Monthly Archives: June 2018

An Open Letter to Kate Spade’s Family

Hello Andy.

I know that you and Bea** don’t know me, but I just want to convey my sincerest sorrow at your loss. Kate was a beautiful woman and she created beautiful things for all of us. She was your best friend, and your partner or your mother, and you will miss her far more than I will ever understand.

I know that members of the psychiatric community are swearing that you should have seen this coming.***  They really don’t understand how good Kate was at smiling and saying all the right things, do they? They don’t understand what it’s like, living with someone who has a serious mood disorder on a daily basis.

My mother used to come and visit my children and the minute she’d walk through the door she’d exclaim how much they’d grown. I was always stunned at how easily she’d perceive this when I, their mother, never noticed their growth until their clothes didn’t fit anymore. My mom told me that it was being with my children every day that made it hard for me to see their growth, because the change was incremental and therefore not very visible to me. My mother, on the other hand, saw my daughters only once every three or four weeks, which gave her the objectivity to see how they had grown.

The psychiatrists don’t realize that you were caught in the same dilemma. Kate’s doctors saw her once every month or two, and her descent into emotional hell was obvious to them. You, on the other hand, saw Kate every day; you spoke to her every day. The change was incremental for you and therefore that much harder to observe.

And then there was the fact that you had been dealing with her mood disorder for years and years. You had learned to look past her mood swings, her habit of isolating and pushing you away. You had learned that focusing too much on her mood changes made her irritable and even more depressed. She hated feeling like the family ‘problem’ and did everything she could to mask her symptoms, and so you learned not to point out her obvious depression and anxiety because it only made things worse for her. She didn’t want to make life difficult for you and Bea and so she tried her best to smile and sound happy, even when she wasn’t.  You didn’t want to make life more difficult for her, and so you learned to quietly accept her just as she was, whatever mood she was in, however hard it was for her to engage with you.

Combine that with your inability to observe the incremental changes, and you have a potentially fatal combination that masked Kate’s actual intent on the last night that you spoke to her.

Please don’t blame yourself, and tell Bea not to blame herself either. You both loved Kate, and she knew that you loved her. She just thought that both of you would be better off without her, even though we all know that she was so very wrong about that.

People who don’t work with the seriously mentally ill just don’t understand how much of a struggle it is to live a joyful, rich, and productive life while dealing with a mood disorder.

People who aren’t depressed compare Major Depressive Disorder to their sadness and grief, when it’s much more like comparing a nasty cold to pneumonia.  Most medications won’t do anything to impact the duration and intensity of a cold, yet without medication and medical intervention, pneumonia is often fatal.

People who don’t have anxiety disorders compare them to worry or mild anxiousness, when it’s much more like comparing a burn on your hand to being on fire. Both are painful but only one has the potential to be fatal.

People who have never been with someone who is bipolar have no idea what the heights of mania can do to a person, or what the deepest depths of depression can remove from their humanity. I had a client who described her depressive swings as “oily, black, and incapable of admitting light”. The rest of the world cannot imagine how helpless bipolar individuals feel as their mood swings deny them the right to experience daily life in some sort of consistent manner; what it is like to wonder what outrageous things your mania will cause you to do, or just how deep and searing the hell of your depressive swing will be.

People who have never sat for hours floridly imagining the myriad of ways to end their own lives have no idea how terrifying and yet comforting those ideas can be.

You did everything you could to love her and protect her, Andy, but in the end you had to give her the right to live (and end) her own life on her own terms. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but respecting the rights of the mentally ill while doing your best to protect them from their illness is a delicate dance that defies even the most wise and observant of therapists and psychiatrists. You were not Kate’s therapist or her psychiatrist. You were simply the man who loved her more than anyone else. You and Bea were also the portal to the greatest joys she had ever known, and for that, I thank you both for shining light into Kate’s darkness.

My heart breaks for you and Bea, and I want you to know that the community of those who love mentally ill friends and family members stand with you and honor Kate’s legacy and all her work.

May God comfort your family and all of Kate’s friends and colleagues during this difficult time.

** Beatrice is Spade’s daughter.

***https://www.cbsnews.com/video/kate-spade-death-psychiatrist-says-suicide-does-not-just-happen-out-of-the-blue/

For Andy’s statement about Kate’s death, look here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/06/style/andy-spade-statement.html

 

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It’s Finally Over

I have been trying to write again for over a month, and have found myself utterly unable to write a word. Everything I try to say comes out wrong, and in general I feel like someone has sucked my brain out of my head and left me bereft of thought and sense.

A friend told me that grieving makes you feel like you are walking through jello; that everything is exhausting and takes more energy than you have in your body. She also said that she cried at the oddest times, mostly at church and while hiking. I can confirm that I have cried both in church and while working out, so she must be right. Some days I feel emotionally numb and can get through the day without much trouble, and other days I have no motivation to work or move; all I want to do is sit and cry.

My father died of Alzheimer’s on May 7th.

