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  • Have you ever witnessed someone succumbing to madness? Going crazy? I have twice in my life. In some ways, I think it's worse than watching someone die slowly of cancer or another disease. Or at least, very like it.

    The first was my brother, Jerry. At 22, some genetic switch flipped in my brother's brain and he became paranoid schizophrenic. It was probably brought on by a combination of drug use in his teen years, the genetic component and growing up in a typically dysfunctional family such as ours. However it developed, it happened suddenly. I had gone off to college and everything seemed fine. Jerry had just gotten married to his high school sweetheart a few months earlier. He was the brother I had always known; goofy, clumsy, artistic Jerry.

    When I returned for a weekend visit later that year, it was obvious things had gone terribly wrong in his head. My mother had darkly hinted that Jerry was acting "oddly" when I arrived home for my visit. That evening, as I lay on the couch watching TV, my brother burst into the house, dragging his new wife behind him and screaming that she had appeared in Playboy. He was convinced that there were photos of her in the centerfold. His poor wife looked terrified and pleaded with us to do something, in between assuring Jerry that those photos were of someone else, not her.

    He was never the same after that. The brother I had grown up with was gone, replaced by this new person. There were still flashes of the Jerry I had known, but mostly, it was someone using his voice, talking about things that made no sense. His wife left him barely six months after they had gotten married. I don't think anyone could blame her.

    Over the years, he got treatment and after several unsuccessful tries, a medication was found that helped him control the schizophrenia. But the sibling of my childhood never fully returned to us.

    In his place was a man who would ramble on at times then catch himself and apologize for sounding "crazy." He was a good man. Kind to his many pets, friendly, well-liked by the others in his various therapy groups, with many friends. He was funny and liked to tell me jokes. He treated my mother, who would come to his apartment to help him shop and do his laundry, with love and respect. He learned to make a life for himself despite the illness in his mind. I grew to love him even more than I had loved his earlier self. I believe his illness and his learning to deal with it gave him a depth of character that he had been lacking as a teen and young adult.

    At 44, on 12th Night--Jan. 6th, ten years ago, he choked to death while eating. He lived alone and there was no one around to help him dislodge the food in his airway.

    I can still hear his voice when I think of him. I still miss him.
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