Doris was the prettiest woman among my friends. She was the kind of girl who always made people stop breathing when they first met her. She is the kind of girl who always gets the boy, be it the soccer team captain in Hong Kong or the football star in the states. She can get anyone one she fancies.
The most astonishing thing about Doris was that to me she had always been only “the girl next door”. She was unbelievably humble. She never once boasted of her beauty. The stories with boyfriends were just a plain fact. She waited tables like any girl from humble beginnings. She worshiped her big brother believing he was the best looking man in the world. She cooked for me, taught me how to straighten jeans when they come out of the dryer, spoke up for me in English when I did not know how to speak when we went to the swimming pool.
You see, she was the first friend I made when I first came to the U.S. to go to graduate school of social work . She had gone to undergrad in the US. Naturally her English was much better than mine. Whenever the professor told jokes I did not get, or mentioned something that had a history she gladly explained to me the background and whether that had anything importance related to the key points in class. She was my cultural coach. Without her I would never had made it in the first year of social work program. Without her there would be no social worker named Melody.
I did not know what she saw in me. For me, even going shopping with her was full of fun. She would go to a display that I would not have chosen to look. But as soon as she picked out the silky smooth tie I began to realize how good it would look on a man. Our preferred style, texture and colors are polar opposites. When I was working in my first job she, out of the blue, sent me a Victorian styled red shirt with gold trims. They were my colors but the style was definitely not what I would have picked up. To my surprise it fit me perfectly and I have worn it many times afterwards. Years later she sent a Jessica Macintosh perfume to me by mail. Again even the packaging told me I would never even consider buying such wasteful thing, yet it was beautiful and whenever I wore it, it transported me to another dreamier world. Only Doris can do that to me so off-handily. Anything that was different between us was another chance to discover a new world. We led very different lives and lived far apart.
But I saved her life once by long distance. I had just gotten back on my feet after suffering from postpartum depression when she had her first child. That year was tough for her. She had just lost her father she dearly loved. Problems with in-laws, multiple stresses and the arrival of first child resulted in major depression. Having just gone through it, I immediately recognized the symptoms. I pushed her to get help from EAP, see a doctor and rearrange work schedule to get better. I was able to convince her that her negative thoughts were not true, that she was not as hopelessly crippled as she believed, and certainly she could find life manageable and enjoyable again. She took my advice and did all that. Within 6 months she was medicine free.
For the next 20 years she continued to be medicine free. She had diligently worked, single handily hold down the fort when her partner worked far away, caring for her children and in-laws. She had always been such a sweet person. Not only was she beautiful on the outside she was beautiful on the inside. One time she jokingly said even if she gets a divorce she would probably still be the primary caregiver of her ex-in-laws.
In November 2011 I got a call from her saying “the depression came back”. She could not stop shaking. Immediately I made sure she could see a psychiatrist the next day and find the courage to negotiate with her boss about getting a short term leave. We worked through the phone about her fears about losing the job, losing income, etc. For the next two months I kept trying to work out a time to go hang out with her. She had nobody who can stay with her. Both of her parents were gone, she had no sister; her only kin was her brother in Asia. Even her in-laws had moved away from the area. I wanted to be there to see that she eats, keeps appointments, and say to her it’s ok to do nothing. I wanted to stay a week or more so that she knows when she was feeling high and mighty there is a danger lurking behind. I wanted to share my hard earned lessons and make sure she can find something to hang on to when she felt she had lost herself.
My travel plan never worked out. For a few days I could not reach her. She was already in the hospital. I told her I was beginning to like her doctor because the psychiatrist was doing a good job protecting her. Doris was not so sure about it. She felt the doctor did not quite understand her. So we communicated by emailing eachother because that hospital allowed smartphones. Whenever she was done with therapy we could pick up where we left off. For over a month nothing worked. She did not respond to any medicine. There was talk of electric shock therapy. I was beginning to get worried.
All she said was “I don’t think I will get better, there is just emptiness inside. I don’t have myself anymore”.
I tried to get my family to talk to her family that THIS THING CAN BITE. They need to get educated about her illness and learn to do the right thing. When that did not happen I was so furious.
I was on my way to go to Taiwan by way of her town. We both felt that it would not make sense for me to stop in either on the outbound nor returned trip while she was in the hospital because no one was home. I decided to wait till she was home and make a separate trip.
For a few days I could not reach her again. When her phone was finally answered, her husband told me she had just been moved from her room in the general ward to the morgue. She had hung herself in the hospital bathroom with a belt. Apparently they had moved her from the psychiatric ward which did not allow belts to the general ward a few days ago. She had probably tricked her family into giving her a belt. That was right around Valentine’s Day, 2012.
I got online to order flowers. Instead of flowers for Valentine’s Day I had to look for flowers for her funeral. I could not stop crying. At this day and age, with the best medicine, this should not have happened! They should not have moved her to a less restricted ward since she was not well yet! Someone should have coached the family not to give her a belt no matter how she pleaded! Why was she not kept till she responded to anything? For 20 years she did so well, handling bigger and bigger responsibilities. For such a beautiful person this was not a fitting end! So abruptly, so cruel!
I had so much to teach her. There were so many faulty beliefs I had to conquer, I wanted her to benefit from my struggles so she won’t fall prey to the lies our brains tell us when it is sick! She had worked hard all her life. Her life wasn’t easier because she was a stunning beauty. Just a few months prior to her getting sick she was so looking forward to this new job! Her life was just about to get better. Maybe physically she had been weaken by having worked so hard for so long, maybe the damage was so bad that she did not do well with medicine, but still the system failed her. It may have been her insurance that would not provide enough in-patient days. But the hospital and the clinical staff should have looked out for her. They knew better. The helping professions that we are in failed her.
So Valentine became a tough day for me. Every year since she was gone I hate Valentine. Everything you think of about Valentine: love, sweetness, she did not get at the end. Even though she was all sweetness and loving herself. This world did not treat her well. This kind women who put on make-up for me on my wedding day, the same woman who told me my stiff $35 used wedding dress was stiff “because it is Satin” should have enjoyed at least as much love and sweetness she had given out.
Yet the brain illness robbed her. It took away her sense of self, her confidence, her radiance outlook, her easy going ways, her chance to go to her children’s weddings, and all the sweet rewards for being true to the end. All she has now is the cold, hard grave. I want to get her name engraved somewhere so that people can go and touch it, and tell her that she did not die in vain. Perhaps becoming a blogger is somewhat a result of what had happened. If I could prevent someone who is special to someone from being lost due to brain illness, if I could just add a few months’ life to someone the reader loves, if I could put some love and sweetness back to someone’s life, then perhaps I would be less pained.
To someone who was all love and sweetness, Doris, my Valentine.