25 April 2014

Grave Number 95



I used to know my name, sometimes
I almost remember it, hear my mother
calling me in a dream, but it's gone
come morning. Nurse tells me she
remembers it always and will tell me
anytime. Mother put me here young,
thought I got auntie's sickness or maybe
some badness from grandfather's brother
who ran away. Nurse says it's brain wiring
gone awry and I'm not to believe it's my fault.
Fragmented, fuzzy memories of the man
in my room at home float in and out in ways I can't grab.
Nurse says the treatments scramble things a bit
and keep me from remembering. I wonder
just who that helps? Somedays I worry
they'll forget my name when nurse is gone.



Margaret, at Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads, has a stunning, moving story of the Willard Asylum in New York and two projects to photograph its remains. One by photographer, Lisa Gordon, who has photographed the buildings after their closure in 1995. The haunting photo above is hers of a Willard grave marker with only the number 95 to identify the person buried there as was the case in 5,776 out of 6,000 patients who died at Willard from 1869- 1995.
And the other project is by photographer Jon Crispin who is photographing the 400 suitcases and their contents that were discovered in the attic of the Asylum after it became a prison in the mid 90's. It's called "The Willard Suitcases". Follow Margaret's link to see some of them.
Margaret also included some poems from the Diary of Anna Anderson who was hospitalized at Willard. Please go and read Margaret's post- you'll be glad you did. It's important that we not forget these people who did nothing more that have a mental illness outside their control or behavior deemed unacceptable by their families.

32 comments:

  1. Very well done. The anxiety and disorientation is palpable here. Breaks my heart to know so many were abandoned at Willard without comfort. To protect the sane and all they did.

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    1. We have very long and misguided history of blaming the victim.

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  2. Another harrowing concept of a life gone wrong. This prompt has called forth many of the most depressing offerings ever! :-) I'm not quite sure what was supposed to be achieved by such a subject, if I'm honest. At least your words here are touched with a fleeting kindness...

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    1. I think what Margaret hoped to achieve was a reminder of what was actually done to real people who were instead in need of understanding and good care. That it was depressing is not to say we should forget or not write about these victims of historical circumstances. My heart goes out to them and I want to remind myself again and again of the importance of kindness and compassion in whatever age or circumstances we find ourselves.

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  3. Harrowing is the word to describe Willard and the old lady in the poem. I know 2 people who had Alzheimer's and it was like they were not there anymore, the old person I knew was not there and there was a new person in her place.

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    1. Yes, harrowing. I didn't picture this woman as older with Alzheimer's but suffering from the memory loss associated with many of the treatments of the time including shock treatment.

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  4. And, even worse, the thought this girl might not be mentally ill at all, but reacting to being abused by the wavery man dimly in her consciousness. Great response to the prompt, Mary! This poem reminds me of the Alice Walker (I think?) quote that it isnt safe to be a girl child in a world full of men.

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    1. She wrote the truth of many women who still end up in the mental health system with the PTSD or other mental illnesses that are the sequelae to abuse.

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  5. Because of my 36 years as a psychiatric nurse committed to the compassionate care of the truly mentally ill, I want to believe the nurses or, at least, some of them brought a measure of comfort to these abandoned people.

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  6. this is a wonderful take on the prompt...only fuzzy memories remain and this is so sad...thanks for the post...

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    1. fuzzy memories that aren't really the blessing they might seem to be at first...

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  7. gah, memories of the man in my room at home. please, nurse, remind her of something other than that.

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    1. Or remind her that if she survived the experience she can survive the memories and move forward in oneness with so many other women.

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  8. Chilling. The fuzzy memories and who to blame. Really a tragic tale.

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    1. one of many as Margaret reminded us...

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  9. What more profound loss could a person have than the loss of their own name? And by extension, all that makes them themselves. So bleak, so heart-wrenching, and yet her humanity shines through vividly, though damaged. This is really good and really poignant.

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    1. It was my experience over and over that even with the profoundly and persistently mentally ill their humanity would shine through in little encounters when I took the time to listen and watch closely. I had the great privilege to meet some truly remarkable survivors in my 36 years in my beloved profession.

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  10. Those were such tragic times. Unfortunately, they were not that long ago.

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    1. And they were happening when we knew better or could have known with reading and research and simple kindness and compassion.

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  11. This makes me think of my mother. She had Alzheimer's. At first she would have moments of clarity, knew each of us, then the time came when nothing we said brought her back to us.

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    1. Yes, the process of Alzheimer's is similar and heartbreaking.

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  12. you portray the fuzzy with chilling realism ~

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    1. I saw it in real life in my profession so it's very real to me as told by those who experienced it with the fear and anxiety they felt. Chilling is a good word.

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  13. Scary good. This was one of the saddest images from a collection of horror.

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    1. I cried more than once at the sadness of it all, and got mad, and got determined, and felt protective, and got educated, and read everything I could get my hands on, and listened closely to what my patients said, and talked with other nurses who were listening, and became unafraid to try things that hadn't yet been written but that worked better... for 36 years.

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  14. Terribly sad; well written. K.

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    1. Really enjoyed reading all your comments here--enjoyed not the right word--a hard job and one that taught one a great deal I would thank. Thanks. K.

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  15. "Nurse says the treatments scramble things a bit
    and keep me from remembering. I wonder
    just who that helps? "

    yes, those treatments, so barbaric today, were "modern" medicine. I shudder to think of the list of reasons one could be admitted (and often were). The lonely, scared voice of this poem just goes to my heart! Sorry for responding so late - I truly appreciate your participation to my prompt!

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    1. I want to believe that the treatments were the best knowledge we had at the time. But these abandoned people who might not even be ill, just behaved unacceptably, make me sad.

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  16. Dear Mary,
    I am coming late to responding--just now reading all your back posts. I love this poem; it got me "in the tripes" as my mother would say. Did you know I was a nurse at Willard during its last years as a psych hospital? I cared for a hundred-and-five-year-old woman who'd been there since the 1930s.
    Thank you for this!
    Love,
    e

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    1. No, I didnt know you were a nurse there. You would be like the nurse in the poem, though, and therefore a blessing to those you cared for. I found this whole story stunning.

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