Mental Health/Suicide/Gun Control
by – Sheri de Grom
Compiled from journal notes, April 27 – July 1, 1996, Washington, DC
I’d admitted Tom to another mental health unit in a new Virginia hospital. I had no choice after I discovered him with a gun in his lap. (You may read that post here).
Did I dare hope this hospital’s treatments would be superior to all the others? I would never give up on obtaining the best professional help for Tom.
I hadn’t wanted to go into the office yesterday but it wouldn’t have been fair to my staff to stay home. Our team had an exhausting roster of hot spots requiring investigation. I had to go to the office. If I looked into my soul, all I wanted was the friendship of Jack Daniel’s.
When I arrived at the office I tried to appear calm. But, Ted, my deputy, took one look at me and asked, “How can I help?”
Uncertainty and fear accompanied me everywhere. I should have been ready for this, something, anything—why God—why haven’t I learned yet how to cope with one mental illness hurdle after another?
My meetings and staff reports proceeded as planned. I rushed from building to building at
the largest Army Medical Center in the United States. As the director of a large division, at the pinnacle of my career, nothing had significance or held my interest.
I despaired, frozen in fear and sadness. I did not want to see or talk with anyone, go anywhere or do anything. Hiding in my office was out of the question. Policy meetings, once exciting, now seemed tedious. My life became pointless. I wanted Tom and I to live happily ever after.
I was furious when Tom’s mother gave him his father’s guns. She even provided ammunition. What could be worse? Why didn’t she just give him permission to shoot himself? My stomach muscles tightened at her complete denial of Tom’s frail existence. I rationalized that she didn’t know what she was doing.
The guns became my nightmare. Tom, with his logical intellect, would debate which gun would be the most accurate for killing himself. I had to dispose of the guns immediately, but didn’t know how. The weapons were not registered in Tom’s home state and they could not be registered in DC.
Two months into Tom’s hospitalization, his psychiatrist told me, “Destroy the guns,” Dr. Frank continued, “I can’t release Tom to day treatment until the guns are gone.”
Early one morning, two months after I’d admitted Tom to the hospital for having the pistol in his lap (you may read that blog here), I openly carried the shotguns and handguns from our home. They included: a German Luger, a pair of matching Ivory-Handled Revolvers, another Ivory-Handled Colt 36, other guns from the 1920s and 30s as well as 4 double-barreled shotguns.
It was late spring, but in my heart, there was nothing but winter ice for the task before me. The cold steel of the guns felt like white-hot coals against my skin. Repulsed, I threw the weapons with their ammunition into the trunk of my car and drove to work.
I never thought about what might happen if anyone saw me with the guns or if I were involved in an accident in the DC beltway traffic. It never entered my mind that my car might be pulled over for a random search at the military installation where I worked. The only thing on my mind was getting rid of those guns.
I moved in a stupor throughout my day at work, knowing I would visit Tom at the hospital on the way home. I was keenly aware that before I got there, I must somehow dispose of my deadly cargo. I panicked; there was nowhere in metropolitan DC to ship the guns from. Once again, I could not share my secret plight with anyone. I was on first and I accepted my responsibility.
Nine p.m. approached as I neared the last possible shipment site before arriving home. I found one parking space in the center of a strip mall that advertised a UPS.
I hadn’t covered the guns, or purchased shipping materials or anything else that I might need. I couldn’t face planning for disposing guns I had never wanted in our home. I had to send the guns far away, anywhere.
I’d never planned to perform an ‘Annie Oakley.’ I walked with confidence, twice, through the cold night air toward the store, with the deadly steel in my arms.
It’s a miracle I wasn’t attacked that night. I still wonder why no security guards approached me or why the UPS clerk hadn’t pushed the panic button beneath the counter when he saw me.
The clerk said, the guns could be shipped if they weren’t loaded.
I don’t have a clue. I signed a certificate verifying the weapons were unloaded, paid $390 and sent the toxic package back to Tom’s mother. I had no intention of buying insurance for safe delivery. I called his mother and told her the guns were being shipped. I doubt she ever understood why her only child couldn’t possess guns.
Tom was dismissed from the hospital to home and day treatment for an indefinite period of time. I became afraid to sleep. What if Tom died while I was sleeping?
I felt detached, as though I were watching someone else’s life unfold. This was denial.
I now acknowledge I didn’t have the power to save Tom’s life then and never will. If he lives it will be because God wants him alive. I play a bit role in Tom’s safety. I pray, God’s will be done.
While I like to think I can save Tom’s life, it means I must sacrifice myself. This sacrifice allows me to deflect from my own issues and emotions because I always thought Tom’s pain was more intense, more agonizing, and therefore, his needs far more significant than mine.
Almost Two Decades Later – I carry on removing guns Tom continues to purchase. THERE IS NO STATE OR FEDERAL LAW PREVENTING THE SALE OF A WEAPON TO SOMEONE WHO HAS ATTEMPTED SUICIDE.
Our routine has been the same from state to state as my career has evolved. I can’t say how many times we’ve driven, in the middle of the night, to the emergency room because Tom has decided not to live any longer. The ER admission process has not improved (you may read my blog here about stigma in the ER). We’re separated as Tom enters the in-patient mental health ward and I hear the triple-tumbler lock swing into final position. My heart is ravaged much the way a prairie is in a raging fire. The man I love has been locked away with his torment in the psychiatric unit, alone, and I travel the edgy rails of life wondering how we arrived at this junction of our lives.
Thank you for your support. My blog has become a haven where I can express how the disease of bipolar disorder has affected our daily lives for twenty-seven years.