February 23, 2001: Sommer Skyy Stokes was born.
June 11, 2001: From Melanie’s suicide note to herself: “Everyone going along with normal happy lives. I wish I was normal again.”
Timeline of psychiatric treatments given to Melanie Stokes, and her reactions to them…
Article: “Descent Into Darkness”
April 8, 2001
Melanie checked in at Michael Reese Hospital’s emergency room and Melanie was admitted to the psychiatric unit. At the hospital, doctors placed Melanie on antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs.
In a matter of seven weeks, Melanie was admitted three times to the psychiatric units of three different hospitals.
After she was discharged from Michael Reese following a five-day stay, Melanie stopped eating again. When Carol took her back to a hospital, this time to the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, Melanie told the doctors she hadn’t eaten for a week. She wanted to eat, she said, but she couldn’t swallow. She was admitted overnight for dehydration and released the next morning for a scheduled appointment with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist changed her medication and decided to start her on electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), more commonly known as shock treatment.
In ECT, electricity is used to cause a seizure in the brain while the patient sleeps under general anesthesia. Typically, someone will undergo five to 12 sessions of ECT over two or three weeks.
From the start, Melanie hated the treatments. She said it felt as though her brain were on fire. When she came home from the first ECT, she crawled into bed, exhausted. Her aunts Vera and Grace crept upstairs to check on her. She was curled up in a ball, so small and thin she barely made a lump beneath the blankets. Because ECT can affect short-term memory, Melanie didn’t know where she was or what had happened to her. “I have a baby?” she kept asking Sam. “I have a baby?” When it came time for her fourth session, she refused. “It’s killing me,” she told her husband.
By Mother’s Day, she was back on a psychiatric ward, at UIC. This time, she sat on her hospital bed, blank-faced, when Carol brought Sommer to see her. In the nine days she had been hospitalized, she had never asked her mother about Sommer and now she had to be told to take her into her arms.
Melanie had resumed the ECT treatments and started another combination of medications. But her weight continued to drop. At 5 feet 6 inches tall, she now weighed 100 pounds. Whenever anyone asked her how she felt, she said she thought she would never get better. Melanie spent 19 days at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center. The day after she was released, she asked her neighbor for a gun. Not long after that, she visited her aunt Grace, who lives on the 22nd floor of a high-rise, and sat for hours, looking out her windows. After her mother learned that she had been wandering near the lake again, she told Melanie that the doctors were concerned about her blood pressure and took her back to the hospital. UIC was full and sent her to Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
When she arrived on May 27, she had already been through four different combinations of anti-psychotic, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs, as well as the electroconvulsive therapy.
On June 6, five days after Melanie came home from the hospital, she told Joyce she wanted to learn her daughter’s bedtime routine. She watched as her aunt fed and bathed Sommer. Joyce lay the baby’s nightgown on the bed and asked Melanie to put it on her. Melanie picked it up and stared at it. Then, she put the nightgown back on the bed.
“I can’t do it,” Joyce remembers her saying. She turned around and went back to the living room. It was the last time her daughter saw her.
June 7, 2001
Early the next morning, she called her mother and told her she had been a good parent. Her father got a telephone call, too, while he was shaving. She said she loved him. For Sam, there was a note tucked under a corner of a photo album she placed on the kitchen table. He had walked in from a Thursday staff meeting at Cook County Hospital, expecting to pick up Melanie. They had planned a day out together. It wasn’t until he had made half a dozen telephone calls and two trips to the lakefront to look for her that he saw the note. “Sam, I adore you, Sommer and Andy, Mel.”
Melanie’s family began a desperate search to find her.
June 10, 2001
Just after 5:30 p.m., Melanie paid $113.76 for a hotel room, in cash. She checked in under the name Mary Hall.
June 11, 2001
Just before 6 a.m., a cyclist riding by the hotel saw a woman perched on a window ledge and ran inside to tell the clerk. Within minutes, firefighters were in Melanie’s room, trying to talk her back inside. She sat on the other side of a window, her back straight and pressed against the glass. After about 20 minutes, a firefighter approached the window. Melanie turned a little, as if she were going to try to pull herself up. Then, she turned back, put her hands at her side and dropped from the ledge. Gasps and screams rose from the small crowd that had gathered across the street. One of Melanie’s shoes fell off and bumped against the building. Alvarez raced for the elevator, hoping against hope. When she ran outside, she saw that Melanie’s body had already been covered.
In her room, the bed was made. On the radiator cover was a copy of the Chicago Sun-Times. The front-page headline was about her. On a night stand next to the digital clock sat a neat stack of notes, written on hotel stationery, with a pen laid perfectly straight in the middle. Melanie wrote a note to her parents. It said, in part, “Please let Sommer know how much I loved her during the pregnancy.”
She wrote a note to her husband, telling him to continue with their plans to move to Georgia and thanking him for loving her in “such a generous, sweet way.” She wrote a note to Tim Anderson, the employee who let her sit in the lobby. “I am so sorry to have used your kindness in this way,” it said. “You really are a fabulous clerk-very good at what you do. Tell your boss this was not your fault.”
She wrote a note to herself. “Everyone going along with normal happy lives. I wish I was normal again.”