Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Death of a family...

Minutes after I read a touching story about an elderly married couple who died within minutes of each other, I found yet another heartbreaking story about murder and suicide.  The Short family of Berks County in Pennsylvania, consisted of parents Mark, 40, and Megan Short, 33, and children Liana, 8, 5 year old Mark Jr., and 2 year old Willow, as well as the family dog.  They all tragically died together at home on August 6th of gunshot wounds.  They were found when a family member alerted police after Megan Short did not show up for a lunch date.  A murder/suicide note was found at the scene and a handgun was located near the adults.  It was apparently unclear which adult pulled the trigger, although I would imagine forensic tests would be able to discern that easily.  

According to police, the Shorts had been dealing with "domestic issues".  They also had another significant stressor; their toddler, Willow, was born with a congenital heart defect.  She survived a heart transplant at six days old and required daily doses of expensive drugs to keep her body from rejecting the organ.  In 2015, Megan Short was interviewed by The New York Times about the difficulties the family experienced in getting the drugs for Willow.  They used specialty pharmacies, designed to dispense drugs for complex medical problems.  

Between the difficult rules set by their drug plan and the pharmacy her family was required to use, Mrs. Short apparently had a tough time keeping her youngest daughter healthy.  Willow Short's condition demanded strict adherence to the drug regime, yet Mrs. Short was not allowed to get a refill until the medication was three quarters of the way finished.  It could take days for the prescription to be ready, which meant there was a risk that the refilled medication would not arrive before the old bottle ran out.  According to the New York Times article, one time CVS Health only sent enough medication for fourteen days instead of thirty.  The pharmacy mailed the rest overnight, but the experience still caused a lot of stress for Mrs. Short, who had a real fear that she would be left without the medicine her daughter urgently needed. 

In April 2016, Megan Short wrote a blog post about anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder related to Willow's medical problems.  In the blog post, she describes the intense fear she experienced after Willow was born.  She writes of being terrified of trying to handle her daughter's medications, obsessively watching her sleep, not being able to rest and take care of her own needs.  She explains how the medical procedures would be never ending and that she had to hold her daughter down while blood was drawn.  She constantly worried about when the "shoe would drop".  

As someone who experiences anxiety, I have empathy for Megan Short.  It must have been unimaginably difficult to be so stressed out for two years.  Obviously, this was a family in a crisis that did not get the help and support they needed.  But then, I would imagine it would be hard to get all the help that was required.  Life is tough enough when everyone's healthy.  

In another article about this case, Mark Short's family members have said that Mrs. Short was planning to leave her husband.  Evidently, Mark Short was very family oriented and desperate to keep them together.  But Megan Short apparently still wanted to divorce.  Mrs. Short had been posting on Facebook about her plans to leave and alleged that her husband was abusive.  In another article, it was reported that Mrs. Short wanted to leave her husband for another transplant mom.  She may have been making plans move out of the family home on the day of her death.  I can only speculate, but it sounds like Mrs. Short's allegations of abuse were probably valid.      

When I was in college, I took a course called Interpersonal Communications.  One day, a professor from the physical education department was a guest speaker.  He talked about how he and his former wife had a child who died.  He said the child's extreme illness and eventual death had destroyed his relationship with his ex wife.  Their marriage could not survive the strain of their child's medical problems.  When the child died, so did their union and they divorced.  

It's easy to hope that couples who have extremely sick children can stay together.  In fact, when you consider how much care a child like Willow needed, it would make sense for the Shorts to want to stick together for her sake.  If you have a child that sick, when would you even have time for marital discord?  But the reality is that extreme stress and anxiety that never relents is soul crushing.  On the other hand, data suggest that children with special medical needs are no more likely to have divorced parents than healthy children are.   But it sounds like Mrs. Short bonded with another woman over the extreme medical problems their children faced.    

I don't know where the truth lies, but I have no doubt that this was a family that was cracking under pressure, even though as recently as May 2016, Mrs. Short reported that her two year old daughter was doing wonderfully.  It's hard for me to even fathom what life must have been like for the Shorts.  Regardless, it's very tragic that this family is now dead.  My condolences to their families.  They must be absolutely devastated.


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