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Schizophrenia and Aunt Anne Ogilvie

Our maternal grandfather died in a tragic car accident on July 09, 1938, driving from Manitoba, through Cass Lake, Minnesota to see Niagara Falls and the famous Dionne Quints. He was 67.   It would be a challenge to overstate the tragic and catastrophic impact of this accident on his large sprawling family.

At a 1992 family reunion, all family representatives commented on the collective shock of his death impacting on our lives. Its constant retelling, takes on a quasi-legendary feel, with echoes of recurring memories and long standing, terrifying trauma for all those present, especially his two youngest children - twins, our Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne. Some moments remain locked in memory forever. They were only 19. 

According to family lore,  as well as other well documented outside sources, at the time of the accident, the twins, my Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne were sitting in the front seat of the car. Their mother and two passengers in the back. According to an obituary in the Emerson Journal, all occupants were treated in hospital for shock.  

Aunt Anne and Uncle Jake both experienced long standing horror, self -induced guilt and life long trauma due to the cause of the accident; Uncle Jake thought that he may have been at fault because, driving the car just prior to the accident, he failed to heed his father’s warning against driving on the cats' eyes in the middle of the road, weakening the tires, causing the subsequent blowout which veered the car into a bridge girder. The non-collapsible steering wheel crushed Grandpa’s chest.  More likely, poor road design, poor tyres, the lack of collapsible steering columns, lack of seat belts and sharp protruding bridge girders, were more significant factors.  Like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Uncle Jake would retell his tale time and time again. seeking some sort of self exculpatory relief.

Aunt Anne was made to feel that she had been responsible for it because she, sitting next to her father, made an instinctual grab for the steering wheel when the car went out of control. The fact that her mother blamed her, disturbed her, her trauma is considered a major cause of her severe schizophrenia triggered by the death of her mother in 1950.  

Some moments remain locked in memory forever. Parental accusations developing into self inflicted guilt, can have serious, long standing, calamitous consequences – ghosts which reappear unpredictably.  Aunt Anne developeddisordered anxiety that overtook her life. It was not a rational trigger – it resulted in chronic anxiousness and a prominent, permanent, paralyzing and manifest cognitive impairment.  Her distressed condition was patently obvious to all observers by the early 1950's.

As a society, we have learned to provide immediate crises counselling to potential victims of trauma.  This was not available to either Aunt Anne or Uncle Jake at that time and both suffered life long suffering from unresolved issues.   Post Traumatic Stress is a broad spectrum with varied causes, symptoms and remedies.  Studies from the late eighties indicate that patients on medication seldom recover.  Empathetic and sometimes confrontational psychoanalytical therapy can result in full recovery.  A non-humiliating, non-threatening therapist who encourages them to describe and confront their understandings in as much detail as possible, will help them discover the meaning of their delusions. 

According to our mother, whenever Aunt Anne suffered a spell of shouting at an imaginary person, she was screaming at her own deceased mother. Tragically, this one event resulted in chronic terror associated with paranoid hallucinations disconnecting her from reality, including her twin brother and the rest of a large sprawling family.  It is a narrative worth telling for how we have learned to deal with potential trauma leading to a post traumatic stress illness that lead to Schizophrenia.  Early preventative therapy can avoid future issues.

As families, our stories unite us, bringing us together to belong to something larger than ourselves. They tell us who we are and what we value. They are the foundation stones of our identity, of how we understand our place in the world.  

We are fortunate to have a number of documented accounts informing a realistic and accurate portrayal of their lives in our family accounts - Heinrichs of Halbstadt. 

When the car that Grandpa was driving had a tire blowout it veered onto the edge of the bridge and perched precipitously at the edge. Anne, who was the only person able to respond, climbed over her brother Jake to get out of the car. She remembered that there was a rope in the car trunk and took it out. She then tied it to the car and began to pull it across the road away from the edge of the bridge. This also stopped the traffic and a passer-by called for the ambulance. Had Anne not had her wits about her at that time everyone in the car could have been killed.   - a niece - Susanna Klassen  from Heinrichs or Halbstadt.

Our Uncle Jake often talked about the accidental death of his father as a form of auto, remedial and salvific therapy, but admits their tempestuous, and estranged relationship prevented him from talking to his sister, Aunt Anne, about it.  His distress included an awareness that his dominating treatment of her contributed to her schizophrenia.  The fact is, both Anne and Jake had unresolved issues about this event, but it appears Uncle Jake handled it differently than Aunt Anne perhaps because, like the Ancient Mariner, of the obsessive, cathartic or therapeutic experience of talking about it to others - but not to his sister, Aunt Anne, who internalised her pain, repressing the demons tormenting her, bursting through the very fine membrane that separates our daylight selves from the secret darkness that lives in every one of us.

