One can hardly imagine nor want to what is is like to live with and try to help a beloved family family who has mental illness. It is unimaginable to me how the Galvin family, especially the parents, bore the fact that six of their children out of the twelve they had were diagnosed schizophrenia. What a horrible ordeal for all involved and yet they seemed to get through it, although left with the many scars that impacted their minds, hearts, and souls. This amazingly written book, takes us into the very heart of the family exposing the absolute trauma each and every family member felt and still feels to this day. If you love relevant, important nonfiction books, this one comes with my highest recommendation.
Picture a perfect family. Good looking parents and twelve children who were so gorgeous. The family seemed to have it all together, and yes, I did write twelve children! Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to have it all. He was in the service and had been posted to Colorado where his twelve children were to be raised. His wife Mimi was a stay-at-home mom (she had to be) and had the full-time job of raising these ten boys and two girls. All seemed to be going ever so well as all of the children were bright, eager, and the family seemed to be on the way up. However, life for the Galvins was to change dramatically and tragically. Donald, their oldest son started acting irrationally. He was his team’s quarterback, successful in his studies, but something was wrong. He and his brother Jim would get into out and out blow out fights and eventually he was paced in the Pueblo Hospital and finally diagnosed with schizophrenia. The family was devastated and of course in the 1950’s very little was known about this mental tragedy. As time went on, more of the Galvin children started acting strange and dangerous. In total, six of the boys were eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Life became a total nightmare for all the family.
There was not much to be done except to medicate which of course had its own issues, Thorazine, being one of the main drugs prescribed. Once again, the bulk of raising this family fell mainly on the shoulders of Mimi. The boys progressed in and out of mental hospitals and it became like a revolving door, so much so that at one time three of them were in the hospital at the same time. After they were discharged, the boys would go home where chaos and mayhem ensued. Many of the boys would stop their medications and although some did marry and leave home, the unbelievable situations continued with one son eventually killing his wife and himself. The police would often be called to the home as the situations between the boys, now grown to men, would ramp up out of control with the remaining children locking themselves in their rooms. There seemed to be no solution, no answers as to why this occurred in such a large scale in this family.
And what about the children who were sane? How did they cope with the psychotic episodes that occurred before their eyes? Unbeknownst to their mother, two of the boys were molesting the girls and naturally they suffered the scars of this. One of the girls was sent to reside with a very wealthy family friend and did find some peace. However, the other girl simmered with resentment. Why was she left alone to face this?
This family did attract the attention of National Institute of Mental Health, one of the first families to be studied by them. They tried to find the causes and at the time lobotomy was a strategy. But who to blame? Of course, that blame often fell upon the mother who was thought to possibly be schizophrenic herself, or could it be she and Don were just too strict with their children? Somehow, you knew the mother would take the brunt of the blame. Even today the genetic material from the Galvins is studied so that the clues to stopping this heinous illness might be found.
Over the course of time, the boys saw many doctors and professionals but since little or nothing was known about the disease, there was not much help in that direction sadly.
This was a family in turmoil, broken by an illness that so many were ill equipped to explain. My heart broke for them all, but especially bled for Mimi. She was such a stalwart woman, always thinking that tomorrow would be a sunnier day. She loved with an undying love all her offspring and as the surviving sane children grew, they came to the realization that she did her very best.
The story so well constructed by Robert Kolker, rocked me to my core. Even days after finishing, I find myself reflecting on the lives of these children and their parents and thinking how fortunate my husband and I were to have strong healthy children. Although greatly improved since the fifties, mental health in this country still has miles to go. We never know when the arm of tragedy can strike but for the Galvin family, it seemed to never leave.
definitely recommend this book for its authenticity, excellent writing, and a look into a world where none of us would ever want to venture.
and here’s the author:
Robert Kolker is an award-winning magazine journalist and the New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls, named one of the New York Times‘ 100 Notable Books and one of Publisher’s Weekly‘s Top Ten Books of 2013, and Hidden Valley Road, published by Doubleday. Kolker’s 2004 story in New York magazine about a public-school embezzlement scandal was recently adapted for the feature film Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney.