Editor's Note: Tony Hays, whose contribution to the Personal Accounts column in the August 2002 issue movingly described his struggle with bipolar illness, was killed in July during an encounter with police in Hopewell, Virginia. When his sister informed the journal's staff of his death and asked us how we might help her carry on her brother's desire to help others, we suggested that she express her thoughts in a letter to the editor.
To the Editor: My brother, two and a half years older, was a remarkable man. I hardly know how to describe his entire person. He embodied the true spirit of life and love. I can only speak of him from a little sister's point of view when I say that his greatest desire was to share knowledge with everyone with whom he came into contact. He wanted to help them better themselves as he continued on his personal journey of knowledge.
Tony's work on earth was great and his accomplishments enormous—so large that I believe even after his death the works he left behind will have an impact on others for years to come. His gift of genius came with a high price—that of being different. Being mentally ill was a concept that was very difficult for my brother to bear over the past 11 years. I watched him as he endured the task of explaining his odd behavior to others. His need to fit in was great, and because I was aware of his desperate desire, I would often pray that his greatest success would be to "be normal, like everyone else." I now realize that if that were to have come to pass, he—and the rest of us—would have missed out on his true calling: his marvelous, compassionate desire to help others.
Tony lost his life and suffered a tragic death at the hands of the local police department. Losing Tony is so heart wrenching for those of us who knew him and on whose lives he had a direct impact. As a student of mental and physical health, I realize now, even more than before Tony's death, just how ignorant the public is with regard to people with mental illness. They are so afraid, maybe of their own shortcomings, when approached or confronted with mental illness. My brother, in a manic state, confronted the police officers as they approached him. Fearing hospitalization and suffering the debilitating side effects of medication, he lashed out—to get away from them and their fear. They struck back with brute force—out of fear, out of anger, and out of ignorance, and my brother's spirit was released from his earth walk, from his continual service to others, and from his suffering the label of "bipolar-manic."
The legacy that Tony left behind in volumes of writing needs to be shared with the mental health community, because Tony's words give us a poignant picture of the mind and heart of a person with mental illness. More important, his writings need to be shared with the public, with judges, and with law enforcement agencies. We need to educate them about interacting with people who have mental illness and tell them that senseless violence that ends in death is such a waste.
Tony is free now. Thus far, that is the only good that has come from his death. It is our responsibility to ensure that more good will come from my brother's life.
Ms. Hays lives in Lorton, Virginia.