The Reunion and the Memories It Inspired

by JHS, Esq.

Today it was my extreme pleasure to be reunited with my client, Florence Wendland, as we sat down together in her Stockton living room to be interviewed by KGO-TV Channel 7 in San Francisco. I hadn’t seen Florence, whom I call, simply, “Mom,” for awhile and I am happy to report that she looks and is feeling well at the age of 82.

Watching the suffering of Bob and Mary Schindler on the news these past few days has been very difficult for Florence. Although Robert Wendland never died by dehydration and starvation, he died nonetheless, with Florence at his bedside, approximately 3 weeks before the California Supreme Court issued its ruling in Florence’s favor. So when Florence sees Mary Schindler on newscasts pleading for her daughter’s life, the memories of watching her eldest child die come flooding back to Florence.

When Robert was residing at Lodi Memorial Hospital-West, Florence spent at least 3 days per week with him. Unable to drive, she would ride the county-operated bus approximately 20 miles or so from Stockton to Lodi, arriving in the morning and staying until late afternoon when she would walk back out to the bus stop near the hospital and head home. One Christmas, the hospital staff took up a collection and presented Florence with many dollars worth of bus tokens.
Today she told me that she misses Robert and the days they would spend together, and looks for ways to occupy her time.

Her cozy living room, where I spent many hours over the years, mostly being probed by reporters from around the world, was freshly painted and the furniture rearranged since the last time I visited. But the familiar pictures of Robert were still there, along with several photos of Florence with Robert in his hospital room, smiling as she posed next to him seated in his wheelchair.

Those images are burned into my memory. I used to look at those photos in the wee small hours as I stumbled out of my bed, tripping over the boxes of trial and deposition transcripts, notes, medical records, and all the other documents that were stored in my bedroom. Those boxes of documents seemed to multiply exponentially as the case dragged on. I would look at those photos as I paced the floor planning my next legal maneuver or sat at my desk while my children and husband slept, drafting brief after brief. Those photos revealed Robert’s humanity and the unconditional love his mother felt for him. They inspired me to keep fighting.

Controlling the Images and Access

Peruse the many, many news articles on the Robert’s Legacy website, paying particular attention to the images you see there of Robert. (Read those articles with caution and a great deal of cynicism, however, because I can’t think of even 1 news article that ever presented the facts with total accuracy.) You will realize that, in large measure, you are looking at pictures of a man lying in a hospital bed wearing a hospital gown. The images that the public saw of Robert while his case was pending were within the exclusive control of his wife, Rose, and her advisers because she was his conservator (guardian). Rose always contended that Robert recognized neither her nor their 3 children, did not respond to stimuli or commands, and had no appreciation of his environment.

Bobby Schindler talked today of his frustration with the images of Terri that members of the public have seen. He complained that Michael Schiavo, Terri’s estranged husband, has blocked access to Terri that would allow the public could see that she is not in a vegetative state, but is conscious, interactive, and aware of her surroundings.

Terri has been seen in videos on the Terri’s Fight website which have also been played over and over during every newscast in this country. We did not have the benefit of being able to provide videotape of Robert to the public. The value of videotape cannot be measured or overestimated, which is why I advise families who contact me because their loved one is in danger of being euthanized to immediately get videotape of the patient interacting and responding. It is imperative that such evidence be preserved before any litigation is commenced because once a conservator (guardian) is appointed, that individual will be able to dictate who sees the patient and, more importantly, in what context and setting the patient is seen. From that point on, it may be impossible to obtain video footage that reveals the patient’s true status.

Bob and Mary Schindler told commentator/host Sean Hannity this evening that they were prohibited by Michael Schiavo from seeing Terri for a period of about 5 hours today, for reasons that were not explained to them. The cruelties visited upon them by their estranged son-in-law are inexplicable and inexcusable. They are searched and monitored as they enter the hospice and visit with their dying daughter. An armed police officer stands by Terri’s bedside to make sure that her mother, Mary, doesn’t slip her an ice chip as she slowly dehydrates.

WHAT CRIMES HAVE ANY OF THE SCHINDLERS COMMITTED THAT THEY ARE SUBJECTED TO SUCH TREATMENT?

