When my beautiful daughter, Donna, was only 21 years old, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She was devastated. I always knew that if she became severely debilitated, that she would not want to live.
However, she learned to cope with the MS, as, fortunately she had the relapsing/remitting kind. She was having exacerbations every 3 years that pretty much put her in bed, and in the hospital either as an in patient or outpatient. It usually took 6 to 8 months to fully regain her ability to work and socialize, but there were usually 2 1/2 decent years in between (although she said she never actually felt good).
Then, about 9 years ago, she became ill with flu-like symptoms that never went away, along with many other symptoms that were not flu-like. She was so ill for the first few years, that she didn’t leave the house except for doctor visits. Her two children were small at the time; her daughter, Nicole was eight and her son Colby was just a year old.
She could not sleep at all, and was almost going crazy. None of her doctors seemed very concerned about that until she overdosed on sleep meds. Actually, it seemed to be a good thing. It was the only way she could get into the hospital. Of course, she wound up on the psyche floor, but she did get to see a lot of doctors and have a lot of tests run (for all the good it did).
She went on like that for a few years. I helped with the kids, often sleeping over and putting the kids on the school buses. Colby is severely hearing impaired, and she also had to go through getting him diagnosed while trying to get herself diagnosed.
We went to so many doctors over the years, and she went through so many tests. Of course, when nothing showed up on the tests, she was diagnosed as “depressed”. Nobody could explain what the large, hard lump in her neck, or the chronic yeast infections, or the vomiting, diarrhea, sinus infections, tremors inside and out, migraine headaches, and the severe back and muscle pain had to do with depression. They just passed it all off.
She was unable to keep up with the needs of her husband and children. Her marriage ended and she and the children came to live with us. She was very independent and wanted to do as much for herself and her children as she could.
She also did not want to be thought of as “a sick person” so she began to push herself to try to live a normal life. She managed to fool everyone but me, and sometimes I even thought she was getting better.
Finally midway through 1999 she began to talk seriously to me about ending her life. She said she just could not live feeling so ill anymore. She did not understand how she could be so ill and not be dying.
Her father and I talked her into seeing more doctors who did more tests and could not come up with anything. Finally one doctor actually said that she had Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome, but he offered her no help except the vitamins and all the other things she had already tried. He was supposed to be the “expert”.
I called and begged him to try to find help. I said that my daughter did not have a fatal illness, but she was going to die nevertheless if someone could not help her. He said he would try to find someone to help her, and we never heard from him again.
She agreed to try two more doctors, acupuncture and Chinese medication. She told me that if all her tests came back negative, that would be the end of doctors and tests forever.
One day in anguish she jumped out of her friend’s car at a fairly high speed. That put her back in the psyche ward, a very angry girl. Her psychiatrist suggested she undergo electroconvulsive shock therapy. I was against it, but Donna said, “Mom, maybe it will help. If they think I am depressed and this will help, then I have to try”.
I can’t say if those treatments actually made things worse, or just did not make them any better. She got to the point where she could not handle the tiniest of tasks, like helping Colby with his 5 minutes of homework. She became more and more anxious, and more and more physically ill. She said that the illness had taken over her entire body, and now her mind.
She still wanted to live, but just could not cope any longer. She had asked me some time earlier if she could go to our cabin at the mountains to die so that no one would stop her. She was begging for my approval.
Finally I told her that I would not stop her and force her to suffer any longer, but I could not help her end her life (like I always thought I could) She did make another attempt with carbon monoxide poisoning, but the hose melted and that was unsuccessful. She took that as a sign that maybe she was going to get better.
That did not last long, as each morning she awoke more ill than ever. When we went to leave her there at the cabin to “get some rest and pull herself together”, I could tell from her hug and her “goodbye” that she had more than rest in mind.
I had written a note to leave with her just in case. I reminded her that that week was her son’s birthday. She called me to say she forgot (Donna never forgot anyone’s birthday, let alone her own child’s), but she really had forgotten. She said she would come home. I knew we were only buying time.
Then in March, while waiting for the final test results, she took off angry and sad, with one thing in mind. But later she called again and said she would be home. She said all she could see were the faces of her children when she left. She came home and became almost a recluse in her bedroom.
Then she began planning again. She asked me to help her pick something out to leave everyone who was close to her. We did, and later she left a little sticker with a note on each article that she was leaving. It was like preparing for the death of a terminally ill person, and that is how I had to think of it. She was suffering so. She left letters for my husband and myself; for Colby and Nicole; for her ex-husband and for her brother Gary.
She said how sorry she was, but that she just could not live like that any longer, and to please forgive her. She said she could not wait for any more birthdays or holidays or other special events. God what anguish to have been preparing for this!
On the Friday before Mother’s day, I came home from work and she was sitting on the porch having coffee with my friend. I asked her if she felt any better.
She said “Mom, remember our deal? You don’t ask me how I am and I won’t talk about killing myself. I just clammed up and choked back the tears. However, when my friend left, Donna told me she had spent the day trying to buy a gun, and she finally found a place just a few miles from our house!
I said, “But, Donna, you didn’t buy it.” I took that as a sign that she was going to stay with us for a while. Now I know the only reason was that she wanted to make sure she succeeded in whatever she did, and she did not want to suffer. Also, I know she did not want to put us through the agony that so many of you have experienced.
On May 15, 2000, the day after Mother’s day, she took a full bottle of Klonepin plus whatever else was in her nightstand, and with her children’s picture held against her chest, she fell asleep in her bed. How thankful I am that she was warm and in her own surroundings, and not away by herself somewhere.
I only wish I could have held her until she fell asleep. Her son found her when he went to say goodnight, and we had to call the ambulance, but they could not revive her. I know she did not want to be revived. I wanted to keep her here, but I had promised her that I would not let anyone interfere; however I had to let them try for the children’s sake.
I know she is in a better place, she has made sure we know that. We have had many signs, but she is not here physically with us, and like all of you, are hearts are broken.
We will never be the same people that we were; however, as much as we are suffering, I know that she suffered so much more. People as me if I am angry at her (I know that many suicide survivors are angry), but I have never, and will never be angry at her. What right do we have to ask someone to live their life in pain and suffering so that we won’t have to suffer?
I re-live those years and events in my head every day. I wish she had had more good times while she was here. I wish the medical profession had been more caring and diligent. I wish we could have found help for her. I wish I had done more for her. I wish I had hugged her more. I wish I had handled the situation better. I wish I could have saved her. . . all an exercise in futility.
My wish now is that she is happy and healthy where she is. She has made it clear to us that she is fine now, but our hearts are aching and we miss her so!
Written by Carolee Collis