The knock on the door I knew would someday come was here. It was a bitter cold January night, about 11:15 pm. Two very kind but somber police officers brought news I already had felt in my heart—that my son was never coming home again. My son Joey had been killed earlier that evening. He was the victim I saw wrapped in a white sheet, laying on the pavement on the evening news.
I tried to prepare for this day, for most of my life. Now that it was here I wanted to scream, “No! Not yet! Not now! I’m not ready. It’s too soon. I just talked with him this afternoon and he seemed fine.” But the truth was, he was a little manic; writing a new essay on his computer, making lists for items he would need to begin a new career path—refurbishing properties—preparing to paint his room, and going out to buy a new wristband for his watch.
Since the mental health professionals wanted him to be emancipated from his family I had looked at a property that a friend had that was for sale, that needed to be refurbished, and one in which Joey might live. Although Joey had some experience refurbishing properties, I honestly didn’t understand how the “professionals” thought this plan was supposed to work. He was 45 years old and had never lived on his own. Nevertheless, Joey said, “Yes,” he would be home when I got there around dinnertime. “Yes,” he said, we would then go look at the property.
This would have been the first property that he could live in while he worked on renovating it. He could become independent, which is what his mental health providers had been pushing him to do.
The only other thing I can remember him saying, that last day of his life, was: “Mom, I am so sorry for all the worry I have given you. It will get better soon. I love you.” I have searched my memory many times trying to remember anything else we might have said to each other during that last exchange. But I always came back to those last words: “I love you” because ultimately, what else matters?
What happened between the time I received his telephone call that afternoon and 6:23 pm. that evening, when he ran into interstate traffic is open to speculation. It is my opinion that he just gave up the fight. Do I believe he committed suicide? No, not consciously. Whatever went on in Joey’s mind was not preplanned. It just happened, on the spur of the moment, like so many other things that had happened in his life. It happened without reasoning of the consequences. You see my son was mentally ill.
I can say that now as casually and as a matter of fact as a parent might say, “My child is diabetic,” or “My child has asthma,” or “My child is class president.” Saying someone is mentally ill is usually said—in jest—when your child, or someone does something incredibly stupid. However, I can tell you there is nothing funny about mental illness. When did I stop thinking that discussing the fact that you have a child with mental illness was not something you talked about in polite conversation? Sadly, not until the day he died.
The reasons most people don’t talk about mental illness are varied and multiple. With me it was because of how my son dealt with his illness. It seemed he often felt ashamed and ostracized, as if no one would accept him as a person worthy of love.
Surely we can do better.
I hope my story will help remove the stigma from those with mental illness, and bring those who suffer from this condition an opportunity to come forward and be allowed the dignity to live a productive life; one that does not include jail or prison, as that is how society seems to control a large percentage of our mentally ill population.
To effect changes to the system that is currently in place, we must start by talking to our loved ones. We must be unafraid to share with the world what it’s like to live with those afflicted with mental illness. Mental illness is not the fault of the person. Mental illness is a biological fault sometimes made worse by environment.
We seem to have a need to blame someone for the condition; especially the afflicted one. Hopefully my story will put the “blame” where it belongs; with man’s inhumanity to mankind. When the answers and solutions are not at our fingertips, experts shrug their shoulders and walk away.
Excuses should no longer be tolerated. I believe this is one of the last “closet doors” we need to open. Mental illness affects almost everyone; most simply do not even realize.
RESIDENT OF OHIO AND THE MOTHER OF JOEY, WHO ENDED HIS LIFE ON JANUARY 16, 2008.
Published by The Treatment Advocacy Center