My Cousin Rick by
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Prompted By Cousins

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My Cousin Rick

We were shocked some months ago to learn of the sudden death of my cousin Rick at age 66.  The family gathered in Rochester where Rick had lived, and several of us spoke at his moving memorial service.

Since childhood my redheaded cousin had suffered a debilitating mental illness.  His devoted parents Mary June and Milton did all they could to see that Rick had the best care,  and his last years were spent as a resident at the Rochester Psychiatric Center.

Every year on his birthday and holidays I sent Rick cards and gifts.  In response he never failed to send me a sweet thank-you note,  written in his child-like,  labored hand.

I last saw my cousin when I visited him at RPC. seven or eight years ago,  and I was touched by his recall of family relationships and his vivid memory of a cousin’s wedding we had both attended years before.  At that last RPC visit Rick was obviously so glad to see me,  I much regretted not visiting more often.

After my aunt and uncle died,  the responsibility for Rick’s care fell to his sister Kathy.  By then his health had been further compromised by physical ailments,  and although Kathy and her husband Mal lived in Maryland,  they visited Rick as often as they could and spoke regularly with his treatment team.

Yet it wasn’t until my own sister became severely disabled that I fully understood the heartache Mary June,  Milton and Kathy must have felt all those years watching the emotional and physical decline of my once robust cousin.

But thankfully after Rick’s death we found unexpected comfort from his Rochester caregivers.  Stories they shared at the memorial service helped us realize that Rick had forged deeper and more meaningful relationships with the staff and his fellow patients than we had imagined,  and that his life had been far richer than we had dared hope.

Rick loved boxing and I now see him as a fighter of sorts himself,  battling his own demons every day.  One of Rick’s heroes,  Muhammad Ali once spoke of the inner battles we all wage.

”The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines,  in the gym,  and out there on the road,  long before I dance under those lights.”

Rest in peace,  Redhead.


– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Mental Illness, Cousins
Characterizations: been there, moving


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Touching story, Dana. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Suzy says:

    My condolences on the loss of your cousin. Thank you for sharing him with us.

  3. John Zussman says:

    Dana, thanks for this lovely, heartfelt story, which reminds me so much of my brother who is schizophrenic and fortunately still with us. Like Rick, he has struggled with demons for most of his adult life. Yet he is totally devoted to family — he calls far more often than my other siblings — and has vivid recall of childhood events. I wish you comfort from learning about Rick’s rich emotional life and I hope I am helping to provide that for my brother as well.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    What a touching story, Dana. I have been spared such troubles in my own life and the lives of my family members, so I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for all of them — but most of all for Rick. That he could still have brought happiness to so many other people, despite the demons with which he dealt, is amazing. And bless you for sharing this with us.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    My condolences, Dana, on the death of your cousin. It is some comfort that he had meaningful relationships and some measure of happiness in his life. Thank you for sharing this and suggesting this prompt.

    • Thanx Laurie.
      Rick was cremated and his sister told us we’d be scattering his ashes in the beautiful garden of their late mother’s church. I was apprehensive as I’d never done that and it sounded strange and morbid, but it was surprisingly comforting!,

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