Donna Craig says she blames her son’s mental illness — and not her son — for her husband’s death earlier this year. (FILE PHOTO)
On April 10 of this year, the unimaginable happened. My husband of almost 38 years died at the hands of the son he loved, the son he was trying to help. It goes without saying that Terry’s death has been a huge loss to me, my daughter Karen, and both of my sons, Adam and Dana. Terry loved his family and would have done anything for them.
I’ve always said that Terry was a kid at heart because he loved to play with his kids and later his grandchildren. They launched rockets, flew kites, played Lego and went geocaching. To this day I have a large fort made out of Lego in my living room, the last project that he made with his grandsons. Terry was looking forward to meeting his first granddaughter, who was born two days after his death.
Without a doubt, the greatest impact of Terry’s death is on my son Dana. His life is forever changed by the death of the one man whom he loved the most.
Terry went to Alberta to bring his son home after we were unable to convince the mental health crisis team that he needed intervention. As parents, we knew that he needed help and felt that we had no other option but to bring him home.
The only person that Dana would have agreed to travel home with was his father. There certainly was no animosity between them. They were very close.
One of my favourite pictures of Terry and our sons was taken in front of their hunting camp. All three of them were dressed in hunter orange. Dana was about four years old at the time. Together, they hunted, fished, canoed, camped and four-wheeled through to adulthood. In spring of 2012, Dana and Terry celebrated with a beer after Dana landed his first salmon on the Miramichi River.
Following Terry’s funeral, some of Dana’s friends visited me and in reference to that awful night of April 10, they said: "That was not Dana." They were right in their assessment; they recognized the part that mental illness played in this. Dana never hid the fact that he was bipolar.
John 15:13 says, "greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Terry died trying to help his son. We knew that the illness was getting the better of him. In an ideal world, we would have been able to get him that help, but the world is far from ideal. Those who could have helped failed to recognize the seriousness of his condition. Terry and I failed Dana by not realizing the possible outcome of a manic episode, i.e. a psychosis that culminated in Terry’s death. Never in our worst nightmare would we have imagined this to be a possibility.
My hope is that we will learn from this tragedy and hopefully prevent it from happening to any other family. If the safety of the public is the "paramount consideration" (introduction of Bill C-54, the NCR Reform Act), then we as a society must start by taking a closer look at education and prevention.
How can we better respond to the concerns of the families of people with a mental illness? How can we ensure that their voice is heard when they seek help for their loved ones? Families are bringing their loved ones to the hospital for help only to be turned away because the staff can’t recognize in a few minutes the changes that the family have observed over a period of days or weeks. What can we do to improve the odds that they will get the help they need?
Terry’s death should have been prevented. It is not too late to help other families.
A couple of weeks ago, Dana asked me a question that I would like to share. He said, "Is there a part of you that blames me?" In all honesty, the answer is no; I blame the illness. I love my son and he needs to be close to his family.
These past few months I have come to lean heavily on my faith in my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I realize the importance and necessity of forgiveness, but more importantly, I live in the knowledge that there will be a day when I will see my husband again.
Donna J. Craig
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 3, 2013