Friday, April 14, 2017

He's Been Gone Ten Years!

I just can’t believe it. It’s been ten years since my brother died.

He had deep thoughts.
I came into the house on a Sunday afternoon after my Bible study. My husband, never a speech maker, said, “Ben died. They found him in his apartment today.”

We use Sunday, April 15, 2007 as his official death date, although he hadn’t been talked to since Wednesday and it could have been any time between that. In fact, it was probably sooner than later. I won’t go into that.

Ben was a schizophrenic. He was also a diabetic. He had myopia, which got worse over the years. He hadn’t driven in years. He was 51 years old when he died.

I mourned the life he struggled with as much if not even more than his death. He was a darling little boy, but the vision was a problem since he was young. Unlike today, it was not diagnosed until he was already in school. Strike One. He was unable to pass first grade (because he was on the very young edge of the boundary, and today we would just hold him back). Strike Two. There were things physically he just wasn’t good at, things we held then and now in esteem. Strike three.

Mom and I were talking just the other day about how easily we might have lost him. He couldn't see properly and we were at the top of a cliff. He wanted to jump off the cliff and land on the green "pillows." Had he done that, and we lost him, we would never have understood why a child would do that. His reality was different because of what he could and could not see.

However, he was a genius in music. We had a ukulele which he picked up at four or five, and by seven it was obvious he needed more. My parents found a “junior guitar” for smaller hands. He played that for a long time, but I think he moved up to normal size around ten. (By then I didn’t mind playing the little one with my small hands).

Around eight, he also started playing my cousin’s four string banjo. Eventually, my parents purchased a used one for him, until they could see where that was going to go. He played the banjo, but he PLAYED the guitar. During this stage of life, it was mimicking what other musicians played. It wasn’t until he was in his early adulthood and following that he began writing and recording his singing.

Mind you, this was only for his own use; he wasn’t trying to sell it to anyone or make money with it. He was just that person that everyone sat around and sang with. Our two cousins were often involved also. Like just about everyone else in the world at the time, he had a “garage band” in our basement. I think that only worked because my father worked early evenings.

While music defined him, there were other things going on also. He graduated from high school in 1974. He matriculated, but never earned a degree. One can never point to one day and say “That’s the onset of his schizophrenia,” but he was unable to hold a job in his young adulthood. My Dad attempted to find him a place at the company he worked. Dad died when Ben was 22 for reference.

After Dad died, Ben attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. He was one semester short of graduation, when he came home and joined the army. I don’t think he served two years; they wanted to do knee surgery on him and he wouldn’t let them (paranoia) so he received a medical discharge. That would be a Godsend later in life.

It wasn’t until he was 35 (maybe 7 years later) that he/we had a firm diagnosis of schizophrenia. NOW, it could be treated. He was hospitalized for a time in a VA hospital, and medicated and monitored by the VA hospital in his home city. I shudder to think what would have happened to him had he not had those benefits. He worked for the University Hospital which put him in the PERS retirement and benefits system. After several years, he got what I think of as medical retirement. While not large, he had an income, because he wasn’t functioning in the working environment.

He lived in a couple of apartments, and sixteen years later, his heart gave out. His antipsychotic drugs put weight on him, and I don’t think as a diabetic he was taking care of himself.

We will assume he died on a Sunday. The following Saturday we had a visitation-funeral and burial in the family plot. I have good memories of getting all the family together that day, as five weeks later was my son’s graduation from high school, and not everyone was able to attend.  The most precious moment for me was at the burial, the family sang “Long May You Run” recorded by Neil Young, who was one of Ben’s absolute favorites. “Long May You Run” is a long song, with several choruses. In the beginning, just us “old folks” were singing, but by the end of the song, all the younger relatives had joined in. It was a 70 degree Saturday in April and it was a beautiful day.

Ben is remembered for his music and his genius in composition. Although the illness was always there, and I can’t say it was in the background, it is not what he is remembered for.

He is still missed.

This is the last picture of the four of us, taken
at my daughter's wedding in 2005.


  1. Wow, what a story. Thanks for introducing us to your brother ... and for the nice remembrance.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I'll eventually be moving tons of comments from Facebook here. Many, many people knew him.

  2. Great read, Denise. Though I knew him in school, I never knew of the struggles he had. Just goes to show that you never know someone till you walk in their shoes. CAH

  3. Ben had a difficult life and died so young. I know the pain of losing a brother too soon. Thank God you and your family loved him. Thank you for the reminder to make every moment count with our loved ones. We don't know when the Lord will call us home.LGR

  4. Thanks for sharing this Denise! It's been 21 years since we lost our sister Debbie to breast cancer! Not a day goes by that I don't think about her and remember all the good times we had back in the day!

  5. This is beautifully written, Denise, and a lovely tribute to Ben. He was so tortured in life but so very talented too. Thinking of him today and missing that "impish" little boy I first met when Rick and I started to date. Thanks for reminding me of his life.....the struggles and the successes. SDC

  6. Beautiful, just beautiful, Denise. I can still hear him singing. Robin.

  7. Beautiful tribute to your brother.... my be gone but not forgotten!!! BVR

  8. Thanks Denise. Very well written. Thank you for sharing. KKH