When I was young, perhaps around 12 or so, I remember riding in the car with mom and dad. Mom pointed out a house to dad and mentioned that the trial was over. As I sat in the back seat of dad’s car the house became more and more fascinating to me as I heard mom telling dad that the woman who lived there had been acquitted on the murder charges. A dim light shone from an small window on the second floor of the house. Mom wondered out loud if she was still living in the house. The divorced mother had shot and killed her son while he slept in his room. She never denied shooting him. She never claimed self defense. It was a mercy killing. She claimed her son needed to find peace. Her son suffered with severe paranoid schizophrenia and after years of not being able to stop the fear and stop the voices and stop the depression, she decided to give him that peace that he begged her for. I watched that dim light fade as we turned the corner and drove down the road, and I remember thinking, “How can a mother kill her own child?” It made no sense to me. Nor did it make sense to me that a jury would let her off, scott free, for such a horrible crime.
A few months ago I read an article in the paper about a man who lived with his 81 year old mother. He took good care of her, keeping her house clean and making sure she took her medications. He loved her dearly, and it showed. And she in turn, loved him. In fact, as the paper quoted the man’s own daughter. “She may have been the only one left on this earth that loved him or had anything to do with him.” He was on disability and to save money there were times he opted to not buy his anti psychotic medications used for treating his paranoid schizophrenia. His daughter was quoted as saying “He is a ticking time bomb when he’s off of his meds.”
That time bomb went off about 5a.m. one chilly morning in late February of this year when the man who loved his mother called 911 and told the police that his grandfather, (who has been dead for years) woke him and told him he (the grandfather)had shot his mother.
After years of dealing with Doug’s schizophrenia, I still think about that house and that conversation mom and dad had about the mother who killed her own son. I understand more now than I did at the age of 12. I empathize with that poor mother who truly believed that she was giving her son the peace he would never have had when she pulled that trigger. She was so sure it was the best thing for him that she was willing to risk spending the rest of her life in prison.
I have seen my son suffer for so many years. Even as a child, he could find no happiness. I am consumed with guilt that I, as his mother, can not take his pain and his fear away.
Through out the years I have often thought about that mother who shot her son, and I’m ashamed to say, I could have been her.
Shortly before Easter this year my husband and I talked about Doug coming home to visit during the holiday. We even discussed turning the covered patio in our backyard into a one bedroom apartment for him. It would get him out of the ‘assisted living’ situation, which we have always hated and it would let him have a little independence, yet he’d be close enough that we could keep an eye on him and help him through his scary times. I mentioned our idea to my sister-n-law, who has always been very supportive and loving to Doug. She sat silent for a moment and then let me know that she didn’t think it would be a good idea. She reminded me of his outbursts. I thought about the article I’d read in the paper. I tried to convince myself that it would be different. That with support of family and the comfort of being near us, he would do fine.
Then I remembered the owner of the very first assisted living center Doug lived at. He and Doug had gotten into a physical fight. This man was in his 70’s and had just had heart surgery. The man could have died from his injuries. Doug went to jail and then into a mental hospital. I called the owner of the facility, which was about 3 hours north of home, to make sure the man was alright. He told me Doug was a good kid and that he was shocked at his sudden change in personality. He said that Doug talked about me all the time and about how I was the best mom in the world, but that when his personality changed he spoke of getting back to Gastonia and killing me and his step dad.That was around 2003.
I remembered the chills I felt as that man talked about Doug’s personality change. I’d seen it many times myself. I’d always believed that it was something I was doing to set him off. That I somehow pushed the wrong buttons with him, as he did with me. But I soon realized, others pushed wrong buttons as well. Or maybe the voices in his head pushed the wrong buttons.
Anyway… back to our Easter visit. It was clear to me within the first 15 minutes of our drive home from Marion for our long Easter week-end, that any plans of Doug moving back home wouldn’t work. By nature, I’m a very laid back person. I was such a nervous wreck by the time we pulled into our drive way that I had to take a good long hot shower to calm myself down. Not that I was afraid of him, I was just frustrated and realized that his mind is so far gone that I am not equipped with the tools needed to communicate with him.
I love him dearly. He tries so hard to please. But he does not live in the same reality as the rest of us. I can explain to him very clearly something I ask of him, and he’ll do exactly the opposite. By the end of any given hour spent with him, I’m pulling my hair out. Again, I’m consumed with guilt. Guilt for being an alcoholic when he was a young boy. Guilt for leaving his father and making him a product of a broken home. Guilt for conceiving a child while in a loveless marriage. Guilt for feeling guilty about conceiving my child.
Guilt for remembering over and over again, the story of the mother that shot and killed her schizophrenic son. Guilt for understanding why she did that. Guilt for marrying Doug’s father and hating him for turning his back on Doug, and guilt for wishing I could do the same.