The original post of my sister’s passing click here.
Around the 30th of every December, every year since 2007 I have posted about the death of my sister. Barbara.
I, nor any of our immediate family knew the depth of her mental illness. She died because of an accidental fentanyl-transdermal/overdose. Accidental or purposeful, dead is dead. Personally I feel she took her own life.
I can not ever forget the call I received the evening shortly after the paramedics pronounced her “deceased”. I happened to be in Augusta to visit my mother who had now been a widow for over 4 years.
I had missed the initial call which had no voice mail. I thought it was probably mom inviting us for dinner the next evening. Instead I was met with literal screams. It took several more attempts to reach some one who could actually talk with me. “Loretta, you need to go to your mothers home, now”. I took pause at the tone of voice.
The woman who had spoken with me was a long time friend and neighbor of my parents. She was not calm and the chaotic nature of her response and the background noise stopped me in my tracks. She then paused and told me that my sister had just died. Initially it was thought she had given herself an intentional overdose of insulin.
Michael and I went to her home where my mother, whom if I didn’t know personally I would not have recognized. She wasn’t even a shell, it was more of a white older lady who had just seen kingdom come and go.
We settled her and my niece down for the night and headed to our hotel room. The next morning we went to my sister’s home at the request of my mother to try and recover a few very specific items. This is when the real truth came out.
The house itself was not visibly different from those of the neighbors. Lawn wasn’t in great shape, and maintenance needed to be done, other than that it looked pretty “normal”.
That is until…
You opened the front door. At that point we were greeted by a smell I can only describe as a landfill in the middle of July. It was December 31. Pretty cold even in Augusta, GA. Deal with the clean up and clean out later. There are many organizations available at low or no cost to help clean out after the death of a hoarder.
There were not even paths. Four dogs in the home along with their pop on the floor. Piles of clothing and a half put up Christmas tree. The only part of the home not totally hoarded was that formal sitting room.
There were roaches not even afraid to be out in the light, scurrying across the bath and kitchen counters. A bathtub filled with water. A odor of unwashed human flesh lingered heavy in the air.
There was a refrigerator, at least I thought it was a refrigerator which at one time was white in color now was covered in various shades of mold. Mostly black. Even the inside of the refrigerator was moldy. Dishes piled in the sink so high I’m not sure how or what she or her then husband even ate.
I tried to take a few pictures, however the stink was so overpowering, I would have to frequently go outside. It was about the 2nd or 3rd trip out we decided our boys needed to go into this house. As a life lesson to what will happen as the result of bad decisions, poor organization and a lack of empathy for ones living environment.
I do not believe in coincidences . I believe in the grace and mercy of God the father. There are still ramifications of that day of going into that house. Lessons learned. Choices to make, a headstone to pick out and a plot to bury my only sister to purchase.
The home was in such ill repair my mother made the decision to have a massive cleaning crew come in. Everything from the carpet to the furniture was hauled off to the dump. It took several weeks for the crew to clean, sanitize and abate the colonies of cock roaches and vermin from the home. It was an expensive proposition. Do not stay silent. Report your suspicions to local officials. It may just save a life.
The obvious question as to “why” of course didn’t come with an easy answer. My sister had suffered for more years than I could count from several major mental health issues and my mother had made the decision that “happiness is a choice” and would not purchase the correct medications that would have at the very least kept Barbara stable.
The day before her death, we dropped her daughter off without walking to the door. If we had known. Melissa would have never stepped in that house. We would have taken her to the hotel with us, then to the department of children services and filed for emergency custody.
How did the hoarding kill her? Simple between the gross infection she had in her system and the drugs she was taking (both legal and illegal) the circumstances brewed up for a perfect storm that ultimately ended in death. I read the autopsy report. I can not express how sad and dejected even the notations of the coroner were. Coroner’s reports are highly detailed. Do not read one if you are in the least bit squeamish.
It was so hard to write a letter many years ago to my birth mother. Whom when I wrote the letter didn’t know was even alive. I had to convey the message of my sister’s death.
Barbara never met her three grandchildren. She didn’t get to meet our birth mother nor did she get to watch my kids grow up, mature and fly away on their own. She wasn’t here. She had faith in Christ a fact not lost on me. Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4.
Nehemiah 8:10 puts our very humanity into focus when we in our sinfulness and can not see the truth. The verse simply states “Do not be dejected or sad for the joy of the a lord is your strength “. Powerful truth.
What would I have done differently if I had known the circumstances? I would have moved heaven and earth to get her and my niece to move up to Maryland with our family. Avoiding the impending outcome.
First step, identify the problem(s). Seek professional health. Involve local agencies as needed such as Adult Protective services and in our case also involving the ASPCA for the animals in the home. Mental health is no different than dealing with a physical ailment, such as Diabetes. I should know. .
I’m type 2 and even though I have lost more than 45 pounds from my heaviest weight of 186#, My A1c is over 10 and I am doing everything I can to try and get a better handle on my illness. I am actually hoping to find an endocrinologist who will agree on placing an insulin pump.
To all of you who have read this, thank you. Losing a family member is difficult enough. Dealing with the death of a hoarder only magnifies both guilt and regret. Mourning the loss seems much more vast with the looming truth that was hidden behind closed doors. Our purpose in this life should be to love and edify one another, to show the love and face of God in all we do. We all fall short. We all falter. We all fail. Its the blood of Christ and the grace of God that allows us to continue the journey onward.
So just as in years past I will post thoughts of her on the day which celebrated her birth and marks the anniversary her death.
Many of you may not understand the reason why I am leaving this post with the following epitaph. However, I know for a fact many of you will!
In Love and Service,