Nikki Sixx and the sister he never knew

Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue

Nikki Sixx

Every time I run across another story about a family with a long-lost member who was institutionalized, I hear the same themes and emotions expressed — shame, guilt, fear, pain, secrecy, regret.

Thanks to my friend Janet Kilgore, an outstanding writer, editor and humorist, I have found another story. And this one is from a most unlikely source.

Nikki Sixx, of the heavy metal band Motley Crue, reveals in his book This is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life that he had a sister who was born with Down Syndrome. Lisa, who was also blind and almost completely deaf, was sent to an institution at an early age. Nikki has no memory of ever seeing her.

Mom, where’s Lisa?

Sixx says when he asked his mother about Lisa, she said Lisa got too upset when the family tried to visit her at the institution.

“She was comfortable there, with people who cared for her, and seeing us would ruin everything,” he quotes his mother as saying. She told him that Lisa was born in the ‘60s and things were different then. There was no way for her to take care of a disabled child.

“I have always felt guilty that I didn’t think of Lisa very often when I was growing up,” Sixx says. “I went through life just accepting the situation.”

I don’t understand this

After Sixx became an adult, he asked his mother how to contact Lisa. “I want to go see her. Please…I don’t understand any of this and I need to…”

Sixx called the facility where Lisa lived and talked to a staff person, who told him that her greatest pleasure was sitting in her wheelchair and listening to the local rock station. Because she was almost deaf, the volume had to be really loud. “That made me smile.”

The problem with procrastinating

Sixx called the home several times to check on his sister, but he never went to see her. Several years later, she died.

“The problem with procrastinating is that sometimes, it bites you in the ass,” he writes. “I got busy, I went on tour, I went through a divorce and I lost connection to that feeling that I had to make Lisa’s life right. And now she was dead.

“I have had to forgive myself for a lot of things in my life, but this was the hardest.”

The legacy of Charles and Anne de Gaulle

Anne and Charles de Gaulle

In just a few days – November 9, to be exact – it will be the 42nd anniversary of the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle.  The “Man of Destiny,” as Winston Churchill called him, is revered in his homeland for rallying the Free French Forces after Nazi Germany took over France in 1940.

De Gaulle is considered one of the great French leaders in history. But he has been reviled outside of France for being arrogant, autocratic and unreasonable in his dealings with other countries.

Indeed, he was a complex man. What is little known about him is the depth of his character and his capacity for love and tenderness. He didn’t show these qualities to many people, but he showered them on his youngest daughter Anne, who had Down Syndrome.

He sang songs to her and read her stories. He called her “my joy” and said, “She helped me overcome the failures in all men and to look beyond them.”

Veil of secrecy

De Gaulle and his wife Yvonne did not reveal publicly that their daughter, born in 1928, had intellectual and physical disabilities. In fact, there is very little evidence of Anne’s disability in the French archives that chronicle de Gaulle’s life.  Their silence no doubt was related to the eugenics movement that was sweeping Europe and the United States at the time and the shame involved in having a “defective” in the family.

Despite their insistence on secrecy, Anne was not sent away to an institution. She lived her entire life with her family. And even though she had difficulty walking, she traveled extensively with her parents.

One of the few mentions of her and her condition is contained in a letter de Gaulle wrote his other daughter Elisabeth after Anne died of pneumonia in 1948.

“Her soul has been set free,” he wrote. “But the disappearance of our little suffering child, of our little girl with no hope, has brought us immense pain.”

Anne’s lasting influence

Anne de Gaulle’s legacy lives on. After her death, Yvonne and Charles created a foundation in her honor and established a hospital for girls with intellectual disabilities. The hospital is in a beautiful chateau near Versailles.

Chateau de Vert Coeur

Today, Anne de Gaulle’s foundation is run by Etienne Ventroux, the de Gaulles’ nephew, and a granddaughter.  In keeping with the times, they are focusing less on institutionalization and more on integration of people with disabilities.

In 1962, de Gaulle reported that he had been saved from an assassin’s bullet by the frame of a picture of Anne. The picture, which de Gaulle always carried with him, had been resting on a shelf underneath the rear windshield of a car that was hit by machine gun fire in Paris.

I continue to be amazed at the number of people – including the famous and powerful — who have first-hand experience with intellectual disabilities. Charles de Gaulle’s story, even though fraught with pain and grief, is nevertheless hopeful. It has a more positive outcome than many others from that era.

I am hopeful that in the 21st century, with the focus on inclusion and possibilities, with greater understanding and less fear and shame, that there will be too many stories to count of positive outcomes for people like Anne.