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23 April 2007


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Firstly, let me say I'm not a parent. My parents had to pull the plug on my sister though. And I'm fairly certain it was the worst thing they've ever had to do. My father told me after the fact that you're not supposed to outlive your children and watching her take in that last breath was unbearable. But they also knew she was gone and no machine was bringing her back. (She had had leukemia and then a bone marrow transplant but it never took and her body was fighting itself until she died.) That being said, my mom and I later discussed Terri Schaivo and I discovered that if I were in that persistent vegitative state, she'd keep me there so my parents are now not my medical decision makers. I wouldn't want to be like that and I wouldn't want to force them to make that choice for me.

Further, it really seems to vary from parent to parent. My mom's best friend has a son who is schizophrenic and doesn't do anything about it. He breaks into the house and steals things. He self medicates with drugs and alcohol. He's been homeless. He has lived with them. As far as I know they've tried everything they can to help him. They've paid for multiple rehabs and times in the mental hospital. The mom won't give up on him. The dad won't let him in the house or near the mom anymore. He's had to do that to protect her and himself and their daughter and her kids.

And, when my sister was sick I was in your shoes. I was staying at my sister's house taking care of her kids while she received her bone marrow transplant and while her husband worked and went back and forth to another state to visit her. And when she returned I tried so hard to be there and be helpful but ultimately I had to call my father to come get me. It got too hard for me. She had chemo brain which made her nuts. She was taking a lot of meds which were making her nuts and I hated her husband, so I walked away. I refuse to feel guilty about it. I could've done more and stayed there with them and then even moved to South Carolina (where they moved shortly after I left) with them to help them out, but I couldn't do it. About a year and a half later she tried to kill herself because her husband (who I hated) was divorcing her. My mom ended up out there and spent over a year. My mom asked me to go there and take care of my sister, to give up my job and my life a second time and go there. I refused. And I refuse to feel guilty about it. I did what was right for me at the time. There comes a point where ultimately you have to take care of you and if doing so means you have no contact with your brother then that's what you should do.

(Woah, I didn't mean to post an entire novel in a comment.)


Wow, Jo. Thanks for sharing your novel - it does really help to know about your experiences. I'm sorry about your sister.

I separated myself from my brother a long time ago - or tried to. I didn't even have him at my wedding, a fact that he and my parents remind me of often (it was my day dammit and I wasn't about to have any schizo alcoholic ruin my open bar party)

But it's the parents... and I do almost anything for my parents. That's my conflict. And no matter how many months brother spends in jail, no matter how many people he harms, how much he drinks, how much money his treatment costs - they will welcome him into their house, and they will say that "You need to hate the disease and not the sick person."

They will tell me that they can't spend Thanksgiving with me knowing that he is alone, and why don't I invite him over also? When I hate being in the same room with him.

But along with all this I'm trying to look at the situation from a distance because it's easier for me to try to solve problems for other people than it is my own.

Wow this whole thing is turning into a a whole lotta therapy!

Peeved Michelle

If it were as simple as being able to stop futile treatments as someone drifted off toward death, or pulling the plug on someone who is already functionally dead, I would treat a child with a terminal mental illness the same way that I would treat a child with a terminal physical illness. In reality, you know that the difference is that "letting someone go" who has a mental illness just means that it gets worse for them and for everyone else and since they are physically healthy, it could go on a for a long time. After a reasonable amount of time and effort, I would give up hope of finding effective treatments that could return the person to a normal life and would focus on what can be done to keep the person out of harm's way and from harming others, even if that meant involuntary commitment and sedation for the rest of that person's life.

Tom Guarriello

I like Peeved Michelle's logic a lot. When "letting go" means not taking the call from the police at 4 AM, it's an awful lot to ask of a family. Not that hanging up at 4 is less loving, only way more resolute than most of us can be. Holding ourselves to a standard of "perfection" on these things is very harsh. Recognizing the circumstances under which you will/will not respond is a valuable use of a family's time. This affirms everyone's choices and lets others know when you might need help in maintaining your resolve.

I'm so sorry your family is facing these painful moments, Laura.

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