CLEVELAND — Scroll to the bottom of this story for the recipe and an extended version of this interview.

Everyone has a special family recipe. That favorite go-to dish when they crave feelings of comfort, nostalgia and love. And, every family faces their own challenges. Struggles such as mental illness, addiction, financial strain and loss are universal. They touch families from all walks of life.

Food brings people together, and as we are invited into a family’s home to cook a special meal, we will also have an intimate and honest conversation about the real struggles this family is facing.

By sharing real stories and opening up, other families can relate, learn and feel a little less lonely.

Every family has a secret recipe and every family has a secret. This is Secret Recipe.

Karen Kraus is a good friend to 3News meteorologist Hollie Strano. She wrote the following:

“It’s like a boulder that falls out of the sky and lands on me mom, it pushes me so far down into the ground and I cannot push it off.”

That was how my daughter explained to me what she was dealing with.

This was about a decade after her preteen years of thinking she was just experiencing night terrors. That was the beginning of her journey into mental illness.

As she progressed through her teen years, her grades dropped, she slept a lot and her interaction with her friends was decreasing. She said that she didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Those were her words.

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All of these events seem to pass as simply being a teenager. Always sleeping, lack of interest in the family, laziness.

Time goes on. My daughter gets married and has my first grandchild.

After the second grandchild was born, we learned from her doctor that she was cutting herself. She wasn’t saying a word to anyone about how much she was struggling. "Cutting is just a way to let the steam out," she’d say.

In time, our relationship had become very difficult. Her inability to have the mental strength needed in being a wife and a mother had greatly put pressure on her marriage and the entire family.

Denial… Looking back I know that it was my denial that my beautiful daughter wasn’t perfect and couldn’t keep up.

I simply could not understand the behavior.

The next decade was filled with many stays at mental health facilities, poor living and self neglect for my daughter. Family time had become fewer and further between and strained at best.

Vera’s children knew that they were greatly loved, but that mommy was sick, she didn’t feel good. That is how they grew up.

Hindsight… In hindsight I now know that when my daughter went reclusive and stopped talking to me is exactly when I should’ve been beating down her door, started asking questions. I should’ve started listening deeper and pushing harder to find more help.

All the help that I thought I was giving by helping with the children, the housework and the everyday demands of her world, should’ve gone toward more invasive support for her.

Even educating myself to better understand this illness that the person I love was experiencing, the dust bunnies could have waited.

In the end, it was her reckless lack of self-care and self-numbing of the pain that took her from us all at the age of 38. She has been fighting for her life for 20+ years. I never quite understood that until it was too late.

I am sharing our family's story with the hope that even if one parent or one family member or one friend notices any of these signs in someone they know that they would start asking questions. 

Take a closer look and listen deeper.

If you even question that you may now be sensing this in someone you love, educate yourself on how to approach it and get the help of a professional.

We can’t fix them, but we can hold their hand as they go through it. if they don’t put their hand out… That’s when we need to reach for it.

RECIPE:

Karen Kraus Secret Recipe for banana bread
Here's how you can make the banana bread that Karen was cooking in this interview.
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