Who knows the cumulative effect that Aunt Anne’s presence at the death of her father had throughout the years, especially the open suggestion by a negatively judgmental mother blaming her for his tragic death.  Aunt Anne might have been saved if she had access to good modern therapy —if she’d lived today, at a time when seeking psychiatric therapy is no more shameful than to visit a hairdresser. Modern treatment eschews psycho-pharmacology, in favor of both empathetic and confrontational  counselling.

Elsa Neufeld, another niece, evocatively captures the poignancy of Aunt Anne’s initial distress in this excerpt, again from Heinrichs of Halbstadt.

Soon after my sixth birthday…(1938)..  I spent most of the day with Aunt Anne, a beautiful brown-eyed young woman. As we shelled peas or cleaned fruit she grew weary of my incessant chatter. She invented various schemes to achieve quietness. She said, “Let’s see if we can be quiet for a few minutes” or “Let’s see who can be quiet the longest.” I know I tried but I never succeeded.

As I began writing down these memories I was able to place the events of 1938 in perspective. We moved to Homewood in early spring. Within months Grandfather Heinrichs had died accidentally.

Was my visit to be a distraction for Grandmother, Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne in their sorrow?

Uncle Jake, at only 19, had the awesome responsibility of managing the family farm of some 500 acres.  With the assistance of neighbors and family siblings he managed to harvest the crop.  One day he went to the post office to find a large parcel from Eatons containing new fashionable clothing ordered by his sister Aunt Anne.  He was outraged for various reasons.   So soon after their father’s death, her extravagance was outrageous!  Mennonites were expected to dress modestly.  In a fit of rage he came home and physically disciplined his 19 year old twin sister, driving a further wedge into an already tenuous relationship.  He later acknowledged his possible contribution to her mental break-downs.

In September, 1938, Aunt Anne began her year 12 at the Mennonite Collegiate Institute, but by Christmas, following a psychological break down, she abandoned her studies. Shortly, she left her family and community in Halbstadt to work In Winnipeg; an intrepid venture considering the suspicion all Germans were under during the war.  As a reaction against her heritage she began some loose living, smoking, going to movies, dances and drinking, all taboos in Mennonite circles at the time.  At the end of the European war, she visited all her siblings to introduce us to Fred Ogilvie, the man she married in July, 1945.  There is no evidence of any loss of contact with any of her close family.

Irene (Siemens) Stobbe and Marie (Klassen) Dyck, daughters of the twins sisters, Marie and Susan, respectively, both recall Aunt Anne’s youth.  When the twins were born to a mother, who openly avowed she never wanted more than two children, but gave birth to nine, their older sisters Marie and Susan,  at 17 and 19 respectively, assumed the role of carers or surrogate mothers to Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne.  In large quasi cross generational families, pre-conscious bonds develop between young children with their older carer siblings much the same as maternal ones. In contrast bonds to your peer siblings are much more complicated by rivalry for attention and other fractious issues.  This explains the enduring affectionate close bond of both Marie and Susan, their oldest sisters, so heavily engaged with enduring devoted duty of care for of both Uncle Jake and Aunt Anne. Uncle Jake repeatedly acknowledges his high regard for his older sisters and their highly esteemed husbands, J.J. Siemens, founding member of the Coop movement and Rev. D.D. Klassen, a highly respected Mennonite Bishop.

Reliable reports indicate that Aunt Anne, like her older sisters, was an extremely bright, vivacious and stylishly dressed young girl. In High School she did well, like her older sisters, was extremely popular with many avid suitors. 

Our ancestors were from the "enlightened" school of Mennonites, believers in education, social justice and questioning vaunted authority.  They emphasized putting the teachings of Jesus into practice. Being true to the principles expressed in his Sermon on the Mount;  separation of Church and state, non hierarchical structures, love of enemies leading to pacifism and inclusive communities.

While the Mennonite tradition was for young girls to dress plainly and modestly, this was flouted by the Heinrichs clan.  For the three older sisters, a seamstress came in twice a year, to ensure the latest seasonal style of clothing.  By the time Aunt Anne came of age, the latest styles were ordered from Eaton’s.   Irene Siemens recalls: "Of her earlier life I remember her visits to our farm on a Sunday afternoon. She would be dressed very smartly, dark suit, white blouse, dress shoes and well-cut, simple hair style".

Shortly after the death of her Mother in 1950, Aunt Anne's symptoms of Schizophrenia became more noticeable.  On meeting her as a nine year old in 1951, her piercing dark eyes, betrayed a wariness - an abnormal alarm. Her sartorial elegance deteriorated, often wearing clashing colors.  Also when she began to tell me and my younger brothers about the voices telling her what to do, we soon picked up on the fact she was not normal.  

