I Call Him Richard

family of 5It was a semi-normal family as far as I was concerned, because it was my family.  I was the youngest of three, with two older brothers.  My middle brother, Dick, was the apple of my father’s eye.  He was bright, smart, well-behaved and strived toward a major in Engineering in college.  In other words, he was my father’s clone.

My oldest brother and I were quite the opposite, social rather than studious.  Dick was two years ahead of me in school and when it came to pass that I’d have his same teachers in math and science classes, the teachers would express the hope that I’d show the same aptitude.  I dispelled that myth quickly.  Dick was the one who won all the science fairs, high school, local, county, and state. Every.single.year!  I hated science.  My dad was a scientist.  I was doomed.

My oldest brother paved the way for me and I followed his lead.  I knew I’d never measure up to Dick so barely tried.  I found what I excelled in and went for it:  flirting and typing! 🙂

Dick was never in trouble.  NEVER!  Ugh.  My oldest brother and I?  Well, you get the point.

All was smooth sailing, with Dick that is, until the summer he turned 21.  It was a Sunday morning.

It was as if a light switch was turned on or off.  It was that abrupt.  He came down to breakfast, declared to my dad that he had quit his summer job and was taking off for who-knows-where and would be back who-knows-when.  He told my dad he could do whatever he wanted with Dick’s car.  Silence.  Dick left.  We went to church.

He was gone six weeks.  It was not discussed in our house the entire time he was gone.  Apparently he had hitchhiked to California from Pennsylvania and back.  He hadn’t gotten a haircut the whole time.  He then went back to college.  We rarely saw him the next few years as he completed college.  He stopped coming home, even in summers.  Eventually he changed his major from Engineering to Psychology and graduated.  My dad footed the bill.  I went with my parents to his graduation.  It was a nice enough event, though it was apparent egg shells were on the floor as certain topics and conversations were delicately being sidestepped.

And then he left again.  For two years no one had any idea where he was.  He had written a damning letter to my folks on his departure, shattering all my dad’s hopes and dreams for his life.

Two years later Dick again showed up, with pregnant wife in hand.  He and my dad got into it within the first hour and off he went.  At that point, it became a story of Dick being in and out of mental hospitals over the next I don’t know how many years.  First, he admitted himself.  I guess he was still smart enough to realize he wasn’t acting/thinking right.  My mother wondered if he were demon possessed.  My dad took it as a personal vendetta though he didn’t understand why or what he, as a parent, had done wrong.

I was invited to visit him in the mental hospital.  Only me.  Weird since we never got along.  But I went.  I was 22 and I can tell you I had never been to a mental hospital before.  It was the kind where they search you, then lock you in.  Patients are not allowed in bedrooms so were lying all over the floor in hallways.  I was scared.

Dick and I talked.  He described my father to me.  I was beginning to wonder if we grew up in the same house!  Dick had decided at age 6 (is that even possible?) that he knew what Dad expected of us and, therefore, determined to give him what he wanted.  And he did.  Until he turned 21.

Dick was divorced from his wife only months after she delivered his son, my nephew.    Eventually he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.  My dad, being a scientist, had no belief in mental diseases.  He believed in “mind over matter”.  I heard that “sermon” all my life.  I had moved out of town eventually so wasn’t in the middle any more.  Over the years my folks did make peace with him (when he was on his meds) and my dad did finally grasp and accept the idea of mental illness.  But it wasn’t easy.  For a while Dick was in and out of their home until he became so destructive and dangerous that he was not allowed back.

He settled into a boarding house and was content as a janitor for ten years or so.  He’d see my folks on a regular basis.  But one day something happened. Ironically my dad was the first to observe Dick was probably not taking his meds.  Dad tried to have a logical conversation with him on the benefits of taking ones meds but one cannot have a “logical” conversation with one who is mentally ill!  My dad just could not relate and it broke his heart.  I believe the disconnect with Dick came over communication with his former wife, telling in no uncertain terms, that Dick would never be allowed to have an ongoing relationship with his son.   It depressed him to the point of giving up and going off his meds and he, again, went missing.  Six months later an astute social worker called my parents.  He was in a hospital near death.  He had gone downtown Philadelphia, becoming basically a bum on the street.  He had developed a staph infection in his back and not being mentally healthy enough to realize it, went from bad to worse to critical.  The cops literally had to pick him up off the street.  Dick was in the hospital for three months before that social worker was able to piece together erroneous information my brother would give her and track down my parents.

Dick was in that hospital over a year.  My dad died during that year.  Because of the staph infection, Dick ended up a paraplegic and a ward of the state.   Eventually a nursing home was located, which wasn’t easy to find because of his being a paraplegic, a schizophrenic, and 47 years old.  We were actually relieved because now he’d always be on meds and we’d know where he was.

He lived in the nursing home for 14 years.  On a couple of occasions his mind scattered again.  But for the most part, he was himself, content with where he was and his life and his Lord!  My mother visited him faithfully until she was no longer able to make the two-hour each way drive.

Eventually he developed COPD.  He was a smoker – his only vice all those years so we did not discourage it.  I was the one who got the call.  “Come now!”  Dick was in the hospital, near death.  I flew in, picked up my mother and we stayed in a motel for six days nearby the hospital. He rallied when we were there.  He was so kind to everyone, so pleasant and thankful to all the nursing staff. And we laughed together.   They called him Richard.  I asked why.  It was his choice.  It was his given name, the identity he gave himself.

Finally the doctor said I needed to make that life or death decision.  I had to do the same for my dad 14 years earlier.  My mother just couldn’t do it and I don’t ever want to do that again!  Richard was 61 years old. – 40 years of upheaval and sadness and heartache put to rest.

I don’t know why he was schizophrenic.  He was the classic textbook case, the typical age (if it was to happen) for this to occur.  As I mentioned, it was the 60’s and folks were not inclined to speak of or accept mental illness and the stigma that goes along with it.  But there was also, I think, a bit of drug experimenting in college at exactly the same time as his breakdown.  I’ve also read that upbringing can trigger something.  I’m more inclined to consider that possibility.  But I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that, as a Believer, he’s in Heaven.   I’m thankful he’s whole now.  He’s walking upright and thinking clearly and living a beautiful life.  I’m thankful we ended up being friends.




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