Unfortunately, the negative news is in the lead at the moment and this part of the update is difficult, almost unimaginable to write. Most of you are already aware of the bizarre and tragic set of circumstances that have influenced “That Way Madness Lies…” In the month of December my mother died in a tragic accident while retrieving Christmas decorations and my brother was too paranoid to come to the hospital to say goodbye and publicly blamed me for her death. The night after she died, there was the fatal shootings at the Clackamas Town Center mall where my brother and I had spent our teen years. He then made written threats to me before the memorial service that 325 people attended, but did not meet the legal criteria to be put on a 3 day psychiatric hold. Armed guards, local police and attendees with licenses to carry concealed weapons were present at the memorial. With the recent shooting in Sandy Hook and The Clackamas Town Center, along with our national denial to recognize and take action in the name of civil rights, my brother’s story is a graphic example of a broken system and a society whose priorities lack compassion.
I am including, with this update, an article I wrote for the Oregonian. It was to be published last Saturday. At the 11th hour the Oregonian lawyers swooped in and pulled it, saying that they were queasy that I was potentially pointing out or suggesting that, due to my brother’s behavior and diagnosis, he had the potential to be a mass-murder. Well, yes. The evidence is overwhelming. How else are we to avoid such tragedies if we refuse to see, accept and act on what is in front of us?
By SANDRA LUCKOW
On the evening of December 11, 2012, I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table in Oregon City surrounded by grieving relatives. I was trying to write a eulogy for my mother, who had died the previous evening, when my iPad began to ding and flash with a barrage of e-mail, and both the house phone and my cell phone began to ring incessantly. The calls and the e-mails were consistent: Was I all right? Had I been hurt? Was my 49-year-old mentally ill brother, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, the Clackamas Town Center shooter? The only question I could answer was that I had not been a victim in the shooting. What about my brother Duanne? I called the Bridgeview, the half-way house where he was staying in Portland, but because of privacy rules, the receptionist could not confirm or deny his presence, even after I explained the circumstances. The television and Internet news were not releasing any information about the shooter other than he had been “neutralized.” I could read between those lines. He was dead. So at midnight I drove from Oregon City to downtown Portland. Fortunately, my fears about Duanne were wrong, and people chastised me as hysterical under the grief of my mother’s death. All I can say is that it is obvious they do not know what it is like to be dealing everyday with the unpredictability of mental illness.
We, as a nation, are doing our level best to ignore the devastation wrought by mental illness and then become stunned and sorrowful for a few days when victims are claimed. Look at our ability to ignore. The Colorado movie theater shooter was mentally ill, the family unable to get care after repeated attempts. The Sandy Hook shooter was also mentally ill, and the same appears to be true in the Clackamas Town Center shooting. And if I had not had a plan A, B, and C in place for my mother’s Celebration of Life in Milwaukie, just five days after the Clackamas Town Center shooting, the 325 people in attendance could have been just another news headline.
Again, hysterical-over reaction you say? Ignoring the obvious leads to tragedy, I say. My brother refused to believe that our mother was on life support in the trauma ICU when I informed him of her accident. He thought it was a plot to entrap him since both of my parents had restraining orders against him since March of 2012. She died surrounded by family and friends, but her son too paranoid to say goodbye. My mother fell off a ladder Dec. 6 while retrieving Christmas decorations at her Oregon City home. Our mother died on December 10, at 9:23 p.m., at the age of 71. Her accidental death is a painful shock to her family, friends and community, but dealing with my mentally ill brother in the wake of her death – and for that matter every day for the last three years – is beyond excruciating and almost impossible. I am relieved that my mother no longer has to deal with this insidious disease, the constant havoc it causes my family and slamming of doors when seeking help. As a nation we grieve over these recent shootings when, in fact, we did nothing to prevent them.