In Medieval times if you heard “voices”, your odds of becoming a prophet or having a new religion named after you were enhanced; nowadays you are simply diagnosed with schizophrenia and have to take your lithium.

Another niece, Edith Siemens recounts other erratic behavior, included having all cupboard doors removed and going naked.  Spending a week with the newly weds in 1947, Edith recalls the terror she felt because of loud late night arguments.   Aunt Anne’s unusual behavior became public in 1957 when her neighbors on Hazel Dell Ave in East Kildonan called the police because they found her on the street with no clothes on.  In Contrast to King Richard III explaining, “and thus I clothe my naked villainy”.  Aunt Anne, in removing cabinet doors and her clothes, may have been trying to proclaim that she had nothing to hide or be ashamed of.

The police notified her oldest sister, Marie, who took greatest responsibility for Anne’s care when Fred needed support.  Marie encouraged him to have her committed to Selkirk Mental Home for treatment. Until she died in 1969, Marie continued her support her youngest sister.   When Aunt Marie died, Aunt Anne became so anxious  she had to be admitted to a mental hospital in 1970 for treatment.  From then on she simply withdrew into a shell.  She seldom left the house and became less communicative.  Her symptoms were so pronounced and conspicuous that even the proverbial blind Freddy would have recognized her serious illness by her dejected demeanor.

In 1962, Aunt Anne confessed to me her regret for not completing high school, a failure to do what she was expected to do – failure to do what she felt able to do. She expressed deep shame  - a stigma of defeat; under achievement, an inability to cope. She also attributed her failure to the fact that they had no money, yet the house of full of 27 stray cats, compensating an inability to have children. When we left, my mother informed me Aunt Anne was blissfully unaware they had lots of money, but should she make a Will, it would all go to the cats. 

By this time her lack of composure was clearly evident in her distress, her self- absorbed obsessions, a conspicuous lack of normal personal interactions.  Patients with mental disorders lose the defence mechanisms to deal with their fears, or to mask their condition.  They “fail to prepare a face to meet the faces they meet”.  Already, her demeanor openly reflected her inner turmoil.

Her other close bonds were with her older brother Ben, by six years and her sister Helen, 14 years older.  Ben farmed her inherited land for ten years and when he left the community she asked her sister's family, the Helen Hoffmans to lease it, which they did for ten year before also moving from the district.  After that, as the only one left, her twin brother, Uncle Jake took over.

Gradually but progressively, with the death of her oldest sister, Marie Siemens, Aunt Aunt’s accumulated excruciating guilt exacerbated her trauma, gradually suffering a sublime withdrawal of self-obliteration, an obvious infirmity developing into a disabling reclusiveness, an anergia, that medical science identifies as psychosomatic. By the early 1960’s her condition was bleedingly obvious at a glance.  Her countenance and demeanor exhibited all the classic symptoms of schizophrenia, including low self esteem, feelings of inadequacy and high levels of surface anger.  It is inconceivable that anyone meeting her could not instantly recognize her extreme Schizophrenia.

Pathologically by 1970, Aunt Anne sank into a deeply depressive state with occasional bursts of manic screaming bouts at invisible ghosts – likely that of her deceased mother who had openly suggested Aunt Anne may have been responsible for the car accident that killed her father.  She was protesting her innocence.

Throughout the seventies, Aunt Anne was cared for by her remaining sisters and devoted but dominating husband, Fred, and his family, a sister Mary and brother Bill. 

In 1978, when her husband dies, Aunt Anne is immediately taken care of by her brother Ben, living in Winnipeg.  She has no interest in returning to their house and asks her brother-in-law, Bill Ogilvie, to sell it and all its contents.  Instead, since there is no Will, Uncle Jake, in his typical overbearing and controlling manner takes over, convinces Fred Ogilvie's family to give up their share of the estate to invest for Aunt Anne's institutional care.  Obviously she is totally incapacitated as her expressed wishes are ignored and she plays no part in any decisions of settling her affairs. 

After a week in Carman, with her Sister, Susan, another week in Winnipeg, after Christmas, a week with her twin brother Jake,  it is decided she will be placed in an old age care center in Altona.  During the first night, she attempts to smother another resident for disturbing her, so she is sent to Winkler for a psychiatric assessment for six weeks.  She is clinically diagnosed as a Schizophrenic with a pessimistic prognosis.  She is prescribed medication to sedate her to avoid further surface anger attacks. 

After the death of his older sister, Susan in 1989, she is again confined in a mental institute.  Uncle Jake requests, what appears a confessional interview, to shrive his soul, with the family archivist, Katherine Martens.  Uncle Jake appears to need cathartic therapy; to vent some excruciating internal pain by a frank and full admission of his inner turmoil, hoping for some release of tension and an exorcism of the demons that haunted him, revealing a troubled soul, seeking not so much redemption, as simple understanding, exoneration and expiation. He makes no attempt to redress any damage. Perhaps like St Augustine's famous prayer,  Make me pure, but just not yet.

