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Beyond Crazy

Joe Holley

A dozen years ago, I co-wrote a book -- along with my wife, Tara Elgin Holley -- called "My Mother's Keeper: A Daughter's Memoir of Growing Up in the Shadow of Schizophrenia" (William Morrow, 1997). It was about Tara's mother, Dawn Elgin, her lifelong battle with mental illness and Tara's unstinting efforts over the years to be "her mother's keeper." The book won a number of awards, attracted movie attention and is still used in classes and seminars about mental illness.

Actually I had met Dawn, in a way, before I met her daughter. Many people in Austin in the 1980s had met her. People knew her as the disturbed -- and disturbing -- street person shuffling along "the Drag" near the University of Texas campus, mumbling to herself and wearing layer upon layer of grimy, mismatched clothes. What we didn't know is that she had been a brilliant and beautiful young woman growing up in Houston and an accomplished jazz singer in Hollywood -- before schizophrenia, "the cruelest disease," robbed her of everything at age 22.

That experience was in the back of my mind when I began writing an obit about George Warren Grauel, a local man who suffered most of his adult life from an illness of the brain, in his case bipolar disorder. As with Dawn -- as with most people we label "mentally ill" -- I suspected there was more to the story. The Post obit for Mr. Grauel is an effort to get beyond the bare facts and the stigma-laden label. Within the confines of a short newspaper article, it's an effort to find the real person.

By Joe Holley |  June 2, 2009; 1:50 PM ET  | Category:  Joe Holley
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