I’m Thankful Today For My Fellow Advocates Who Tirelessly Fight For Mental Health Reforms


(11-24-16) Among the many blessings that I have in my life are the relationships that I have developed with fellow advocates for persons with mental illnesses. I know many of these courageous individuals only through emails and Internet posts. 

Laura Pogliano is one such friend and today on Thanksgiving, I am reposting a letter that she wrote to me last year. Laura,  I am thankful for you and so many others who inspire me. 

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

After the death of her son, Laura launched a campaign to help others which you can read about here.

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.