Saying Good-bye to My Brother

May 31st, 2008 by DeeCee | 5


Image by Geek2Nurse

My brother died young. He struggled with schizophrenia, and after years of legal drugs, chain-smoking, and lack of exercise, his heart protested and he was gone at forty-six. Suddenly, I became an only child and the empty space around me felt overwhelming. Filling that space took a long time, but the journey began with my quest to understand the mental illness that claimed so many years of his life. I immersed myself in books, articles, and discussions about all mental illnesses (great source is NAMI), and with this knowledge came resolution of my conflicted emotions about his life.

Future posts will explore these emotions, which I think are quite common for family members and friends of people with mental illness. For now, I’d like to share this tribute to my brother that I wrote during my quest for answers.

It has been almost a year and a half now since Lanny died, but in many ways he actually left us back in the early 70s. For those of you who tend to remember Lanny with his illness and for those of you who didn’t know him in his early years, let’s go back in time for a little bit.

The brother I remember growing up with knew every symphony that Mozart wrote, but struggled with algebra. He could recall all of the significant historical events of Medieval Europe, but had no interest in how an internal combustion engine works. He had a great sense of humor, and had many good friends in high school, despite the fact that he had no abilities for, nor interest in sports.

Lanny loved cherry pie, played the cello, liked to play king on the mountain, but only played baseball because the rest of us kids did. He disliked hunting, had a crush on Claire Ann at least for a little while, and liked to stay up and watch midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

Lanny loved Donald Duck, sunburned easily, had beautiful handwriting, and saved me from drowning in the Camptown creek one hot summer day when he could still laugh easily. He liked to ride down hill on sleds, ate his Easter candy much too slowly, sang in Allegheny College’s choir, and spent much of his life dreaming of far off places.

Lanny also retained a phenomenal memory of important family dates and events. I’m sorry now that I didn’t sit down with him and map out a family history, since he could remember the year (and usually the day) of events, like the time that Uncle Ern and Aunt Claire’s barn burned, or when Aunt Marie tangled with the bull.

What we should remember about Lanny is that he began his life just like you and me, with likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, hopes and dreams. He didn’t choose to be ill, and suffered not only from the depths of the illness, but surely even more during the short, intermittent times of relative wellness, when he saw clearly that his life was not as it should be.

It’s easy now to look back and wonder what else we might have done for Lanny. I’m comforted somewhat by the fact that back when he was diagnosed, there was little known about mental illness, nor about how to treat it, so there was probably not much more that could have been done for him on a large scale.

However, what we might have done a little differently was to overcome our own sense of uneasiness, to ignore our own sense of discomfort, and to have taken time from our busy lives to reach out to Lanny with more calls, letters, and conversations. Very often, the little things that we do for others, out of love and compassion, not duty, are the very things that lighten our own spirits and refocus our lives.

So, let’s celebrate Lanny’s life and keep him in our hearts as a reminder to reach out to those who are struggling on this earth.

I’d like to quote from a short poem by an unknown author:
Through this toilsome world, alas!
Once and only once I pass;
If a kindness I may show,
If a good deed I might do
To a suffering fellow man,
Let me do it while I can.
No delay, for it is plain
I shall not pass this way again.

Rest in peace, Lanny. We always loved you; we just didn’t always know how to show it.

Lanny Joseph Potter   4/26/50 – 1/14/97

 

 

5 Comments on “Saying Good-bye to My Brother”


  1. » Saying Good-bye to My Brother said:

    [...] [Technorati] Tag results for mental illness wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt Image by Geek2Nurse My brother died young. He struggled with schizophrenia, and after years of legal drugs, chain-smoking, and lack of exercise, his heart protested and he was gone at forty-six. Suddenly, I became an only child and the empty space around me felt overwhelming. Filling that space took a long time, but the journey began with my quest to understand the mental illness that claimed so many years of his life. I immersed myself in books, articles, and discussions about all mental il [...]


  2. Christina said:

    What an awesome tribute. Thank you for sharing that with us all. It really made you see who Lanny is.


  3. Ramona said:

    Your tribute to Lanny is lovely and it is good to meet him in your story. He had many interests in spite of his illness.


  4. Home Beckons » Lanny Potter at the East Portal said:

    [...] after thirteen years without him, my brother can still sometimes bring me to tears. (See Saying Good-bye). I just found this photo taken of him in San Francisco in the mid seventies. He looks so healthy [...]


  5. Mary Ellen said:

    I did not know. I knew only that he died young. I remember him at your house and how nice he was to me. I will not forget him.

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