Epilepsy runs in our family although we’ve never said the word. My parents called it spells when my grandmother was suffering through them. After our grandfather died, our grandmother came to stay with us and I awoke one morning hearing a strange noise. I ran in to her bedroom to find my grandmother having a convulsion. We could say that word. I remember hearing my mother ask my grandmother if she had taken her medicine.
My grandmother developed epilepsy after the birth of her only child (my mother) and she was burdened early on by the type of epilepsy that could not be controlled by medication. Because of the severity of her affliction, she could not drive or ever hope to have another child. But being the kind of person she was, it didn’t stop her from working, being a loving grandmother or from getting around.
My grandmother was very intelligent; she had won a chemistry scholarship to the University of Arkansas at the age of sixteen, but didn’t complete her education because of the illness and subsequent death of her own father. She returned home to help keep his business going until she married my grandfather.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother only stayed with us for two weeks. She wanted her independence and couldn’t bear to see her grandchildren in trouble. Every time any of us did something wrong she cried because she didn’t want to see us being disciplined, whether it was just a strong, “talking to” or a spanking.
The day our grandfather died at the relatively young age of sixty, he had awakened to hear our grandmother fall. She was having a convulsion. In his panic to help our grandmother he had a heart attack. By the time my parents got to their house my grandfather was being put in an ambulance.
My mother was riding in the ambulance with him when he died. I’ll never forget my gentle grandmother’s grief and anguish with her self-inflicted belief that she had caused my grandfather’s death. Every night for months I cried myself to sleep and during the day we were with our grandmother, reassuring her that she was not at fault. The convulsions just could not be controlled.
My grandfather had a premonition of his death a month or so before he died, and asked my father to purchase for him my little brother’s annual birthday gift, which was cowboy boots. My grandfather died the day before my brother’s birthday.
Other than the epilepsy my grandmother seemed to be relatively healthy. She walked everywhere she needed to go and kept her business going for several years after my grandfather’s death. Several times, however, my mother was called to go down to the Rightway Cleaners because my grandmother had suffered another spell.
How do I know the dreaded word ran in our family?
Once when we were traveling home from Rogers, Arkansas in our grandparents’ station wagon after a visit with our aunt and uncle, I noticed my little brother jerking in his sleep and alerted my parents. Another time, after we had suppered on a meal of hamburgers with pickles I awoke hearing something odd and discovered my little brother in his bed having another spell.
I remember my mother blaming it on the pickles and for a while they were not allowed in our refrigerator but I knew that pickles were not the cause of the convulsion. Luckily, my brother’s problem was remedied by a magical bottle of red medicine he had to take for a couple of years and he grew up happy, whole and very healthy.
But I remember once hearing my grandmother talking to my mother about how “delicate” my brother was and wondered at that statement as my brother played baseball, basketball, football and was constantly in motion. We were never to speak of the problem with our brother and haven’t until this day.
When I was a sophomore in high school, my mother was taking college classes and collapsed one day in class with a spell. After they rushed her to the hospital she had another one. My brothers, sister and I were sent to stay with our cousins, Jeanne and Junior for a few days while my mother was evaluated.
She was prescribed a medication that has worked and she has never had another problem with convulsions.
When I had problems with fainting as a teen, I worried that I might have the problem but the dreaded and fearful word never attached itself to me.
It seems to have become only a bad memory although I watched my own young children carefully at night and in early mornings.
My son’s life long friend was afflicted with convulsions when he was a young teen. His family had hoped it was just a childhood thing but then it came roaring back when he was in his twenties. That hasn’t stopped him, even though he can’t drive. He is a Baptist missionary and his ministry includes Africa and the Middle East.
So reading about the account of this amazing woman brings absolute delight to me. Hat tip: Hugh Hewitt