Forgive me

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Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Caroline Wolff ~

I set him up. I had promised to meet him for breakfast the next morning. In the throes of a mania so severe that it directed nearly all his actions, he somehow loved or trusted me enough to override his manic thinking and keep our breakfast date.

When the knock came on his door that morning before breakfast, it wasn’t me. It was the police. They had come to take him to a psychiatric hospital. He had told me he preferred not to go to the hospital; he had asked for more time to consider treatment options. I didn’t listen. After I called the police, I stayed far away. I made no attempt to see him. I sat outside the hospital on a curb, too afraid to face what was inside.

Several months later, a scene in a movie triggered thoughts of that day, and I began to cry. My husband guided me into the backseat of our car, where my crying intensified and spun out of control. I wiped at my face until my right hand became coated with mucus, thinned by tears and webbing the spaces between my fingers. He cupped my hand and clumsily flattened it against his lap, running it down the length of his thigh. “Here,” he said. “This is where we wipe our nose.” He didn’t recoil; he didn’t distract me; he didn’t tell me everything was OK when it wasn’t. Instead, he sat quietly and streaked his jeans with my hand, over and over. It was a gesture that convinced me that whenever I chose to leave that backseat, I could manage what came next.

The following day, I reread Leo Tolstoy’s short story “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” In the story, a servant named Gerasim comforts a dying man throughout the particular horrors of his death. Gerasim is bright and cheerful and strong. He dresses neatly and smells good, like the outdoors. He doesn’t shirk from emptying the chamber pot. He holds Ivan Ilyich’s legs because the dying man feels better when he holds them. Gerasim accepts the ugliness of wretched illness and offers what he can to ease it because he would hope, he says, that someone will do the same for him one day. The only moments of comfort the dying man has are when Gerasim is there. 

I wish that on the day the police came, I had dressed practically but respectfully: a white button-up shirt and jeans; brown boots; a sensible, pretty watch; rose perfume—the scent the strongest woman I know wears. I wish I’d waited outside and averted my eyes at the exact moment the patient was brought out of his room. I wish I had ridden with him in the fenced-in backseat of the cop car: not staring, not pitying, not chattering nervously. Just sitting quietly, perhaps putting out my hand, now and then, to touch his arm. I wish I had walked beside him into the lobby of the hospital. Perhaps the patient would not have wanted me there. Perhaps the police would have refused to allow me to be there. But I had been too scared even to ask. So again, I will borrow from Tolstoy’s story and end, as he does, with this: “Forgive me.”

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Caroline Wolff is the author of one of the essays in the book Writing Away the Stigma.


  1. George Patrin, MD, MHA's avatar
    George Patrin, MD, MHA
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    Listen to while reading my just feels appropriate as I was listening to it when I came across this blog.

    Caroline...and all others reading this who have finally seen no other option but to 'turn our loved one in' to 'the authorities.' It is so difficult, so difficult. I recently did the same for my Godson and after seeing what happened to him, could only say, "Forgive me, that didn't turn out the way it was supposed to." Yet, I saw no other option(s) at the time, having exhausted all the 'voluntary' ones. It went from bad to worse while involuntarily hospitalized so we reversed tactics and began advocating for getting him back out of that nightmare place (three times). Ultimately, medical treatment was forced on him, and he is able to function more 'appropriately' in public today, even hold a job, but the bright, creative, nephew I gone...hopefully only for a time. Hopefully, in time, our loved ones will forgive us for doing our best to save them from their illness. We can only do what our heart leads us to do...with what our society offers us. It's far from ideal, but we cannot, must not, try to do it alone...because then we risk losing two wonderful people.
  2. Bonnie Jean Smith's avatar
    Bonnie Jean Smith
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    It would not matter if you were sitting there with him or not. I know I had to put a loved one in the hospital because he was not safe to himself. It was the one thing I knew he was terrified. But I had to make a choice do I keep him safe and risk the possibility of my loved one "hating" me the rest of my life or do I take the chance that he would take his life and deprive the world of a loving creative human-being? I chose to keep him safe. The one thing he informed me before he told me how much he hates me was his worst fear was to be alone with no power over his life. It did not matter to him that I called every hour of his six hour stay and stayed on the phone as long as they would allow. But I was exhausted and could not keep him safe by my self and the family was also exhausted after keeping up a week long vigil. What scared me was the next morning when the Doctor came in to "talk" with him; there came a barrage of very strange questions. The Doctor did not know I was on the phone the entire time. When I spoke to the Doctor I asked to have a copy of those questions after I asked for that information the Doctor told me they were releasing my loved one he was "OK"??? When I arrived at the hospital literally 10 minutes after that call my loved one was at the front door with a 27 yr veteran nurse who informed me no one had a set of questions they "shot from the hip" when talking to patients. I asked what the questions were based on and she informed me it was a one time training all staff who worked in the mental health area had to take.
  3. Doreen's avatar
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    I hospitalized my son many times from age seven to 17. I also placed him in residential treatment facilities. Sometimes it was a crisis... sometimes it was just the only thing we could do to keep my son and everyone safe. Sometimes I was upfront. I will never forget, though, the time I packed his clothes in the trunk, took him to dinner and then to the residential placement. He didn't know that was where he would end up that evening. I will never forgive myself for that. People often say that we do what we have to. Looking back, I don't know. But it's too late to fix it. I have to live with what I did, and it's difficult. My heart goes out to you, Caroline. I hope that the outcome of this hospitalization was positive, and that you were forgiven and able to forgive yourself.
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