The stress of caring for a child with disabilities cannot be underestimated. When that child is an adult and the parents are struggling to do the right thing and feel they are alone in that struggle, it's a stress that can be too much to take.
That's what happened with Bonnie Liltz, 57, of Schaumburg, who was the sole caretaker for her daughter, Courtney, 28, who had cerebral palsy and needed round-the-clock care from the moment Liltz adopted her in 1992 until the day she died.
That death, however, could have been avoided had Liltz sought out help that is available to people in her situation. Instead, with Liltz in failing health failing and afraid of what would happen to Courtney if she died, she gave Courtney a fatal dose of drugs and made an unsuccessful attempt on her own life.
Two years later, facing a return to prison to continue serving a four-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter, Bonnie Liltz killed herself. It was tragedy compounded on tragedy.
"There are exceptional service providers in the system that can meet people's needs," said Kim Zoeller, president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association in Lisle, which helps roughly 2,000 adults and children who have disabilities with residential, recreational, occupational and family support services.
Sometimes the maze of getting to the right person or organization can be too much for an already overtaxed caregiver. But it's important to know about these services and to seek out help. And for those friends or family who can see the toll such caregiving takes, just helping to point in the right direction could be lifesaving.
"I wish that families would reach out and get the help they're looking for, or trust the help that might be available to them," Zoeller said.
Indeed, it's difficult for those wrapped up in the day-to-day needs of a disabled person to even think there could be someone else who could help. But help is there.
"It's almost an anxiety. It's like a codependent need," Becky Pundy of Lisle, told staff reporter Marie Wilson. "They think, 'If I don't take care of this person, who am I?' "
Pundy, the mother of two girls with disabilities, founded a support group called Respite Endowment Organization in 2013.
The Liltz case is an extreme version, but it's clear families exist who need help. And it's clear that the help is there, even if used only sparingly or temporarily.
This newspaper has regularly featured the good works at facilities such as Clearbrook in Arlington Heights, Marklund in Geneva, Elgin and Bloomingdale and Little Friends in Naperville, in addition to the Ray Graham Association.
Much of what is available exists because of donations made to these groups and volunteer time given to make life just a little easier for the disabled and their caregivers. Spreading the word to those in need about these services is incumbent upon all of us.