Why are we killing him to save him?


By Ruby Friedman.

My mother thought she would not be living past her oldest son, Jeff.

She thought she’d pass before all five of us, like it’s supposed to be in the life cycles and systems…

My father the doctor tried to prepare her a long time ago, “You know. Jeff will not live past 50 with all the medication he’s on…”

I am the youngest of five.

I was told frequently in my earliest years, “Don’t be like Jeff” or other such variations on the same theme. I was and still am scared of “being like Jeff”. Who wouldn’t be? Jeff was always off.

Sometimes the cops came.

In no particular order Jeff’s legacy includes killing birds, tying up maids, breaking furniture, getting straight A’s, playing chess, lighting fires in public places, studying differential equations, calculus, astronomy, stock market, scoring touchdowns, sprinting in track meets, becoming a chess master, and obsessing on one of my beautiful blond friends from 6th grade (to this day even)…

Attacking a doctor and breaking his arm, stalking salesgirls, hiding in corners, discussing Edgar Cayce and Atlantis, getting picked on, studying for 12 hours straight in a locked room, slicing his wrists, picking my mom flowers, cutting up his stomach, and listening to Iron Maiden. Jeff loves hard metal.

It is quite a mystery that with all the meds he’s on, he could love anything.

When my band was flown to England by Bruce Dickinson and his wife Paddy to play her birthday party in July 2011, Bruce happily signed a rare t-shirt for me to bring back to Jeff. When I presented the gift to him, he said “Do I have to pay for that?” I explained it was a gift. He seemed incredulous. He thought I was tricking him. When he finally understood, he told my Mom she should hold on to it because someone would steal it at his mental facility. “They steal everything”, he said.

There is a sign by the front door that does warn against bringing in any valuables.

Jeff can be very sweet and disarming and you will fall prey to an imperishable hope that he is suddenly cured. Then his brain will dart onto the subject of making money by telepathy, turning candy rings into genuine gemstones, how the family of bicyclists at the park are all undercover cops…the list goes on…

And then he is dropped back off after each visit to the place that buzzes him back in to sleep among his drugged-up and synthetically pacified kind, and you breathe in some peace that he is safe from himself and we are safe from him, and that is the best version of the horrible hand he was dealt.

Those are his cards.

Jeff has been in the lock-down unit for more of his life than not. Now he has a rare form of cancer which was diagnosed in June. When he was first diagnosed, my mother had to convince him that the oncologist’s plan was not to kill him.

“The oncologist does not trick his patients”, she told Jeff. “He does not make things up to make money. He is trying to save your life.”

My mother is the only person with whom Jeff will check his delusions and the only person who can re-direct his paranoid realities.

Jeff is a paranoid schizophrenic. He is on and always has been on a veritable pharmacopeia of anti-psychotics, which incidentally have been implicated in his rare form of aggressive cancer. It raises a lot of questions and forces my family to confront societal vs familial values, and to also examine the fine line between choice of treatment and human dignity, and sometimes, even grimly justifying medical costs for the treatment of a mentally ill human, my brother Jeff.

For example, the inevitable”Why are we killing him to save him with this chemotherapy only to go back into that living condition….”  Is this a sensible thing to do to “Poor Jeff”, as my mom says.

The whole thing is sad. My mom cannot save him. She never could. Maybe her delusion was that there would be a new drug that could cure his schizophrenia one day if he just lived long enough to get there—and now, it seems, the drugs that were treating him are killing him. In a sense, my brother will be able to prove the paranoiac’s persecution of himself via the Western medical plotline. He will say that he was right. My mom is very scared of that moment. What can she say?

My brother is part of an invisible population.

You will not meet him. He will never have an email, a cell phone, a car, or a Facebook. He has never had a girlfriend or a night out on the town. He is happiest when he has a full belly, gets to chess club, and you give him ten bucks. He tried to kill himself after my Dad died. Said he wanted to go where his Dad went. I think he was scared that my Mom would not continue the weekly visits. He is alienated and scared again now. He contemplates what his life has meant.

I remind him that his track record for the 300 yard dash still holds.

The oncologist told my mother yesterday that the cancer was in Jeff’s bones and lymph system, and he’s not responding to the chemo. Jeff cannot hold food down. My mother cannot stop seeing his baby pictures in her head and spontaneously tears up. She fears for her sanity. Somewhere she got the message that grieving is akin to mental illness.

I try to remind her of even worse scenarios involving child loss by parents—that she is not alone and it could be much worse. I bring up Journal Of The Plague Year, the Holocaust, her friend Bonny who lost her son in a rock slide while vacationing, child abductions/murders, slavery, Dr. Passoff who died on a helipad transport.

I bring up 9/11.

But it is a sorry attempt to mitigate her impending grim reality of losing her oldest son. Her pain is real, and in the isolated moments of our solitude those historical events, although horrendous and eclipsing, do not help her helplessness and personal grief and devastation. It is her Hurricane Katrina. Her 9/11. Her Plague. Her Holocaust.

The first thing she said to me this morning was, “It’s in the bones. You know what happens when it’s in the bones.”

She told me that she’d bury him next to my father. We talked about the “Alas, poor Yorick” scene in Hamlet.

I told her about that song by Eric Clapton. She didn’t know about it.

“Sing it to me”, she said.

I sang the whole thing.


Ruby Friedman is a Los-Angeles based steampunk vaudevillian back-alley orchestral composer, singer, performer and recording artist. Her music is heard licensed in international ad campaigns and her band, The Ruby Friedman Orchestra, will be releasing their debut album in 2013.





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  • Mamaste
    Mamaste commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    Blessings to you and your family Ruby. This touched my soul. xoxo ~S
  • Seth Newfeld
    Seth Newfeld commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    Ruby, thanks for putting into words what is one of the saddest of human conditions, the “killing you to save you” reality of our society. What is a parent to do? My heart goes out to you and your family. Tomorrow is the 2nd anniversary of the death of my older brother, Andrew. He had no mental illness, other than loneliness, but he was my big brother. I wish you and your family, especially your mom, peace. I do look forward to the release of music! All the best!
  • Tanya Lee Markul
    tanya lee markul commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    Ruby, this was so REAL and beautiful. Thank you SO much for sharing your life, this experience with us. We want more of you! Grateful to be connected! xoxo
  • Tracy commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    So much. I’m not sure where to start. First of all, bravo on such a perfect piece: moving, succinct, yet somehow complete, showing a deep understanding from more than just your own perspective…and in a tone of peace or at least the best peace one can hope to attain in this. My heart breaks for all of you, your mother especially, but it is good that she has you. Sending love and blessings to all of you.
  • melanieimhofflanie commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    As I read this I thought of all the sick people coming to the building I work at. (Thc Cancer Center). Many of them are simply prolonging their misery and I always wonder why. I am also aware of many cancer treatments that are successful at treating any form of cancer that are not used by modern medicine. I share this with people, only to get “this chick is crazy” looks. Their doctor didn’t tell them about it, so it can’t be true. I also personally know 2 people with schizophrenia. I see their suffering, and their containment. Maybe we’re the crazy ones…. what is crazy anyway? <3 Melanie
  • analyfe commented on December 28, 2012 Reply
    This breaks my heart, but in the sense of opening up and expanding its capacity. Mental illness runs in my family, so I’ve seen my fair share and can relate to what you and your family are going through. As others have mentioned, you seem to be at such a place of peace and acceptance that you’re able to extend the same to others. You have a beautiful voice and a touching story–please continue to share.

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