God Winks: After Their Sons Died Two Mothers Found Hope In Human Kindness and Heavenly Signs

(5-28-18) On Memorial Day we celebrate our veterans who died for us and our country.

I not only think about veterans but all those who have died and are dying because of a mental illness and our refusal to help them in their daily battles with brain disorders. Consider this email that I received from a mother this week.

Dear Pete,

I am happy to read that your son is doing well. My son, Art Anthony Hargreaves,  died last month from complications caused by his schizophrenia and diabetes. Alone in his little government studio apartment. He refused to go to a group home stating, “They’re illegal.” His case manager and others said there was nothing they could do. We were waiting on me trying to become his guardian. It just all moves too slow. Time ran out.  I miss my son.

Only those who have walked this walk truly understand. I kept telling his case manager that I was so afraid I might get a phone call informing me that my son Art had died. Art was such a sweet soul. Schizophrenia took his brain, than his body, but never his Soul, his love of nature and animals, and dare I say his Mom. I was in ICU recovering from a stroke-at my weakest, when Art left this world, and when I received the news.

Would you help me get word out about the Harvard Brain Bank for research on Mental Illness.  My son, and my whole family are donors. Unfortunately they could not harvest my son’s brain for research as the body must be quickly refrigerated and there is only a 3 hour window of time to do this. I did call Harvard Research Center and strongly suggested they put that information on donor cards…in case of death. 

Let’s call his death what it is

I listed my son’s cause of death as complications of schizophrenia and diabetes in his obituary to help end stigma.  Let’s call the cause of death what it is. Untreated mental illness!

My son loved to sit on my deck and he had names for all the birds by the Sandy River where I  live. A few eagles have been seen on the river in recent years. Art often told me about one he would see. When I came home from the hospital an eagle flew within 10 feet of my home as I looked out my living room window over the Sandy River. I think it was Art , Pete. Telling me ” I’m OK Mom.”  The eagle continues to make appearances.  Like in Its A Wonderful Life….every time I see an eagle (analogy of a bell rings) a mentally ill person gets it wings. May we have understanding and a cure soon.

Thank you for listening,

Charlene Turenne

Whenever I receive such sad news, I recall a blog from that I posted three years ago written by one of my favorite advocates, Laura Pogliano, after her son, Zac, died. Her words describe how human kindness helps heal wounds. They are well worth sharing again when you think of someone who is no longer with us who you loved.  Happy Memorial Day.

Hi Pete,

I started to write a reply to you, to thank you for the kind words in your Friday blog about my son, Zac, and my advocacy, but didn’t finish. When I got home from work, I realized why. Hanging on my door knob was a gift from Officer Kim Lankford of the Baltimore County Police Department.

Let me tell you a bit about Officer Lankford. You might recall that Zac decided at one point that he had been shot in the head. He hadn’t but he was convinced because of schizophrenia that he had. I wrote a blog for you about how Officer Lankford had treated my son with respect and had spent time comforting him. Later, it was Officer Lankford who did the welfare check at his apartment when I was concerned and the one who found him deceased and broke the news to me.

I want to tell you about the gift she left on my door knob.

After Zac passed away, I started finding a few pennies in places they would not have been dropped, such as inside the bath tub and on the stove top.

I’d heard an old wives tale that finding pennies meant your loved one was visiting. In grief, you look for any comfort at all. I decided to keep my eye out for more pennies.

Inside the gift bag Officer Kim left was a very kind sympathy card, and a very charming one from her young daughter with a lot of hand drawn hearts all over it. Then I pulled out a heavy object, wrapped in newspaper.

It was a pint jar filled with pennies. Her card read:

“I cannot imagine there being anything more difficult than losing a child. This jar of pennies is for the days–the moments when you need a little hope, a little faith–the hours, days, weeks, months, even years ahead that will be difficult. Zaccaria is still with you. He always will be.”

Pete, mental illness stole my son from me twice–first when he got sick, and then again when he died. I never thought my son would die so early. I’m sad and wish for more time. ( I’m digesting the idea that serious mental illness can be a terminal illness, and that this battle wasn’t winnable in the first place, even if it should be.)

I have debated, I’ve really struggled with whether I should lick my wounds and slink off in defeat, or get back in the fray. 

With Zaccaria by my side in spirit, I’ll continue to advocate. While I no longer have Zac present for inspiration, I have other advocates cheering me forward. I have Officer Kim, going above and beyond any expectations of her, as well as her daughter. I have the multitude of parents I’ve met and continue to meet, who have lost children to these monstrous illnesses and who feel isolated, and are suffering. There is so much to be done.

Thanks for your blog post; it really lifted my spirits!  And it reminded me that we are not alone on this path. Our fight continues.

Laura Pogliano


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.