Friday, September 12, 2014

The writing was on the wall

Francis Stack, Joan Stack, Francis Stack Jr., and Mary Stack
were found dead in their home on August 30, 2014
Yesterday our family submitted the documents required for the hubby and me to become C.’s guardians now that she’s an “adult”. Our other children were required to give their assent.  

The prospect of caring for an adult with profound disabilities indefinitely and, in the near future, without the support of a school (see "Frustrations") is daunting. Which is why this Chicago, Illinois headline hit close to home: "Father fatally shoots wife, 2 disabled adult children in Elmhurst murder-suicide" 

True, on its face, this is horrific, unforgivable. But, the father, Frank Stack was 82 and to quote a neighbor “could barely walk”, while the mother, 81, had severe arthritis and terminal cancer. Until their late sixties, the couple had devotedly cared for these children at home. Only then were they moved to alternative group residences and even afterwards spent every holiday and nearly every weekend at home.

Their son Frank was diagnosed with a "profound" level of mental impairment and was prone to seizures throughout his life, according to court records. He could never speak full words. But the daughter, Mary, managed to communicate through limited sign language and a few spoken words, including "mommy" and "tree". Both children could walk, see and hear.

What is both astonishing and infuriating is that the Stacks’ entire circle of relatives, friends and professional health workers considered this an acceptable arrangement. None of them reached out to save them from impending doom. They all seemed to presume the couple could continue to cope ad infinitum.

Here’s a sampling of their comments from Chicago Tribune coverage: 
  • Frank is taken home every weekend," one court-appointed monitor wrote in a May 2008 report. "Meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Stack was a very pleasant experience. Very caring." 
  • The CEO and President of the group home where the children lived reacted to the murder/suicide by describing the family as "dedicated" adding "we're shocked and very, very sad". 
  • One of the Stacks two healthy daughters said that she "talked to [her] mother every day of [her] life and deeply loved all four of them." She added, that despite the difficulties they had with the "tremendous amount of work" that was required... she doesn't believe her parents ever complained.”

Well, thank goodness for that! Wouldn't want to have any grumbling, would we?

The father's guilt or innocence is discussed in depth in the media. It seems that the police are alone in condemning him. Most caregiver-murderers in recent decades were arrested and charged with murder or manslaughter and all those tried were convicted.

Yet everybody else sounds sympathetic to Mr. Stack’s plight, insisting he murdered "out of love". This coincides with a general public swing toward empathy for caregivers who kill the person in their care. One factor involved is the improved life-extending medical care our society enjoys. As a result there has been a proliferation of elderly, ill parents responsible for their children at a stage when such an arrangement is ridiculous. When these parents murder, society is reluctant to criticize.

My personal jury is out on that issue but here's my verdict regarding every other player in the Stack nightmare: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt - of failure to see and prevent this disaster in waiting.

The hubby and I, now C.’s legal guardians, are in our early sixties. Fortunately, we don’t own a gun.


Cath Young said...

What a tragedy that someone who seemed to have done all of the right things with the children who needed care, have found group homes for them where they could stay for the rest of their lives when the parents died, came to the conclusion that they were all better off dead. It's a shame that some sort of warnings did not go off that there were issues brewing, so that maybe, maybe they could have been addressed. But it's particularly frightening that someone who did do it all in terms of getting these arrangements in good shape felt that they were so tenable. It appears that this was as good as it gets for elderly parents of children who will need lifetime care, and it was horribly not good enough that this man felt that murder suicide was the better alternative. I wish additional info would come out as to what was happening or was on the horizon to make the prospect of any of the four living any longer.

The Sound of the Silent said...

You are so right, Cath. There are numerous unanswered questions here.

Clearly many people dropped the ball, but why? This tragedy could easily have been prevented had those surrounding this family acted responsibly and reasonably. I mean, is it reasonable to expect a ailing couple in their 80's to look after two adult severely disabled children? Every weekend and holiday? All by themselves?

What were they all thinking?

My husband and I can barely handle one profoundly disabled child and we're in our sixties.