Yet the stories coming out of Florida have a familiar theme. Rose Wendland was given absolute authority by the San Joaquin County Superior Court to dictate who could and could not visit Robert. For the most part, his mother was allowed to visit, but several other members of his family were not. The list of approved visitors was kept at the hospital’s reception desk and an armed guard was posted in the lobby. I was not allowed to see Robert, even though Rose routinely met with her attorneys in Robert’s hospital room and granted access to reporters and camera crews, conducting interviews at Robert’s bedside. Time and again, reporters related to Florence and I that they had just come from the hospital where they observed and photographed Robert. They would stare incredulously at Florence as she recited Robert’s accomplishments and abilities and look at me as if to say, “Do you know that your client is crazy?” They stated that during their visits with Robert, they did not observe him interacting or responding in any meaningful way. Many times, reporters told me that Robert was asleep the entire time they were in his hospital room.

I independently verified the stories Florence related about her visits with Robert and his capabilities. So at all times during the litigation, I knew that my representations to the court were truthful and accurate, despite the claims made by Florence’s adversaries.

One bioethicist who testified pro bono on Rose’s behalf described spending several hours in Robert’s room discussing the case and Rose’s desire to dictate that Robert’s feeding tube be removed. When I asked her what Robert was doing as that conversation took place, she testified dispassionately that he was curled up in the fetal position in his bed, clearly within earshot as the discussion of bringing about his death took place.

I once went to the hospital to meet with Florence and a reporter. I had no intention of attempting to crash the gate. I simply planned to sit in the public lobby of the hospital and talk quietly with the 2 women over a cup of coffee. But when the hospital administrator discovered us, we were ordered to leave, ostensibly because Rose had specified that I not be permitted in the hospital. (Ironically, I was and am a taxpaying resident of Lodi — a city that only has 1 hospital.) Rather than make a scene, we adjourned to the fireside room of my church and conducted the interview there.

When the case was pending in the California Supreme Court, Florence showed a painting that Robert made during an activity session to the reporter from “Good Morning America.” As a result, demands were made that Florence never show the painting again. In fact, she was pressed to surrender it. If she refused, I was informed that her visits with Robert would be terminated.

Too late. By then, the painting had been shown on national television and posted on websites.

The Wounds Don’t Heal

Florence has had no contact with Rose since the case concluded. Rose and Robert’s 3 children have nothing to do with their grandmother. Florence also told me today that her son, Michael Hofer, who sided with Rose and testified that Robert should die, does not visit her. (Ironically, Mr. Hofer testified that he was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.) She remains close to her other surviving children and grandchildren.

It is my firm belief that the loss is not Florence’s. Rose, her children, and Michael Hofer and his family are missing the opportunity to have a close and loving relationship with a woman who demonstrated unconditional love, support, and devotion to her child after his life-altering accident. Robert was profoundly disabled following his 1993 car accident. He was never again the same as the night he made the tragic decision to get into his pick-up while legally drunk. It didn’t matter to Florence. Robert was still her child, her baby boy, and she didn’t care that he could no longer speak or run to her. She did not blame Rose for wanting to get on with her life, and encouraged her to allow Robert to live peacefully in the care of Florence and her other children, rather than continue battling to bring about Robert’s death. Florence’s overtures were rebuffed and scoffed at.

Mary Schindler feels the same way about Terri. She, Bob, and their 2 other children have begged Michael Schiavo to let Terri live in peace. He moved on with his life long ago, living since at least 1996 with another woman and fathering two children by her. Like Rose, Michael Schiavo has refused to surrender custody and control of Terri to her family.

Instead, Terri has, at this writing, been without even an ice chip for 6 long days, slipping further and further away from the people who raised her and want to continue lovingly caring for her.

Again, I ask: WHAT CRIMES HAVE ANY OF THE SCHINDLERS COMMITTED THAT THEY ARE SUBJECTED TO SUCH TREATMENT?

I pray that the Supreme Court responds quickly and appropriately to the Schindlers’ final appeal for relief so that Terri can be saved.

Previous post:

Next post:


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.