Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Darling one, please forgive me.  I know, I know. Six freakin' weeks.  I shall explain all.

First, let me tell you about my friend Karen.  Things have been rough on Karen for a few years.  Well, forever, really.  Her father killed himself when she was a child and she, herself, suffered from bipolar disorder.  She was fired from a job in the same place I work [different department; she actually was treated with respect and was paid very well] and had had trouble getting back on the horse, so to speak.  Roommate and I, after helping her move out of the second apartment from which she was evicted over a year ago, were prepared to house her and her young daughter for a short period of time, until she found another place.  Then Karen did what she normally did.  She created drama, poured gasoline over the bridge and tossed a match.

Needless to say, she didn't move in with us.

When things didn't work out with living/burning the bridge with her sister, brother-in-law, mother and nephew after that, she came to us again, asking to live in our house.  She did what she usually did, she played the kid card.  I love Karen's daughter, but I recognized the foolishness of allowing them into our home and therefore, I was willing to be the Bad Guy.  This was made easier by the fact that Roommate's mother needed to rent out a room in her condo and Karen and daughter definitely had a place to go.  But I did say no.

[NB:  This was not easy for me.  My cousin Dana calls it the Hungarian speech impediment, the inability to say no.  She's not wrong.]

So Karen and daughter moved in with Roommate's mom.  And eventually, Roommate's mom moved in with her then Significant Other, now husband.  And drama continued to abound.

Karen wasn't working full time at her temp jobs and money was always an issue.  Roommate and I told her at one point if she would just cover the rent, we'd help with everything else we could.  We started coupon shopping with Karen/daughter in mind and Karen would grocery shop in our basement.  We'd call or text on our way to the store, to see if they needed milk or bread.  Or anything.  About two months ago, I paid to have Karen's truck repaired and was gearing up for tabs and registration.  I'd given her thousands of dollars for bankruptcy legal fees. 

Now, that part sounds like I'm complaining.  I'm not.   I told her then and I'll tell you now, if I can share money, I will.  It's money; I can always make more.  If I need it back, I can't and don't share it.  If it comes back, terrific.  Otherwise...whatever.

After months of spiraling and dark days aplenty, things started to look up.  April 18th, Karen sent me a text message to let me know that she had been offered a full-time position in her field.  It would still be rough for the next few months, but she had plans to sit down with us and her sister, to work on a budget, to handle the beast of financial responsibility.  I expressed joy with her and felt hope.  The next day, Karen sent Roommate and me another text each, thanking us for being there for her. 

It was sweet.  It was also typical Karen; like Tennyson's little girl, when she was good, she was very, very good.

A couple hours later, I was talking to my landlord about something or the other and I heard a beep on my phone.  I glanced at the display and saw Karen's daughter's name, but it disappeared.  Pocket dial, I thought.  Not unusual, it happens.  So I continued my conversation with my landlord, who is one of the few people  who can out talk me---I know!----and heard the beep again.  Hmm, I thought.  That's weird.  But no message was left and I was at work, so I finally ended my call with my landlord and did my job for a few minutes.  When I peeked at my phone again, there was another missed call and a message, this time from Karen's mother, who was racing through traffic, driven by Karen's sister, from their town, an hour and a half away.

Oh, shit.

Evidently, Karen's daughter had come home from school, expecting not to see her mother until that evening.  She had an afternoon shift and as a 13-year-old, KD is old enough to be home alone for a few hours.  Instead, she spotted Karen's truck in the parking space and went immediately into her mother's bedroom to check on her.  What she saw was what appeared to be seizure-like activity in her mom; arms and legs jerking, spittle running from her mouth.  KD called 911, gave information as calmly as anyone could, then called me and her grandmother. 

When I finally got the message, ten [endless] minutes later, I called Roommate and told her the situation and within a very short amount of time, we were racing to the condo.  I found out later that when the paramedics came in to work on and transport Karen, KD was trapped in the room by all of the equipment and had to see all of it.  All of it.
Roommate and I arrived, had a few questions answered by the paramedics who stayed behind with KD until we could get there, thanked them, albeit not nearly enough, for their kindness and hustled KD off to the hospital. 