I cannot mourn my mother because everyday I am fighting our system; trying to protect family and friends from my brother. My brother did not believe my mother died until he saw the obituary. When he found out that the Celebration of Life was to be on December 17, my birthday, he thought it a ruse for me to hold a party. The threatening emails began, laced with profanity: “I have played the matrix game of b.s. with my blood sister Sandra Luckow who is the character daughter of Satan and all his demons.“ "You sure want to go out with a bang, huh?” “I told you the freight train would smack you and your mind will implode like the twin towers.” I called Project Respond, Portland’s first-responders crisis unit that helped me get him committed in 2010 to a full 180 days at the Oregon State Hospital. I wanted a 72-hour psychiatric hold to protect people expected at my mother’s Celebration of Life. Project Respond saw cause to investigate, but they called me back after a brief visit with him saying he did not meet the criteria for an involuntary hold. He told them he had no intention of harming anyone. If they had looked, they would have found a recent conviction for criminal trespass as well as the two restraining orders. Incredulous to their findings, I passionately suggested that, “This is our chance to do the right thing. Do we need another Clackamas Town Center or Sandy Hook when we had every opportunity to prevent it?”
I considered canceling the memorial. I had had a belly full of death and “unfortunate” circumstances in the previous week. Instead, I hired two armed guards for the evening; had the Milwaukie Police patrol the event; and there was at least one person at the ceremony with a license to carry a concealed weapon. Make no mistake, we are to blame for these policies we have championed in a short-sighted manner to make our lives seemingly more “pleasant.”
The next day, my father, who has dementia, and my deceased mother received notice from Clackamas County Courthouse to appear in two days as Duanne was contesting the restraining orders. I prepared my father, as he suffered the loss of his wife of fifty years and the confusion of losing his son to schizophrenia for the hearing at 10:30 am on December 20, 2012. We arrived at the courthouse with everyone else who had been granted a hearing and there sat my brother. He did not acknowledge us verbally, but gave us a stare that can only be interpreted as hate.
The judge bumbled through a series of questions, trying to make sense of the complicated situation of restraining orders, my limited conservatorship over my brother’s property, my mother’s now defunct conservatorship over my father, Social Security payees, etc. She refused any offer of clarification and snapped, “There is a process here and we are going to follow it.” Finally, she glanced at one of the documents and addressed my brother. “I see here that the judge’s name is circled in orange ink and there is a notation that reads, “You’re done, (expletive)! Any idea who put that there?” A little game of cat and mouse ensued and then my brother said that he could not reveal who had written it even though he knew. It wasn’t until the Judge felt a perceived threat that she saw any need to provide protection in her courtroom. Far too little too late, the judge inadvertently noticed the court had misread the dates on the restraining order and meekly apologized, noting that my brother should never have been granted a hearing in the first place. She asked Duanne if he had anything to say. He complained about the system and told the judge, “You are being watched.” “Who is watching me?” she asked. “There are two invisible people watching you.” At this point, a deputy entered and sat down. The judge said she called in a deputy not because anyone had done anything wrong or even inappropriate but rather to prevent anything from happening. “We want to keep everyone safe,” she said. In the wake of recent events in our country, is procedure, particularly bad procedure, simply a way to hide the judge’s own culpability as well as responsibility.
We, meaning you and me, our neighbors, our cities, our politicians are allowing mental illness to crush us by tying the hands of first-responders and doctors with procedure and policy because we are scared of reverting to the times of straitjackets and lobotomies. Do we think so little of ourselves? We are the wealthiest nation in the world and yet completely morally bankrupt and cowardly when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. Statistically, the mentally ill have a greater chance of being a victim than the perpetrator of a crime, so why, then, is this happening? The answer is shockingly clear and simple. We let this progressive disease fester too long. If we had we had a system in place to help these individuals when signs first begin instead of having to wait until imminent danger, a lot more people would be alive today. It is easier to say that a person has a right to be mentally ill and it is not our problem. Civil rights assumes full mental faculties, but the cost of that assumption is far more than any society, than any community, than any parent should have to pay. If a person broke his leg and was withering in the streets, he would be taken to the hospital, even against his will. And yet, a broken leg is not life threatening. Why does one have to be a danger to himself or others when it comes to the mentally ill?
Sandra Luckow grew up in Clackamas County and began her filmmaking career as an undergraduate at Yale University. She now lives in New York and teaches documentary and narrative film production at Yale University School of Art, Barnard College and Columbia University. She is working on a feature-length documentary film account of her brother’s battle with late-onset schizophrenia.