On July 29, 2011 there was a message on my answering machine as I arrived back home from running some morning errands. It was from a social worker at the emergency room of the University Hospital. It was about my daughter Chandra.
When I arrived at the hospital, the social worker informed me that my daughter was seriously injured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her head. I gasped for air and couldn’t find any. What did I just hear? This can’t be! Is she still alive? Will she survive?
For what now seems like an eternity, I was left alone with my thoughts and anguish as I waited for the medical team to arrive and give me a more detailed account. When they arrived, they told me the next 24 hours would be critical. She was placed on a respirator that kept her alive, and if she wasn’t able to breathe after they removed the life support system, then the inevitable had to be faced.
A hospital chaplain was summoned to be with me. He never left my side until family and friends could get to me. We prayed. I cried. I screamed. He reminded me God would give me the strength to face this. We kept constant vigil on her condition.
After the self-sustaining breathing procedure was performed, the lead medical doctor gave us the sobering news. She was not able to breathe on her own. Chandra was loved by all and her funeral was amazing, attended by hundreds of family and friends.
The grief process was incredible for me. I went through stages of intense pain, anger, sadness, guilt, and eventually forgiveness. I had so many questions in my head: Why did this happen? Why couldn’t we have saved her? What could I have done differently to have stopped this from happening? What really went on during the last morning of her life? Why wasn’t the mental health system able to heal her? Why would she constantly go through episodes of desperation and terror? Why did she become addicted to heroin?
My healing began through a series of discoveries I made after Chandra’s death. I know now that she suffered from an inaccurate and untreated mental health diagnosis. The main focus was always on Chandra’s heroin addiction. As a result, what followed were an endless number of drug rehabilitation admissions that never solved the problem.
During the last years of her life, Chandra was literally homeless, living in various apartments or temporary housing units, halfway houses, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, detox centers, and even jail from time to time. We tried to make a home for Chandra but a series of sabotaging events eventually led to her moving out. I feel a tremendous amount of guilt over this. What could I have done differently to have made this work? After all, I was her father and I needed to protect her.
It saddens me to think about how alone she must have felt on her last day. I shudder to think of how terrorized she must have been before she took her life. It is agonizing to think that she was desperately fighting for her psychological life and no one was there for her. There were so many situations that went on with Chandra that morning that I will never have any answers to.
It has been four long years since Chandra’s passing, and I am finally gathering the strength to share this story. As part of my healing, I am being commanded to speak out. We must fight passionately for those who suffer from addictions and mental illness. Our voices must be heard! We should no longer tolerate this grave injustice, and it must stop now!