Life After Gabe
*This is the eulogy I wrote in honor of Gabe and read at his memorial service on 6/29/12- Carmen
We lost Gabe once before. It was 1992 and I’d been studying abroad in England and when I came back after a year away, I found my brother replaced by an entirely different person. My funny, sweet, warm-hearted brother was replaced by this hostile, suspicious, humorless being, full of paranoia and accusation, staring straight ahead, unblinking. This was not the Gabe I knew. I remember the word “possessed” entered my mind. None of us really understood what schizophrenia meant back then, only that it was a word that we didn’t want to say.
I missed my brother. When Gabe was born – I thought he was a present: a beautiful doll just for me. He was my best friend. We built forts together out of the couch pillows, we took baths together, adopted “log babies” (pieces of driftwood that we would cart around in a stroller), created elaborate games in the back seat of the car with stuffed animals that always seemed to misbehave. Made up our own radio shows that we would record on my mom’s tape recorder. When we moved to Chicago, we protested the fact that for the first time we would have our own separate rooms. Can we knock down the wall, we asked? In Chicago we dug for treasure in the chimney, dressed up as our parents, made ski slopes out of our snow packed front steps. We created whole worlds together.
So when I came back from England I struggled to find that Gabe again. I thought I had lost him forever. But I was wrong. He was in there, fighting for his life.
Every day was a battle for him, but he managed to find his way out of that dark, dark, terrifying place. He fought for his humanity, his integrity. His beautiful soul struggled daily with this thing that seemed to want to destroy him. This thing that told him, that screamed at him in a way that most us cannot even imagine, that he was worthless. He fought for his creativity and imagination while taking medication that left him feeling lethargic and that had as many awful side effects as the symptoms they were supposed to help. He fought for his financial independence, becoming one of the top employees at Jewel. He fought for his education, returning to finish his BA, after a 20-year hiatus. And even before that, educating himself on everything film related. He was his own film school. He was my film school. He fought against the constant temptation of drugs and alcohol. He hadn’t had a drink in ten years. He was an example and a role model to others suffering from mental illness.
A second incarnation of Gabe emerged. A more courageous one than the one I’d known in childhood, a fighter, but also one who was able to empathize deeply with others, who would literally give you the coat off your back (as he did once with a homeless friend of his). Check out his Facebook page. Before last Sunday, almost every post is a shout out to somebody else. He was my biggest supporter. Always on the lookout for opportunities for my work, he handed out my business cards, researched grants for me and told just about every single person he met, “My sister has this webseries – you should check it out.” Over the past few days so many people have come to me and told me, “Your brother…he always made me feel special, your brother saw something in me.”
He was coming into his own as an artist. If you look around his apartment you’ll see his creativity everywhere: his films, screenplays, sketches, pen and ink drawings, notes for new projects, his movies, his magical cubes, mathematical theories — he was even trying his hand at wood carving. Over the last two years, he had started working on a documentary about mental illness. It is my hope to continue this project and bring it to fruition.
I thought it would be hard to come back here to his apartment, but instead it only makes me feel like here he is…just around the corner. Here he is about to call me about some new exciting development in his career or with some new lead for me. Here he is filming and editing an entire feature film by himself. Reading philosophy. Teaching himself what he doesn’t know.
Gabe, you came back to us once before.
My hope is that there will be third incarnation of Gabe. One that continues to inspire others through his work, through his story, once that helps to educate people on mental illness, one that helps fight the stigma of mental illness, almost as debilitating as the disease itself. One that the world can know, at last, in full.
Gabe, though your life ended tragically, your story is not a tragedy but a triumph. May your story and the stories you created through your art continue to inspire and touch and transform the world around you into a better place for years to come.
One last thing I want to say – is about my parents. They fought this battle along side Gabe for so many years. They were his cheerleaders, his promoters, his therapists, his best friends. Never shutting him out. Always including him, even during difficult periods. And I want you to know that he knew how lucky he was to have so much love and such incredible support.
Thank you everybody for honoring our beautiful, magical Gabriel today. I hope he can somehow feel and know all the love.
Goodnight my sweet Gabriel. You are our angel. And we will love you and miss you forever.