At this point, all I could think was medication-related seizure.  Although Karen had attempted to take her life in the past, there was no reason to do so now.  She had a job in a place she loved!  She had reconnected with a man she really cared about!  She was trying to get into therapy for people without insurance until her insurance kicked in!

But Karen had overdosed on her bipolar medication.

She was placed on a ventilator for 72 hours and the plan was, reassessment after that..  Roommate and I went back and forth between our house, the condo and the hospital for the weekend.  We stood next to the bed and prayed that Karen's mom would realized that there was nothing left of Karen, that the "seizures" that first day were really just evidence of her brain dying.  That the only things keeping her alive were the machines.  That Karen was gone.  And then, in the waiting room, Karen's mom asked us if we thought Karen would come out of her coma.

And we told her.

On Sunday night, we went home after a day in the hospital.  I'd spent a fair part of the weekend contacting her coworkers and telling them what had happened, keeping them up on developments.  I also managed to track down Karen's boyfriend.  [Btw, dearest, if you ever have the chance to tell a guy you've never met that the woman with whom he spent last weekend had overdosed and it wasn't looking good, JUST SAY NO.]  We'd gone home and sat numbly in front of the television as my Canucks lost their chance at winning the Stanley Cup to the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.  Two hours later, Karen's sister called. 

After leaving the hospital for the night and driving an hour and a half home, they were on their way back, as Karen's body had taken a turn for the worse.  We met at the hospital and Karen's mother talked to Karen's sister, to Roommate and to me.  She wanted to be sure that we were all on the same page, as Karen's family and the family we'd become for Karen.  We agreed with her thinking, with her decision.  And then Karen's mom told the hospital staff to take Karen off the machines.

It was very quick.  I stood in the ICU room at the very end, after the other family left.  I don't know why, but I stayed until the last bit of life eased away from what was left of my friend.

In the weeks that followed, we helped empty the condo, sold Karen's belongings and raised money for the family.  A memorial was scheduled in the central part of the state, specially organized so Roommate and I could attend after our trip to San Francisco, but after driving three hours to be there, we found out that Karen's mom had given us the wrong date. Unfortunately, we had obligations and were unable to return the following day.  We didn't get to attend the service.

To add insult to serious injury, KD's father is now insisting that KD should live with him.  Despite the fact that he hadn't been part of her life for the past year or so, due to conflict with Karen, despite the fact that he signed away visitation, despite the fact that his current wife dislikes KD and doesn't treat her kindly.

I don't know how any of this will turn out.  I don't know if KD, who has been remarkably resilient through this entire nightmare, will...gah.  Will what? What do I expect?  That she'll be okay?  Happy?  Emotionally intact?

Why don't I ask for the moon?

I don't know why Karen made the choice to kill herself.  I don't know why she did it in a way that forced her daughter to find her.  I don't know why she only wrote a note to KD telling her that she loved her.  I will never know.

I do know that on the day we remember the dead, I remember Karen.  And despite my anger and sadness and frustration, I hope she's at peace.  I hope her fight is fought.  I hope we know some of that peace here, we, the people she left behind.


  1. One that understandsMay 28, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    It's hard for someone that has never been in that darkness to know that hell.

    And it is pain. Unending, stealer of hope, or joy, of everything but the need to get away from that pain.

    Yes, it is sad she did it so that her daughter would find her. More than likely that didn't even cross her mind, only the need to end that pain.

    The youngster may need some help and is afraid to ask for it. It takes a toll, living with a person who is mentally ill.

    I hope know that Karen is at rest and that her family will heal over time understanding she wasn't being selfish.

    Hugs to you, dear one. Call me if you need to. I'll always answer.

  2. I was unaware this all happened. I am so very sorry for your loss.

    In my opinion, PLEASE, keep in touch with KD. Her whole world has been turned upside down. She needs familiarity to some degree right now, and she'll need your love and support and connections in the future.

    You were a good friend to Karen, you went above and beyond.

  3. Thank you both. And yes, staying in touch. I've started writing KD letters, the real kind, that you get out of the mailbox. Maybe she'll think it's lame, but getting a letter in the mail always seemed like a cool thing to me.

    It just doesn't feel like enough.

  4. Does she live far away? Can you visit? Can she come for a weekend?