He’s sick. That fact doesn’t mitigate what he did and will bring no comfort to the families of those killed and wounded in the unspeakable attack he perpetrated on Saturday, January 8, 2011. Nothing will. I pray each day asking God to help them cope with the pain and grief that will never leave them. I know that pain because I lost a loved one to violent death. The hurt hits with less frequency as the years pass but the depth of it never diminishes.
Years later, upon the death of my mother-in-law, my father-in-law came to live my husband and me. I knew he was odd and could never live on his own. I didn’t know he was schizophrenic and that for the next seven years caring for him and coping with his illness would consume my life.
Dad was extremely introverted, preferring to spend most of his time alone watching television or taking long walks through the neighborhood, avoiding eye contact with anyone he met along the way. He liked to eat alone and insisted on filling his multi-sectioned pill box by himself each week. Schedules were strictly adhered to and prescription refills were ordered well in advance to make sure he never ran out. He never balked when it came time for a visit with his psychiatrist. Notes from his medical records made at that time describe him as very compliant.
Even when his behavior began to change and odd became worrisome and I’d schedule more appointments with his doctors, trying to get them to understand that there was something very wrong, there were no easy answers. Why he was lurking in the halls of our home listening to conversations about what to make for dinner or whose turn it was to cook? And why he was he spending long hours standing in front of the television rocking back and forth not focused on anything. Why was he having spells where he would freeze in place for several minutes at a time shaking his head back and forth so hard I was afraid he’d hurt himself?
Of course he never did any of those things in the doctor’s office. “She worries too much,” he’d tell them.
They tried. I have to give them that. His medications were adjusted. He had a couple of brief stays in the hospital for observation. But, once he walked through those doors, he knew exactly what to say and what to do gain his release as soon as possible. I’m sure the doctors suspected he might be right. That I worried too much. Until the day he suffered a full blown psychotic episode and ran from the house accusing me of trying to kill him. That’s when we discovered he had been cheeking his pills and flushing them down the toilet. He spent eight weeks in the psych ward and another four on the medical ward before he was allowed to come again.
The following is a passage from my book based on the very real events that occurred between the time he came to live with us in 2002 and his death in 2009. The scene takes place in his hospital room. He’s been transferred to the medical ward for treatment for pneumonia and severe swallowing problems called dysphagia. He’s tried to eat too much too fast and is struggling to recover from a coughing fit.
Dad looked pitiful in his food splattered gown and the exertion had left him breathless and slumped over in the bed.
I reached for his arm to help him sit up.
“Here Dad, take hold of my arm, I’ll pull you up.”
“Get your God damned hands off me,” he yelled, slapping my arm away. “Don’t you touch me. I know who you are and I know what you’re trying to do.”
“Get her away from me,” he ordered the nurse.
“Step back, I’ll get him.” She eased over to where I’d been standing and helped Dad into the chair beside the bed. Once he was settled she motioned for me to follow her into the hall.
“There he goes being passive aggressive with you again. Sometimes they just can’t see that their kids are here to help.”
“He is not being passive aggressive. He is schizophrenic and he’s off his medication. If you don’t get him properly medicated again he’s going to have another psychotic episode and be back up on the sixth floor.”
“He was on the psychiatric ward recently?”
“Why don’t you know this?” I recoiled at having to ask this of another nurse.
“I can see that you’re upset,” she answered. “Give me a few minutes to get him re-settled and I’ll be right with you.”
I watched from the doorway as she and an aide stripped his bed, put on fresh linens and got him cleaned up and into a new gown. A chill rand down my spine when I heard him begin to speak.
“I know what she’s doing. She’s killing me slowly. She poisons my food. You do it too. You’re all in on it but you can’t help it, you have to do what the boss tells you.”
“Who’s the boss?” I asked from the doorway.
“You know. You can’t fool me. It’s the government. They’re in charge. They know everything about you even before you’re born. Now they want me to die and you have to help them.”
Being fearful of the government and being convinced they are out to get you is not an uncommon delusion in those suffering from severe mental illness. It’s irrational for sure. It’s extremely dangerous, and because the victims of this dreadful illness feel they can’t trust anyone, no one knows what they might do until it happens.
I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional. But, from my perspective, no one will make sense of this tragedy because there is no sense to be made. We have to stop blaming political rhetoric, song lyrics and some unknown evil and recognize that Jared Loughner suffers from a deadly disease. He has to be brought to trial for his crimes and removed from society. But, those burdened with making the decision about where he’s to be incarcerated or if he lives or dies must understand that he is not evil. He is sick.
I’ve been reluctant to write about this subject on my blog. I created it because I’m a writer and it’s a way to connect with new readers. It was never my intention to use it as a forum to comment on news of the day. However, I feel compelled to put my thoughts about this event in writing and I’ll end today with one more passage from my work in progress.
The following is part of a scene recounting the first time I met the man who would become my father-in-law and how he reminded me of someone very important from my childhood, my Uncle Louie.
Shaking off the memory of one person in order to acknowledge the presence of another, I’d greeted the man who would become my father-in-law; convinced I’d seen something familiar in him.
They have the same light in their eyes, I thought with affection.
Sitting in a hospital parking lot so many years later, I was just beginning to discover how very wrong I’d been.
Had he been pretending all these years? Is the real Rodger the one who announced to the nursing staff that I’m useless and no damned good? Does the medicine he takes every day allow him to be himself or does it mask his true nature? Who is this man who lives in my house and paces the halls late at night?
As hard as I tried to block out the thoughts, I couldn’t stop the images from coming into my mind. Flashes of movie maniacs appeared unbidden. Norman Bates from Psycho leered through a curtain of memory only to be replaced by rapid fire clips of Jack Torrance careening through the halls of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.
“Stop being ridiculous,” I said, as I shook off the mood I’d created around me and started the car. As I turned onto the highway I told myself that my thoughts and the fact that I was now talking to myself in an otherwise empty car were more an indication of my mental state than his.
Always an avid reader I’ve learned a little bit about a lot of things, and from my reading I know that schizophrenics usually aren’t the knife wielding lunatics often portrayed in movies. Most of them are timid, introverted people who want to be left alone. Unfortunately, very often when they get their wish they end up homeless, in the hospital, or in jail.
And sometimes, even when they aren’t left alone those things happen.
Where did I go wrong? What did I miss and how can I make sure this doesn’t happen again? Those questions and more had gone unanswered as I’d covered the miles between the hospital and home, my mind and body too tired to cope with the guilt I felt at that moment. Despite all my good intentions, I’d let him down.
- The hell of living with a schizophrenic (salon.com)
- What are the Most Effective Treatments for Psychotic Depression? (brighthub.com)
- Should We Lock Up Mentally Ill Before They Act? (cbsnews.com)
- The Arizona Shooter: Ages 18-25 Diciest Psychologically for Men, Doctors Say (aolhealth.com)