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Stress overwhelmed her, care service says

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    Stress overwhelmed her, care service says

    Stress overwhelmed her, care service says

    By Paul Rioux
    St. Tammany bureau/The Times-Picayune

    Just four months before Charlotte Haley apparently killed herself and three family members, she made a call for help when her 80-year-old mother suffered a debilitating stroke.

    Haley, 59, who was the sole caregiver for her mother and mentally handicapped sister, felt overwhelmed and arranged in January to have a nursing assistant care for her mother 12 hours a day in their home near Slidell, said Joel Hulsey, director of Northlake Sitter Care in Covington.

    "She was sobbing so hard that you could feel the stress over the telephone," Hulsey said Wednesday. "She said she loved her family but felt like she was drowning and needed help."

    The nursing assistant's visits continued for about two months until Haley's mother, Eupha West, had colon surgery in March.

    "When her mother returned from the hospital, she said she wanted to try to do it on her own again," Hulsey said. "But the pressure she was feeling apparently kept building until it exploded."

    Haley fatally shot her mother; her sister, Janie West, 55; and her husband, Ronald Haley, 64, before turning the gun on herself Monday night or early Tuesday morning, authorities said. The bodies were discovered Tuesday about 8 a.m. after the family's housekeeper found a note on the front door that read: "Call 911. Door is unlocked. We are all dead."

    Hulsey, who got to know Charlotte Haley through almost daily phone conversations, said he was devastated by the news.

    "I started second-guessing whether we could have done more to help," he said. "But she was such a sweet, caring woman that I never imagined she would do anything like this."

    All four bodies were found in bed in their pajamas, with gunshot wounds to the head, said Dr. Peter Galvan, St. Tammany Parish coroner. He said there were no signs of a struggle, suggesting Charlotte Haley shot her family members while they slept.

    Taking medication

    The family had a history of chronic health problems, said Galvan, noting that authorities searching the house found two grocery bags full of medications
    prescribed by 15 doctors in the past few years.

    Charlotte Haley was taking an anti-depressant, but most of the medications were for common ailments, said Galvan, who declined to elaborate.

    "We have requested Mrs. Haley's medical records, but there is no evidence that she suffered from a severe mental illness," he said.

    Although toxicology tests won't be completed for a couple of weeks, Galvan said there is no indication that anyone in the home was abusing prescription medications.

    He said the stress of caring for her mother and sister probably led Charlotte Haley to commit the triple murder-suicide. Eupha West breathed from an oxygen tank and used a wheelchair, and Charlotte Haley had recently filed a lawsuit seeking control over her sister's legal affairs.

    "I think she got tied up in the day-to-day monotony of a very physically, emotionally and spiritually draining set of responsibilities and did not know where to turn," Galvan said.
    Handling stress alone

    Little is known about the background of the family, who had no in-state relatives, authorities said. A man who answered the telephone Wednesday at the Amarillo, Texas, home of Charlotte Haley's surviving sister declined to comment.

    "Right now we're all too shocked by what happened to talk about it," he said.
    About five years ago, Ronald and Charlotte Haley sold their small Slidell area condominium and moved into a spacious retirement home they built on a large forested lot in the upscale Starling Point Estates subdivision east of Slidell, according to real estate and court records.

    "There is a paradox between the outward appearance of living in this magnificent home nestled in the piney woods of St. Tammany Parish and Mrs. Haley's inner suffering and pain from caring for her mother and sister 24 hours a day," Galvan said. "I think she went over the edge and felt like this was her only way out."
    Ronald Haley, a former naval aviator, spent much of his time maintaining the property, cutting the grass and removing fallen trees, neighbors said.

    "He was a very kind man, but he wasn't involved in the care-giving responsibilities," Hulsey said. "Mrs. Haley was bearing that burden alone."
    He said she was distressed that her mother's personality had become more abrasive after the stroke.

    "She bemoaned the loss of the person she knew and loved," Hulsey said. "She felt like she had lost her mother before she even died."
    'Thinking of others'

    Neighbors described Charlotte Haley as a friendly woman who pushed her mother in a wheelchair on daily walks through the neighborhood. She also volunteered to help build the recently completed Slidell Community Playground at Heritage Park.

    "Charlotte came out for two days and had a great time," said a neighbor who helped coordinate the project. "She had a lot of responsibilities in caring for her family, but there were no indications her coping mechanisms were breaking down."

    Authorities said she provided few clues about her mental state in several notes she left behind.

    The note on the front door was addressed to the housekeeper and was apparently intended to spare her the horror of discovering the bodies. It concluded, "Thank you for your love and care."

    Galvan said a few other notes inside the home named relatives to be notified and listed "mundane" tasks to wrap up the family's affairs.

    "She apparently didn't want to be a burden," Hulsey said. "Even in the end, she was thinking of others."

    How sad this is, and what a perfect example of so many things; The incredible stresses a caregiver is placed under, and the lack of an identified system to provide respite and help for caregivers who are burdened and taxed to the limits of their existence.

    To all our caregivers - Please, please let this be a wake up call for each of us to do a little 'self-assessment', to see where we stand emotionally, physically and mentally. It's hard sometimes to ask for help; it's even harder when you ask for help and don't get it. We've all got to remember that in order to provide care for our family members, we have to take care of ourselves, too. Lack of sleep, poor eating habits (I know I did a lot of 'emotional eating', or eating dinner at 10 p.m. after i got home from the hospital, then crashing into bed for a night of nightmares), dealing with money issues, insurance, doctor visits, changing medications, and just the emotion of seeing our family members struggle with their new bodies and lives, is enough to tip anyone over the edge. Unless we pay attention to ourselves, we can easily slip to what I call the 'bottom of the well'.

    It's not easy to take a little time off - the guilt feelings start, the 'why should I be happy when my husband/wife/son/daughter/sister/brother is going through so much'; in the end, though, just giving ourselves a little breathing room is sometimes all it takes to help us through the next hours and days.

    Tough times don't last - tough people do.


      And for those who receive the care, there is also a responsiblility on our part (unless cogitively impaired) to notice if a family caregiver is getting overly stressed. A call to the caregiver's doctor to assess the person for depression on a normal visit is not hard to do. If the caregiver has refused to discuss this the doctor can be told of this and can ask open ended questions to assess the situation. Also having a plan in place for respite can help tons just knowing it is there--if needed.
      Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."

      Disclaimer: Answers, suggestions, and/or comments do not constitute medical advice expressed or implied and are based solely on my experiences as a SCI patient. Please consult your attending physician for medical advise and treatment. In the event of a medical emergency please call 911.