My grandmother Irene was a pitiful, crazy person. Not all the time, unfortunately, or she’d have been packed into some coarse New England institution for experiments with electrons and lithium derivatives much earlier. As it was, because she alternated her violent and impulsive behavior with periods of serenity and excellent baking, she was allowed to quietly produce one, two, three, four and finally five wards of the state, one right after the other, before she was wrangled by the authorities and medicated to death.
Her youngest boy, Fred, who she kept along with three more kids, believed that shock therapy, medication, and age had actually healed Irene just enough that she could think rationally about what she’d done. So she overdosed herself on lithium.
We met her once, about a year before she died. She looked like a watercolor version of our mother, all smeared and indistinct in comparison. We had no idea she was our grandmother. Our mother introduced her as “Irene,” no more information.