My Aunt Dot

Aunt Dorothy was different.  As a child, I didn’t appreciate those differences.  I recall the day that she insisted my sister could fit one more tablespoon of cream into her mason jar.  After all, she was paying us for the cream.  My mother laughed about it when Aunt Dot left our farmhouse that morning.

Dot was an avid walker – five miles every morning before preparing breakfast for her family. She couldn’t swim a lick.  She enjoyed family reunions, spending time with her children and grandchildren, visiting with her friends at the Stitch and Cackle club, and cooking.  (I never cared for her butterball soup, but she made delicious German Bierocks.)  She also loved gardening.   And then, at the age of 74, Aunt Dot took her life. 

She wrote a letter to Uncle Robert, parked her car in her garage, and started the engine.  I like to think of her going peacefully and painlessly.  It’s how I cope.  I don’t like to think of the internal turmoil she must have been suffering that lead her to make this final decision.

Somewhere along the way, after working the farm side-by-side with her husband and children, saving enough money to buy a home in town while maintaining their farmhouse just down the road from ours, life became too something for Dot.   But what was it?  Too hard?  Too painful? Too hopeless?  And how did she arrive at the conclusion that suicide was the answer?

With regularity we hear about suicidal deaths of high profile executives, those in the limelight, and teens struggling to connect with their peer group or suffering from bullying.   Our elderly population often suffer from depression linked to loss of independence, financial hardship, and the loss of friends and loved ones.  “National surveys find that between one and two percent of American adults over 65 suffer from major depression with more women than men reporting that they are depressed.”1 

Is there any good news?  Yes.  The treatment prognosis for depression is good.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that, “Once diagnosed, eighty percent of clinically depressed individuals can be effectively treated by medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or any combination of the three.”2

The biggest hurdle to treatment may be the patient.  Help is available, but recognizing that intervention and treatment are needed may be beyond the abilities of someone in crisis.  Recognizing the signs of depression is helpful in preparing for that difficult discussion with someone that may not be able to verbalize their struggles.  Some signs are:  

  • Hopelessness
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal from relationships
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to sleep, or over sleeping

If you believe that someone in your circle may be suffering from depression, spend time with that person.  Pay attention, and listen.  Seeking help for someone in crisis may fall to those of us who are able to do so.  Treatment is available, but someone in crisis may not be able to ask for help. 

References and Resources:

  1. Depression
  2. Older Persons Fact Sheet

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