Meg’s mother was missing. Where was she? What was wrong? Nobody would tell the frightened 6-year-old where her mother had gone. Not her father, not her many brothers and sisters, and not her grandmother who came to their Northside Chicago house to help. Even fervent prayers to Meg’s favorite saint, the Little Flower, went unanswered. It was 1963 and the truth, that Meg’s mother was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit, was too shameful to reveal.
In 1978 Meg’s family experienced a tragedy that was also deemed too shameful to speak about. Despite years of therapy, including several months at Topeka’s own Menninger Clinic, Meg’s volatile older sister Nancy died by suicide. “Say it was an accident,” implored Meg’s father, fearing both the judgment of the neighbors and censure from the Catholic Church. Without any therapy or frank discussions about mental illness, Meg and her family went on with their lives.
It would take the death of another sibling by suicide in the 1990s before Meg and her family could talk openly about the family’s struggles with mental illness. Years of unresolved guilt and shame had damaged them all. No more family secrets; it was time, past time, to share, to grieve, to process. While You Were Out by Meg Kissinger is her family’s intimate story of mental illness, shared in the hopes that their story could help other families struggling with mental illness.
While You Were Out is a tender and often humorous memoir of a large, loving, boisterous family finally facing their family secrets.