I thought long and hard whether I should share my mother's story. Considered whether it was too dark or sad for the world to hear.
The truth is, it's real and it all happened and there are probably millions of other stories similar to it, just not told.
Her story deserves to be shared.
This is for every mother, daughter and son who’s struggling to overcome the past and how it’s shaped them.
For me, processing what happened, who she was, and why it all happened, was a necessary part of my healing process.
Her mental health drove her to make a decision that impacted her life and ours, forever.
Here's her story of the ultimate selfless sacrifice she made for us.
My mama's name was Maria Griedelbach, born in Friedburg Germany on April 1, 1960.
Pictured below, playful Maria, far left.
She stood tall and beautiful at 5'11 with thick black wavy hair. Always wearing a fun eye shadow color. My mama was loving with a bubbly persona.
Mama met my dad while he was in the U.S. Army in Germany in the early 80’s. I could spend an hour explaining this part of the story, but I won’t.
I was born in 1983 and have been told we were in a foster care for a short period of time. My father eventually married my mama and adopted my older sister Melanie. Four years later, they had my youngest sister, Brenda.
Most of my memory with my mama was made up of our time in Germany.
One bold flashback brings back our giant German trunk that held a big box sound system. The smooth sounds of Stevie Wonder ALWAYS played through our home. She LOVED Stevie Wonder. Fond memories of her dancing with the vacuum burn gently into my mind. This is how I choose to remember her.
When I was a baby, my sister tells me this is when mama started to experience first signs of a mental disorder named schizophrenia.
I was oblivious to what her mental illness meant to us. Not a single memory that something may have been wrong.
My cousin Esther shared this photo with me last year on Facebook Messenger. It was the first time I had seen a complete family photo. I balled trying to grasp and comprehend the pain she was feeling and whether she had any idea of the forthcoming change and mental suffering she'd soon face.
In 1992, my dad was preparing to retire after serving 20 years in the U.S. Army. The plan was that after his retirement, our family would move back home to the island of Guam.
One of my few memories with her was an emotional one. We were in our apartment in Germany. My dad was at work and my mama and I were the only ones home.
I remember her holding me in tears, what felt like as if she was seeking comfort. She told me that she couldn't move to Guam.
She couldn't bear the change and didn't want to leave her home. This hurt but I was 8 and didn't understand what this moment really meant to me (yet) or my sisters.
Pictured below is a photo of the military housing we spent most of our time in Germany.
There really was nothing we can do to prepare for what was coming next.
When I was 9, regardless of my mom's fears, our family moved to Guam.
There was transition happening all around us. We were living temporarily with my aunt, uncle and three children. The environment was light years different. We went from apartment living on a military base to a home on an island with tons of family members we were meeting for the first time.
My father's mom passed away and even more family was flying in from all over the U.S. to be a part of the nightly rosaries. In the Catholic faith, nightly rosaries are held for 9 days after someone passes. The rosaries are followed by the family hosting meals for those who came to pray for the person that passed. Hundreds of people come depending on how many people the deceased knew.
Again, lots of changes. We were still processing it all. This is where our family hit a pivotal point.
My mama was scared, afraid of all the change and didn’t feel welcome amongst my dad’s family. She was treated differently for her mental challenges. Mistreated and casted out by my father‘s sisters. This is where I remember her becoming over protective of us. At night, my mama would hold my four year old sister and nervously walk us up and down the Barrigada village streets.
On the day of my grandma‘s funeral, my mama stayed behind at my aunt's house with my eldest sister, her husband, two children plus my youngest sister, Brenda.
I will never know what drove her to do what she did next or truly know the pain she was feeling. My heart breaks knowing that she felt so deeply alone.
My mama took a clear glass punch bowl, dropped it on the ground, grabbed a big sharp piece and attempted suicide by cutting her arm. Brenda witnessed this, confused and scared.
Thankfully, my eldest sister Norma and her husband were home to assist and call 911. My dad and I were at the funeral service when this happened. I remember vividly the moment my father was called out of church to take care of matters. Someone whispered in my father's ear and then he suddenly left the funeral service.
After that moment, my mama was placed in Guam‘s Mental Health facility for three months. We were confused and were limited to visiting her only a few times in several months. A big, scary, dark place where my mama was forced to stay. This is all I can remember and it was so hard to process. We were too young to understand why our mama was taken to this place.
My mama survived, but things were never going to be the same moving forward.
Not long after her time at GMH, my dad and mama had to make a hard decision.
They part ways and she was deported back to Germany in January 1993.
I have little memory of our goodbyes, just watching her sit sadly in my uncle’s blue Datsun station wagon as it drove away. Brenda remembers our auntie telling her to wave goodbye.
At nearly 10 years old, how would I have known that this was going to be the last time we’d ever see her again. That she would miss every single milestone.
Birthdays, graduations, our transitions into adulthood, weddings, births of our children, struggles of adjusting to parenthood and more. Every moment I savor now as a mother, she’ll never get back.
We stayed connected through letters, phone calls and occasional care packages. None of this was ever enough.
I could have chosen to be angry but I choose to remember only the good things. I could have also been angry with my father for giving up on my mama, but I chose to forgive.
Holding on to my happiest memories of her dancing in our tan toned living room to Stevie Wonder’s “Ring my Bell”. I can see, hear and feel this moment, and every time it makes me smile.
In August 2010, my sister got a phone call from one of our cousins in Germany that my mother had passed. She was only 50 years old. We were crushed deeply. Feeling so much regret and sadness that we never made the effort to go back and see her.
For her funeral, it wasn’t a question, we were adults now and would find a way financially to make the trip to be there.
The trip was certainly a preface to our healing process.
Our amazing cousins were kind enough to take us to our old apartment complex in Baumholder, our grandfather’s home and the cemetery we used to play at as children.
We met my Auntie who was consistently there for my mama and visited her at her home every week. Cousins who played a big part of our childhood in Germany were all present and there for us. It was a beautiful experience.
The hardest part of our journey was seeing and experiencing the home mama spent for 17 years.
We even got the opportunity to meet her roommate who was incredibly shaken up by mama's passing. Walked through the halls of the home she built her last years in and took the time to go through her belongings before they were disposed of. We found letters and trinkets from gifts we had mailed her through the years. This was a really hard moment for us.
I share this story as a tribute to my mother and to all other mothers who have struggled and continue to struggle through mental illness.
I will never know how hard it was for her to live through such a terrible disease and without her children. No mother should feel alone through her journey.
Confusion to whether we're doing it right. Overthinking whether we're being judged by others. Exhausted and overwhelmed by our children’s never ending needs. Always putting ourselves last.
I also want to acknowledge my second mother, Kina, for taking us in and raising us as her own. We owe you the world. Her sisters, brothers and their children all accepted us into their lives as if we were there from the start.
For you reading this, thank you. Thank you for spending ten minutes of your time to read and be aware of real challenges families face when a mental illness creeps into a home. You never truly know someone's story and the deep, dark truths we're too ashamed to share or expose.
In a time where there are hundreds of different ways to communicate, let's start sharing our stories and be kind to one another. Listen. Be a friend. Be a safe space. It truly takes a village, let's do this together.
As Brene Brown wrote, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”
From me and my sisters in healing 💗.