My Mom Ate Burnt Toast

FROM MY FILES FRIDAY: On December 19th, one year ago, my mother, Jean Earley, died from cancer.  This is the eulogy that I gave at her funeral.

My Mother

There are four things that you need to know if you want to know about my mother, Jean Earley.  She loved her God, she loved her husband, she loved her children — and she ate burnt toast.


Let’s start with God.

My father didn’t start his career as a preacher. He owned a mom and pop grocery store in Douglas, Arizona, but he felt unfulfilled. He believed that God was calling him so he sold the store and studied to become a minister. His first church was in Buffalo, a town in the Oklahoma panhandle.  My father soon fell into a pattern. He would move to a small Disciples of Christ church that was struggling to attract members and build up that congregation through his preaching and his financial expertise until it was on firm footing and thriving. And then he would feel compelled to find yet another troubled church to rescue.

My mother was his defacto co-minister. She used her artistic skills to do chalk drawings during his sermons on Sunday nights to illustrate his lectures. She taught Sunday school, sang in church choirs, organized ladies groups, helped at church dinners and truly lived her beliefs.

Here’s an example.

Many of you know that my mother was completely blind in one eye and had macular degeneration in the other. What you don’t know is that she was blinded when an incompetent eye doctor severed her optic nerve during a bungled cataract surgery in South Dakota. There was never any talk of suing him, no anger at him by my parents. My mother simply accepted her blindness as a challenge that God had given her. She didn’t understand it, but believed it would not have happened if God had not wanted her to experience and grow from her loss of sight.

Example two:

My sister, Alice, died at age 17 when the motor scooter that she was riding – my motor scooter — got struck by a car in an  intersection. I was fifteen.   In the town of 1,000 residents where we lived during the 1960s, it was the custom that families in mourning stayed behind a veiled curtain in our church during a funeral.  My parents, along with my brother and me, sat in the front row directly in front of my sister’s coffin and greeted people as they went by it. My parents wanted to show that they believed that death could not defeat Christians who believed in the resurrection of Christ.  While profoundly devastated by their loss, they believed my sister had gone to a better place. My mother was certain of it.

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Best & Worst in Mental Illness During 2014

THE BEST: TRUDY HARSH and The Brain Foundation

After her daughter, Laura, developed a brain tumor at age eight, Trudy Harsh became a fearless advocate for persons with brain disorders. Tired of bureaucratic ineptness, she decided to do something about Fairfax County’s deplorable lack of affordable housing. (Some persons with mental illnesses could wait up to 18 years for an apartment.)

Trudy used her professional skills in 2003 as a real estate agent to launch an all-volunteer group called “The Brain Foundation.” With $50,000 in seed money from local entrepreneur, Wilbur Dove, Trudy secured a $450,000 loan from the Virginia Housing Development Authority – enough to buy a four-bedroom townhouse. She arranged for Pathways Homes to provide residential services for the house’s four residents. Trudy named the facility “Laura’s House” in honor of her daughter who passed away in 2006 at age 38.

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From My Files Friday: What Were the First Warning Signs of a Mental Illness?

144227-14575712-12-14  FROM MY FILES FRIDAY ;  On April 4, 2011, I wrote about warnings that might suggest someone you love is showing signs of an emerging mental disorder. Here’s a slightly edited version of “What Were the First Warning Signs.” Please share on my Facebook page helpful information from your own personal experiences that might help others. 

“Did you see any warning signs that should have tipped you off about your son’s mental illness?”

It’s a question I am asked whenever I speak in public.

Like other parents, I have spent hours thinking about my son’s past,  wondering if there were behaviors that I missed which should have been red flags.  If so, what were they? When did his mental illness first begin revealing itself?

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Our “Black and White” Legal System: An Update On Two Troubling Cases

Josh_Sales Specialist-1

I recently posted two blogs that raise troubling questions about what happens when people with mental disorders become entangled in our criminal justice system. Here are updates about Reginald Latson and Josh Francisco. 


The Washington Post is continuing to publicize the troubling case of Reginald Latson, an African American young man with autism currently being held in solitary confinement in Stafford County, Virginia. One has to wonder if race had and is playing a role in this unfolding sad incident in light of recent national events that have shown a spotlight on how race can influence our system.

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Execution of Scott Panetti Halted — For Now

Thanks to everyone who voiced their concern about this case!



AUSTIN: A federal appeals court in New Orleans on Wednesday halted the execution of Texas killer Scott Panetti, whose case has sparked a global debate over whether people with severe mental illnesses should be put to death for their crimes.

Panetti’s lawyers say he is too delusional to be executed. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a reprieve less than eight hours before Panetti was scheduled to receive a lethal injection. The court said it needed more time to “allow us to fully consider the late-arriving and complex legal questions at issue in this matter.”

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Execution of Mentally Ill Inmate Set For Wednesday: Tried to Call Jesus As Witness



The following editorial was first published on line Sunday morning by USA TODAY and appears in the newspaper’s print edition today, 12-2-2014.


Texas Case Highlights The Perverse Legal Definition of ‘Mental  Competency.

By Pete Earley in USA TODAY

On Dec. 3, Texas plans to administer a lethal injection to Scott Panetti, a mentally ill inmate who attempted to call former president John F. Kennedy, the pope and Jesus Christ as witnesses while representing himself at his murder trial wearing a cowboy costume with a purple bandana.

Panetti’s 22-two year odyssey through our U.S. legal system for killing his in-laws should never have gotten this far and while his case is especially egregious, up to 10% of the 3,035 inmates currently awaiting execution are thought to have a diagnosable mental disorder, such a schizophrenia, and a June study found that of the last 100 people executed in the U.S., 54% had a mental illness.

The state had to hold two jury trials — not to prove him guilty — but to prove that he was sane enough to prosecute him. At his trial, Panetti announced God had cured him, fired his attorneys and called “Sarge” as a witness, questioning himself on the stand using different voices.

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