The interview reveals a man with a strong will to power;   a desire to ruthlessly control everything and everyone.  He acknowledges his good fortune inheriting the family farm, that his mother spends her last years alone in Altona, that he has been extraordinarily lucky; yet he fails to express any remorse or show any generosity.

 For a formidable, usually macho man, it is surprising that Uncle Jake broke down several times, whenever he discussed the accident - a clear indication of enduring trauma.  He frankly and openly acknowledges that his relationship with his twin sister, had always been fractious; they never talked about the accident and ponders whether it was his humiliating, brutal and demeaning disciplining of his twin sister may , been a contributing cause of her crippling Schizophrenia. 

When asked whether he had ever talked to Anne about it, It might make you feel better if you talked to her about it. She might . . .  

Jake interrupts, Well, it isn't -- isn't a pleasant thing.

The interviewer agrees:  No, Jake continues, If it was something that could please her, it might be useful

The opportunity for brother and sister to resolve the issue was lost.  They got together only to undertake financial issues and he asks questions about her life only in an ancillary way.  They had never had a close relationship.

Uncle Jake's disciplining must be viewed in context and we should not judge by today’s standards.  Physical discipline was common in those days and he merely followed the role model of his father.  My Mother related how their father, Wilhelm Heinrichs, boxed her ears because as a 15-year-old girl she had smiled at some elders which was deemed disrespectful – young girls were expected to be demure, modest and subdued.  Uncle Ben also comments on how his father boxed his ears at nine for not driving properly.  (H. of H  ll. 47 – 49)

Shortly after the interview, Uncle Jake dies from a heart attack.  Aunt Anne survives in a blissful unresponsive state for more than 15 years.  Shortly after Uncle Jake's death, all 56 descendants began to receive annual statements of Aunt Anne's accounts. This is a mandatory requirement of Manitoba's Mental Health Act.   Apparently her estate has accumulated substantial assets, and her lawyer deems her unfit to manage her own affairs.  This raised expectations of some small inheritance.  Not to be.  When her Will is read in 2009, all the estate is to go to her brother Jake and if deceased than to his youngest son, Warren, a complete inversion of primogeniture.  This seemed not only surprising, but downright suspicious.  All the evidence suggests Warren has never actually met his benefactor. It is also an inescapable conclusion that two lawyers, agents of the Cooperative Trust also never met her.   They admitted no recognition of her Schizophrenia and could not remember what she looked like.  

Uncle Jake, on at least two occasions, acknowledges that he was responsible for writing Aunt Anne's Will, first to Ray Siemens, an upright peer nephew and again in 1985 to Marie Dyck and his oldest sister, Susan Klassen.

However, a six day court challenge, demonstrating a determined lack of context and perspective, found the Will valid due to a putative close bond between the twins, no relationship with her other six siblings, and in a blatant denial of clearly established facts, that she did not really have any schizophrenia - accusing us all of "merely embellishing her eccentricities".  Astounding!

Most disappointing was an Appeals Court, alerted to the disputed facts, failing to undertake "reasonable efforts" to ensure that factual material was "supportable as being accurate".  Five critical false premises, not only fail objective analysis, but are at odds with irrefutable evidence, shedding all semblance of objectivity.    

So on what grounds was the Appeals Court justified in passing judgment on matters about things the truth of which was not established?  Despite warnings that most findings were unfounded, the Appeals Court remained consciously and obdurately blind to, and stolidly ignorant of, the facts and the truth, compounding our distress by arrogated blunder and bluster.  Any official, pretending to know more than family members or professional experts on any matter, undermines their own credibility and diminishes their own authority.

The collateral damage is our perception of dereliction of duty as to the truth or falsity of its imputations of presented evidence.  Both courts  failed to properly inquire into the facts.  In my opinion, both were recklessly irresponsible in reaching conclusions that simply were not supported by any substantive or material evidence.  The courts obviously had ulterior agendas that called for such distorted narratives and skewed outcomes. 

This leaves the entire Canadian Justice System in a state of bad faith, resulting in diminished confidence and trust.  Like many other institutions, the court system does whatever it thinks it can get away with, letting the Canadian public down.  Unacceptable official negligence should simply not be accepted.  

Institutions like this undermine our faith, scuttle their own credibility and violate our trust.  For a First world country, Canada's Justice System appears to has gone astray; in decline, following the lead of America.

Every willfully naive and careless court decision should be protested, until the courts begin living up to their sworn oaths, meeting acceptable investigative standards and reasonable community expectations for clear clean Justice.

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