I gain a better understanding.
“I remember him being a
loner, perhaps kind of unusual in some ways,” said my father, who was ten years
younger than his brother. “But when he came back from Korea, he wasn’t the same
person. He had changed. He just wasn’t… right.”
I’m still not certain
if my uncle had early signs of schizophrenia before the war, or if PTSD from his
service in Korea—including the day he witnessed most of his friends around him
die—was the cause of his mental illness. But I have no doubt that his time in
Korea altered the rest of his life. No amount of medication, therapy, or electric shocks—the popular treatment at the time—ever seemed to help.
As an adult, I’ve grown
to understand he was not alone.
All gave some. Some
gave all. Some, like my Uncle Bob, ended up lost somewhere in the middle.
If he were here today,
I would hug him and finally say thank you.