We found out that he had Alzheimer’s about a month before he died. Until then we believed that he had vascular dementia that was caused by his 2009 stroke. And honestly, he did have vascular dementia… it’s just that Alzheimer’s snuck up on us and started turning up the volume on his decline until the advance of Alzheimer’s was unmistakable. Vascular dementia has a much slower trajectory, allowing its victims to suffer for many years before they die. My grandmother died of vascular dementia shortly after she turned 90. She had suffered with vascular dementia for 10-15 years before she died; we have no idea how long she had dementia for sure because she was living in another state and so we didn’t clearly perceive the onset of her dementia. The late stages of her dementia took far too long to take her life and she suffered, unable to move much or speak at all for close to a year before she died.

My father’s death took us by storm, happening in only seven days. It began when he struck another resident, giving the poor man a black eye. The facility increased his medication to reduce my father’s agitation, and he began to sleep almost 24 hours a day. I insisted that he was over-medicated. Looking back, I think I was just in denial that his dementia was advancing with lightening speed.  The memory care facility where we placed my dad is renowned for its ability to deal with seniors with behavior problems; the majority of residents are fully functioning despite being medicated to prevent aggression. The sad fact is that my father was simply moving quickly into his final stages.

My father fell four times in four days, splitting open both eyebrows, bruising himself extensively, and finally breaking his upper left arm very badly. He seemed to be unable to stand or get out of bed without collapsing to the floor. The day he broke his arm was the last day that he was able to communicate at all; that night the hospice nurses found him thrashing in his bed and they were unable to calm him no matter what medications for pain or anxiety they administered. They called my mother just short of midnight to let her know that he appeared to have terminal agitation. Terminal agitation is familiar to hospice nurses, as many patients become restless, agitated, unable to be calmed or find a comfortable position as they move into their final days. The hospice nurse did her best to comfort my father, even holding him in her arms to comfort him as he struggled, calling for my mother and crying out in distress.  The hospice workers called to let my mother know that my father would likely die in the next four to five days, and she called me immediately afterwards to let me know that my father was dying.

By the time I got to see my father Sunday morning, he was already unresponsive. By Sunday night he was showing signs of wasting (hollow cheeks, change in skin tone.) By Monday morning his temples were hollow. I sat with him, singing hymns and reading Scripture. My mother and I discussed what we might want at his memorial service. My dad ran a fever that couldn’t be suppressed and we listened to the sounds of the ‘death rattle’ as he struggled to breathe. We finally left at 5:30pm to head home for dinner because his death seemed to be dozens of hours away; there were no signs that he was in his final hours.

The hospice nurse that arrived only 30 minutes after we left said that she had never seen anyone progressing through their final hours so quickly. It was as if my father had waited for us to leave so that he could die without us having to watch his death.

He died shortly after 8pm and the memory care facility called us so that we could come to grieve and pray over him before the funeral home arrived to take his body. I couldn’t stop shaking and could barely speak after I got the call, but somehow I made it to the care facility to be with my mother and our close friends. Later on I found out that shaking, uncontrollable crying, and inability to speak are common signs of the shock of grief. God’s grace alone got me safely through that twenty minute drive—that and two of my friends who listened to the depths of my grief. I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me.

There have been many challenges since my father’s death:

My estranged brother decided to attend the memorial, which meant I saw him for the first time in six years. He did not welcome the reunion…but later emailed me. I am still trying to figure out how to respond. My father’s death reduced the number of abusers in my life by one…and adding my brother back would increase the number by one. I don’t know what to do…and yet I miss my brother very much.

Both of my daughters were home at the same time for the first time since Christmas 2016. It was hard to spend time with them and simultaneously take care of my mother, give the eulogy at my father’s funeral, and grieve my father’s death. In all truth it was hard to function at all.

At the same time, there have been moments of extreme grace:

My church family came through for me in ways that I could not have imagined. Teri’s husband Andy cried while playing Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone. Teri died on February 11th, 2018 and her memorial was on March 10th, 2018. I know that playing the same song he played for his wife’s funeral only two months earlier was extremely painful and yet he did this to comfort me. My senior pastor, the church staff, the Praise Band, and the ladies who volunteer to staff funeral receptions did everything they possibly could to make the entire funeral deeply comforting and almost effort free for my family. I have never felt so loved and supported by my church family, and it was truly beautiful!

My son-in-law and his family bent over backwards to make sure that my mom, my daughters, and I had all the support we needed. They inconvenienced themselves to serve us, and I am deeply thankful for their presence in my life.

My parent’s family of friends were amazing, offering a lifeline for my mom as she faced the loss of her lifelong love. They made sure that she was never alone when she needed a shoulder to cry on or a friend to provide a meal.  They made sure that I never had to worry about my mom. They showed up to pray with us at my father’s deathbed. They proved their love in actions that lifted our hearts when we were grieving.

 

This has been a long and difficult journey for my family. I am well aware that many of my readers are also on this journey with one or more of their parents. Know that I continue to pray for all of you as your parents find their way back home to God.

My mother and I truly believe that my father, who was fixated on going home with my mom from the minute he entered a care facility in February, realized that he could never go back home to his own house, and so he chose to head home to his Father’s house. I know that he is truly happy in his Father’s house and he finally knows that we did all we could to make his life joyful in his final months.

Happy Ultimate Birthday, Daddy!  You are home forever, and I will be there soon enough. I can’t wait to see you again!