Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Glimpse into the heart break

Photo from All Graphics 123
We were getting things ready for the Thanksgiving day feast.  John and I had taken food to my 91-year old mother's house.  She'd prepared the turkey and stuffing and we'd brought the rest.  While we were getting things together I realized that I'd forgotten a special salad dressing for the Thanksgiving Salad.  My sweet mother had put on a football game on the TV, so there was no hope of getting John to go get the salad dressing.  My 20-year old niece Kara was standing there so I said "hey, why don't you go with me and we'll go pick up that salad dressing at the grocery store.  You can give me directions to the store".

Now I'll confess that I'd been rather disappointed at John's lack of stepping up to the plate to go get the salad dressing.  But the trip ended up being a blessing because Kara and I just talked and talked.

One of the things she shared stirred up that old sadness within me about my sister Gail.  My sister has an illness called paranoid schizophrenia.  Gail's 60 years old now and this disease began when she was in her late 20s. When she was in her 30s and most of her 40s she managed to work for short stints of time and live with the boyfriend of that time.  She'd have the same boyfriend for several years and then the relationship would deteriorate and she'd meet a new one.  Once she hit her late 40s, boyfriends weren't so easy to acquire and her symptoms had worsened. When she was in Alaska Kara was taken from her and she got onto social security disability benefits.  It's amazing that she'd managed for so long given the nature of her illness.  My other sister adopted Kara. Kara and that sister have lived with my mom since then.

Gail has periodically visited and stayed with various family members.  She's rather good with her money.  She refuses to take medication because she does not see herself as ill. She alludes to her disability checks as if they are for a physical problem.  In the past few years she's gone and stayed with my mom more frequently.

It's always difficult when Gail stays.  Like most schizophrenics, she's disorganized and will leave all kinds of stuff around where she's living.  She  engages in constant washing of cloth items, but does not dry them. She'll leave damp items on various surfaces throughout the house.  She doesn't sleep much.  She has always tended to be up during the middle of the night doing things in the kitchen. In addition to the noise, it is scary. We're always concerned that she'll accidentally get a dish towel into the gas flame and start a fire. My other sister told me that she's taken to pouring out liquids during her nocturnal kitchen time.  They have been hard pressed to keep milk or bottled water in the home.

Sometimes Gail has good days.  On her good days she's generous and funny.  She's got this peculiar, dry, insightful sense of humor that always makes me laugh.

She can become rather negative however and it can be a drain.  Everything that gets discussed around her elicits odd, dark, comments.  She'll think everyone wants to do her wrong, she'll recount unhappy stories of being a victim, and she'll say things that don't make sense but are negative.

During a typical visit she'll have about 3 good days and then the bad start occurring.  During her last sojourn at my mother's house, after a month they came to the part in the cycle where my mom once again offers to help her get into a place of her own.  Gail does have some money due to the monthly disability check. She tends to be tight lipped about these funds. She also never buys or pays for anything when she visits. During the last vist, Kara had offered to go with Gail to find a rental. Kara had told Gail that she would drive her around and they could find a place. Gail never responds to any of these comments.  One day during this visit Gail was at the washer and my mom had walked up to her and told her that she was going to have to stop washing things.  Gail pushed mom out of the way so she could continue. The problem is that my mom is 91 years old and a push could have disastrous outcomes.  Fortunately Kara stepped in and helped my mom catch her balance. Kara claims that when she told Gail she can't be doing that, that Gail grabbed Kara's throat as if to choke her for a couple of moments and then stormed off to a few feet away.  I've never known Gail to be aggressive toward others, and sometimes Kara has perceived things differently than I have.  However, I don't think Kara would lie and I'm not sure how this could have been misperceived.

Kara called the police because she was worried for my mother's safety.  The police came and explained to Gail that she needed to leave.  Kara did not tell the police about the pushing and choking because she didn't want to get Gail "in trouble".  I told to her that I understand how hard all this is but she needs to, if anything like this ever happens again, let the police know.  I explained that police intervention could result in Gail being incarcerated in a psych unit and being forced to take the medication that would decrease her psychiatric symptoms.

Kara said that when Gail walked away she wanted to go get in the car and pick her up and take her somewhere.  She said that she refrained because she didn't think Gail would take her up on her offer to find a place to live and that she was worried about how Gail would behave.

As we talked my heart broke for my niece, mother, and Gail.  For 9 years I worked as an assistant administrator or administrator for secured facilities for psychiatric patients.  But even with all the connections, knowledge and experience that I have, I don't know a solution for Gail.  She has not previously been an imminent danger to herself or others so she can not be taken against her will to a 72-hour psychiatric hold at an acute hospital.  She will not voluntarily get into treatment.  She's a good human being but, due to her illness, makes poor decisions that put herself into bad to dangerous life situations.  When she's around the ones who love her, she's great on her good days, but can be nightmarish when it's bad.
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