Story of Alleged Murder Provides Cautionary Tale for Caregivers

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  •                 In mid-December, my father passed a copy of the local newspaper to me with a story starred by the headline to catch my attention. The headline stated, “Police: Woman killed ailing mom.” The article said that Jeanne Sevigny, 59, was accused of fatally shooting her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, in 2006. Police believe that Sevigny then burned her mother’s body, placed the remains in a suitcase, and then asking her son to bury the remains. Prosecutors said Sevigny killed her mother because she was “a drag” and have filed second-degree murder charges. Sevigny’s son was charged with unlawful disposal of a body.

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                    I went online to find an update to this report. According to Vermont Public Radio, police have suspended trying to find the body, reportedly buried near an elementary school, until the spring when snows melt. Also, National Public Radio reported that Sevigny’s lawyer, disputing the prosecution’s claim, said Sevigny found her mother with the loaded pistol and was afraid that her mother would harm herself.  Sevigny allegedly wrestled with her mother for the gun when it went off, shooting the mother in the chest.

                    Reading these various accounts, I find myself contemplating three points about this very sad story:

    -          First of all, why was there a loaded gun in the house? In their book, “The 36-Hour Day,” Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins warn, “The use of firearms requires complex mental skills that are usually lost early in dementia. Guns must be put in a safe place.” In 2009, the HealthCentral Alzheimer’s community had a good discussion in the questions section about what to do with guns and ammunition in the house in order to ensure the safety of a loved one with dementia, their loved ones and their caregivers. If the defense’s story is true, I wonder why Sevigny didn’t store the ammunition in a safe place where her mother couldn’t find it. That’s one lesson that I think all caregivers need to learn from this situation.

    -          If the defense’s story is true and the shooting was accidental, why didn’t Sevigny call the local authorities to report the shooting? I can’t imagine the amount of stress that this type of incident caused for Sevigny (especially when placed on top of the stress caused by caregiving for someone with dementia). However, I’ve found that honesty, no matter how difficult, proves to be the best way to maintain one’s integrity and sanity at critical junctures.

    -          Finally, if the prosecutor’s version of what happened is true, why didn’t someone – a friend or family member –realize the kind of stress Sevigny was under and encourage counseling? And for that matter, why didn’t Sevigny herself consider seeking counseling or at least finding a way to take a break from caregiving in order to get some perspective? I’d also suggest that even if the defense’s account was correct, Sevigny still was mentally unstable as shown by her actions – burning her mother’s body and then placing it in a suitcase for her son to bury.

  • This headline-making story illustrates three key points that caregivers need to consider. First of all, make sure that safety measures are taken to secure all potentially dangerous weapons (guns, knives, etc.) in the home where a person with Alzheimer’s lives. Secondly, realize that as a caregiver, self-care – whether through taking some time off or seeking counseling – is critically important to maintain one’s level-headedness and sanity. And finally, if some awful accident does happen, be honest and report it to the proper authorities immediately.

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Published On: January 13, 2010