My name is Elaine Pfluger and I celebrated 82 years of life this year. I have been a supportive entity fighting the stigma of mental illness for four generations of family members, Corporation for National Service volunteers, friends and employees. I have been fortunate to live in two worlds, 30 years of being a “stay at home mom” and 30 years having a career of Volunteer Administration and retiring at the age of 75 years.
My husband and I raised our family of eight children (five boys and three girls) in what we thought was a perfect family life of father involvement, eating dinner as family, teaching our children love of God and being involved in their education. My world came to a halt when our oldest son started showing signs of mental illness at the age of 15 years and was at Singer Mental Health Center for 30 days. At the age of 20 years he was living on his own but refused to take medications. While we were on vacation July 1978 he died of carbon monoxide poisoning in our garage. Our family was devasted! His siblings were ages 10-19 years old. Twenty years later our family was hit again with the suicide of our youngest daughter’s 30-year-old fire fighter husband who shot himself. She was four months pregnant with a son.
When our son died, a part of me died also, but I knew that I had to hold the family together. I was ashamed that I wasn’t the perfect mother, but I choose survival and to advocate for a change in mental health awareness and live each day to the fullest. I have always believed in collaboration and lifelong learning in my life. As a member of the League of Women Voters, I became chairman of the Health committee, served as Illinois Mental Health Issues chairman and represented LWV for the past 20 years by collaborating with Health Providers, Government Entities, Support Services and Family /friends to educate the public about the need for Mental Health funding.
Forty years ago, I knew that I had to take care of my own mental, physical and spiritual life to help others. I started water aerobics and exercise classes where I met other active people who lived life to the fullest. I have learned that I can only change myself and the most important thing I can do is listen to others without judgement. My son left a farewell letter to the family and this is the ending of the letter — “Dear family please learn by your oldest brother’s mistakes. That’s what older brothers are for, Just Love one another for me”.