November 29, 2013

Ruth Marcus got it partially right about Nancy Lanza, the mother of the man responsible for the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School [“A mother tragic — and infuriating,” op-ed, Nov. 27].

Upon reading the Connecticut state’s attorney’s report on Sandy Hook, one does look with a mix of sympathy, pity and admiration on Ms. Lanza’s “fierce efforts” to help her troubled child. But those of us who have mental illness in our families understand that her behavior, including her misguided efforts to reach her son by encouraging his interest in weapons, probably was the result of the effect his extreme behavior had on her life. Yes, she accommodated his odd behaviors, but if he were your son, what would you have done? Could you have walked away, leaving him behind?

Surely she must have sought the help of her ex-husband, her relatives, her community, her church or synagogue, medical providers, the police — but if anyone reached out to help her as the years passed, to lift her out of the spiral in which she was falling, we do not know of it. Where was the help she needed to extricate herself from the role that probably became more nightmarish each day?

Adam Lanza’s mental illness may have gone untreated for a long time. But do not say that his mother failed at getting him the help he needed. She — and he — were both failed.

Mental illness — particularly severe, untreated mental illness — takes a huge toll on other family members. It is impossible to judge Ms. Lanza unless you have walked in her shoes.

Nancy L. Wolf, Chevy Chase