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  • Cedar Koons, LCSW

Carlton's Descent into Hell, Part 1


My sister began her final journey toward suicide about six weeks before she died. However, the problems that culminated in her death started many years earlier. She had always suffered from depression and hypomania but had also managed to hide it from friends and family. Her highs were sparkling and creative and contributed to her success as an artist. I never knew of her having suicidal thoughts or psychosis. Her money, country lifestyle and love of horses allowed her to disappear when she felt low. She wouldn’t return calls, would fail to show up for dates and meetings but didn’t complain about her mood. Most people who knew about the stressors in her outwardly idyllic life tended to be tolerant of her avoidance.

Carlton’s second marriage had been in trouble for a number of years and she expressed to me that she felt lonely and unfulfilled. Still, her husband was a friend and financial support whom she could not easily afford to abandon. Carlton also expressed spiritual longings and she and I had many conversations about mindfulness practice and how to start one. I tried to interest her in my teacher and even suggested how she might begin on her own with a daily sitting practice. She was never able to get herself to follow up.

In 2014 our father, a benevolent patriarch and moral authority for all of us, died after a brief illness one month after his 100th birthday party. His loss was hard for all of us, but Carlton became very depressed. In her misery she made a series of impulsive choices that made matters worse, including asking her husband for a divorce. After he readily agreed Carlton began to have second thoughts. Who would help her now with her big house and farm, not only the physical upkeep but the finances? Also, she was deeply afraid of being alone. Unfortunately, the dissolution of their marriage took place very quickly and with little planning. To make matters worse she got inadequate financial and legal advice throughout 2015. She believed she would need to make radical changes in her lifestyle to avoid bankruptcy. In fact she still had plenty of money if she only managed it a little better.

During the year after our father’s death and before her divorce I was in more frequent contact with Carlton because of my father’s estate settlement for which all three daughters were co-executors. She had never been one to return phone calls but her avoidance on these issues started to really annoy me. Whenever I was able to catch her on the phone to discuss some detail of the estate she told me stories of lavish parties she attended, travel with friends and her latest art projects. I knew she wasn’t telling me the emotional truth but I admit to not probing. I resented that she shirked responsibility for her share of the estate work, and didn’t call me or confide in me. I didn’t even find out about Carlton’s divorce until a month after it happened.

After that Carlton became very erratic. She quit therapy. She began to have anxiety that kept her from sleeping and started taking Xanax which made her anxiety spiral. I heard all of this from other family members, not from Carlton. I don’t know whether she was addicted to Xanax, but I later discovered that someone was supplying her with extra pills. She even took up with a man she'd met who moved in with her. He had no visible means of support but Carlton appreciated his company and help around the farm. She continued to avoid my calls, but when I did reach her she no longer feigned being “fine.” “I’m in trouble, “ she said, in August of that year. “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this.”


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