What would you do?

Now that The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family has officially launched on both the Amazon and the Barnes & Noble websites, many readers are sharing their thoughts about a wide range of topics related to the contents of the book.

In response to comments regarding the highly controversial nature of my story, I have come to the conclusion that there is but one simple question I would ask every reader to consider: What, if you were the parents of a seriously mentally ill child, would you do in a  situation such as the one my grandfather faced? Certainly, in today’s world, most parents would first locate an experienced psychiatrist or other mental health professional for a proper evaluation of their child’s condition; next, they would ensure, to the best of their ability, that their child was taking the proper type and dosage of psychotherapeutic medication; and then, hopefully, these same parents would seek emotional support and educational resources for themselves and other family members as they embark on the long and difficult roller-coaster ride through a major mental illness that is, in some cases, incurable. Bottom line: As a nation, we have come a long way in our treatment of the mentally ill. Not the entire distance, of course, but a very long way. However, keep in mind that in this book we are talking about an immigrant father in the year 1937; a desperate man who has just been told he must commit his child to an insane asylum-possibly for life. He did not have the options that parents of severely mentally ill children have in America today.

When my grandfather received the devastating news that his youngest daughter, 16-year old Sally, had been diagnosed with dementia praecox (schizophrenia), and posed a danger to herself and to others, the moral dilemma he faced was unfathomable. As an orthodox Jew, my grandfather surely understood he was in religious, if not legal, violation of every law imaginable. Yet, he made a momentous judgment call that turned his family’s life upside down and thrust them, and himself, into a quagmire of shame and regret.

Locating details of an event that happened over seven decades ago was extremely challenging, and would have been impossible without guidance from of one particular volunteer researcher at the Wyoming State Archives. Because of his efforts, I found myself sitting in a small room at the Denver Federal Records Center, my heart pounding wildly in anticipation of what was about to be revealed. I will never forget the look on the staff person’s face when she handed me the innocuous-looking box which I knew held crucial information about my family’s secret past. With my trembling hand poised on the lid, I waited for her to leave me to my private moment of discovery, As she did, I couldn’t help but notice the touch of sadness in her voice when she said: “I think this is one of the most incredibly tragic stories I have ever read.”

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