Fathers Day at the Mental Hospital

My grandfather was hauled off to the mental hospital after he went after my grandmother. His diagnosis: paranoia.

After that, we saw our grandfather once a year on Fathers Day. My father drove our family to the hospital. My uncle took his, which including two cousins, plus my grandmother. We brought my grandfather a carton of cigarettes and made a picnic of it on the hospital grounds, with food and a game of Wiffle Ball. My grandfather insisted on taking us kids to the canteen for ice cream and to introduce us to his friends. I felt half-afraid and half-curious by the experience.

Let me tell you a little about my grandfather. He came over on the boat from Madeira when he was young and married my grandmother, who came from the same island, here. They worked in the textile mills of New Bedford and had three daughters, including my mother. A hard worker, during the Depression he bought a home, where the family grew their food and took in boarders. He made his daughters drop out of school so they could watch the house when he and my grandmother were at work. I don’t recall him being a warm man. 

My grandfather spent the last years of his life at the hospital. It became his home. He had a job working in the laundry and even a girlfriend, whom we kids saw one Fathers Day. She waited beside a tree on the grounds to meet us.

He tried coming home once but that didn’t last long.

My grandfather died while he watched a movie at the hospital. The lights went on and he was already gone. I went to the wake but not the funeral. 

Years later I worked at psychiatric half-way house, which took in patients from state and private hospitals. For one state hospital, we had a ring of keys that unlocked every ward so we could come and go freely. I thought of my grandfather and how he got used to living here whenever I visited.

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