Regina’s Closet is a memoir written by Diana M. Raab and it is a powerful and emotional novel well worth reading. Just imagine being ten years old and finding your grandmother dead from ending her own life. This is exactly what happened to Diana. Decades later Diana’s mother gives her the journal her grandmother Regina had kept for years. Thus began Diana’s journey into her beloved grandmother’s past which brought her closer in memory and in understanding maybe some of the reasons behind why Regina took her own life.
Diana weaves material from Regina’s journal with thoughts from others and her own personal thoughts, feelings and things she learned throughout the years about her grandmother into this story. She also uses incorporates the historical significance of the time Regina was growing up in. We learn early on that Regina did not have an easy childhood. She lived through the horrors of World War I. Her own mother had died early in the war from cholera, her father seemed lost in a world of his own and her brothers left to make their own lives. Regina and her sister Beronia were left on their own to cope and try to survive. As with all stories of war, we are taken through many of the horrors that people were subjected to, made all the harder by the fact that Regina didn’t have a support system other than herself. It is a true testament to just how strong a survivor Regina was as she pulled herself through many trials to make a better life for herself.
What I found most interesting about the journal and Diana’s thoughts was the way the generations link together. How what happens in one generation can seep down into the next one. We see it in the relationships between grandmother, mother and daughter. We also see it in terms of the devastating illness of depression which manifests itself in generation after generation although differently.
Regina’s own mother had said ‘she would gladly kill me because of my being a girl’ (pg 18). She felt girls had too hard of a time in the world and Regina felt all the while growing up that her mother favoured the boys over her. She felt her mother resented her and yet everyone else seemed to really like her. Imagine how lost and alone you would feel without a mother’s love when they are right there with you; it has an impact on the rest of your life in anything and everything you would do.
Regina marries and eventually has her own child, Eva. You can already see from the journals how depression is forming in her life. She gets up late, spends her time going to parties and playing bridge while the maid takes care of Eva. She seems to want to do better but just can’t. She’s living in a marriage that isn’t so good and you can sense she is already worried about aging. She’s lonely and sees no way out. At this time the beginning of World War II is starting to come about. One day soldiers burst into Regina’s apartment and beat her and arrest her. She ends up with kidney problems for the rest of her life. Again, a tragic and frightening event that would have a far reaching effect on her mind and well being. Regina, Samuel and Eva manage to flee Vienna for Paris and then on to the United States to start a new life there.
They start a business in Brooklyn, New York and struggled through learning a new language and new ways. Regina was still feeling stuck in a marriage where she was the one working the hardest and doing the most. Regina loved to dance and spent a lot of time in the dance halls. It was one such time that she had Eva with her and Eva met the man she was to marry, Edward; Diana’s father. They married and lived with Regina and Samuel as Eva had said that Regina had made her feel guilty about leaving her alone to live out her days with Samuel. So time passed and eventually Diana was born.
Diana and her grandmother Regina had an amazingly close relationship thankfully. Eva seemed destined to not want much to do with bringing up a child as her mother before her and yet with Diana, Regina was the perfect caregiver. They still all lived together and Diana felt loved by both her grandparents even though her grandfather seemed awkward with her at times. Unfortunately the fighting between her grandparents was as alive as ever.
As Diana grew up and needed her grandmother less and Regina found herself aging even more, I think it all became too much for her. She was a very proud and beautiful woman~elegant in appearance and stature. It seems there may have been things that Regina said that hinted at her thoughts of suicide~in the last few years before her suicide she seemed to want to put things in order. I think the catalyst that finally drove Regina over the delicate edge she was living on was when the family decided to have the very first vacation ever by themselves. All the other times they had invited Regina along. When they came home and afterwards, she had just never seemed the same and finally in 1964 took her life.
I can only imagine the pain she lived with. Depression is a scary and seemingly endless struggle. What seems easy for some people isn’t for those suffering depression. Her life had been a struggle for her; I imagine all the feelings inside her just shouting out in her mind all the time. Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of loneliness and sadness in a world full of people and just not knowing what to do with those feelings.
In May 2001, Diana goes through her own struggle when she finds she has breast cancer. Diana comes face to face with a better understanding of the depression her grandmother suffered with. Diana feared depression with good reason; she had seen both her own mother suffer from it and her grandmother take her life from it. She began to do more research and learned as much as she could about the illness in order to better understand how it had affected her family. Regina’s journal and Diana’s journey both through writing it, suffering her own serious illness and feeling the effects of depression have brought the understanding to Diana of how important journaling is~something she definitely inherited from her grandmother.
Truly, I feel honored to have shared through this journal in the life of what was an amazing woman. I’d like to thank Diana for sending me this book, it has had an emotional impact on me and I think this is a book worth reading for anyone. It’s a beautiful story told by a grandaughter who loved her grandmother more than anything. It’s a story that’s important too because depression affects so many. For many, things that they have lived through and endured have such a lasting effect that it sadly leads them to believe that the only way out of the pain is to end their lives. To live with such pain is truly sad and so many special people are lost. You can visit Diana’s website here and see some of her other works.