While Gifty was in Ghana, her mother healed in Alabama. Her anhedonia persisted, but her time in the psych ward seemed to have helped her other symptoms and she started going back to church. Gifty begs Pastor John for updates over the phone, but he only has superficial information, like what her mother wore to church.
As Gifty’s mother recovers, she returns to her primary community, which is the church. Yet, the support she receives there is superficial. Pastor John doesn’t seem to have any sense of how she’s actually doing. Gifty’s mother, at home, is as isolated as Gifty herself is, far away in Ghana. She already established in an earlier chapter how far-flung the Ghanaian community in America was. After Nana’s funeral, they largely disappeared from her and her mother’s lives again. But the funeral also emphasized how different Gifty and her mother were from the rest of the church community, showing their decreased ability to provide Gifty’s mother with any real support in Gifty’s absence.
Gifty understood that her mother needed healing, but not what she needed healing from. She had only heard people use “depression” as another word for “sadness.” Learning about major depressive disorder in college helped her to understand her mother better, and she used her classes as an excuse to ask her mother about her experience in the psych ward.
As a child, Gifty didn’t have context to understand her mother’s depression. In part, this has to do with her mother’s resistance to Western medical ideas, and in part it has to do with her church’s evident inability to understand or have compassion for it. In this way, Gifty discovers another hole in her education when she gets to college. But this also affords her an opportunity to talk to her mother about her experiences.
While she was committed, Gifty’s mother was supposed to take medicine and talk to the doctor. She took the meds there but stopped after she was released because she didn’t feel like they were helping. She didn’t want to tell the doctors they weren’t working because she was afraid they would shock her. Electroconvulsive therapy has a bad reputation from the “wild west” days of neurology, when experimental protocols were common and ethics were loose. Often, shocks were used to control patients who neither asked for nor needed treatment but were considered abnormal by society. But electroconvulsive therapy can work and is still used as a last resort for intractable depression.
In her first depression, Gifty’s mother locked herself into her own suffering and depression to a greater extent than necessary by her refusal to talk to others or accept their support. In a similar way, Gifty is locking herself into greater suffering by taking care of her mother alone and refusing to talk about her past or current struggles with any of the people around her. The specter of electroshock therapy suggests that the fear of mother and daughter is misplaced. Certainly, intimate relationships can be painful, especially when they’re lost (represented by the Chin Chin Man’s abandonment and Nana’s death). But, in the right amounts, they can also be therapeutic. In her fearful attempts to avoid pain, Gifty’s mother missed an opportunity for healing, and Gifty’s fear threatens to damage her in the present.
When she returns to practice, Katherine’s patients will be looking for last resorts. Her research involves experimental vagus nerve stimulation, which is helpful but, like DBS, is poorly understood and imperfect as a therapy.
Gifty’s research isn’t just important to her because of her family history; it’s also important because she understands how limited treatment options still are for the worst cases of addiction and depression. With ever greater specificity (like that which her research might provide, with its ability to stimulate specific neurons), therapies become less and less potentially dangerous.
Eventually, Gifty’s mother surfaced from her depression. The last time Gifty went to church in Ghana, she felt like the pastor’s sermon was directed at her personally, out of frustration over her refusal to come accept healing at the altar. He said her mother’s healing was a miracle, although “those in the West” might see it as coincidence. He shouted that when God says to rise, the people RISE. Gifty sat still and stared at him, unwilling to believe that her mother had really risen, like Jesus and Lazarus.
Gifty’s refusal to accept an altar call in Ghana is in line with her previous experiences. In America, she refused until she was absolutely certain she heard Jesus calling her. But it also underlines the distance between herself and her Ghanaian heritage. Gifty accepted her faith in its American form, but she rejects it in its Ghanaian form. It also shows how profoundly wounded Gifty has been by the things that have happened to her. She no longer believes in God because he failed to heal her brother. Thus, she’s suspicious of claims that God healed her mother.
At the airport in Ghana, Aunt Joyce wrapped Gifty into an enormous hug. Gifty realized that her aunt reflected what her mother could have been—happy, assured, proud—under other circumstances. Joyce told Gifty she was proud of her, then put her on the plane back to America. After this “feast of love,” Gifty was starving for whatever her mother had to give, including the smile she offered when she got Gifty from the airport.
In connection with the Lazarus story and its promise of literal rebirth and resurrection, Gifty’s Aunt Joyce represents what her mother might have been if she was fully alive. But, in committing herself to immigrating to America when Nana was a baby, Gifty’s mother seems to have died in an important and unfixable way. Realizing that her mother’s capacity for love has been limited by her circumstances, Gifty returns home ready to accept a more circumscribed form of intimacy.