When I was about 12 years old, I remember some of my friends making a joke about Schizophrenia. They said (while laughing) it was a condition where you were “crazy” and felt like “imaginary people” were chasing you at all times. I remember getting frustrated at the way they spoke so lightly about it and how to them, it was a joke.

My entire family is plagued by mental illness, well, most of them at least. Between depression, bipolar and in one case,¬†schizophrenia, the majority of my family suffers due to illnesses that are out of their control. Even as a kid, this topic was not a laughing matter and furthermore, I understood the gravity of these situations and worried about the people closest to me on a daily basis. I constantly wondered why they had to suffer and I didn’t. It didn’t seem fair to me and this fact weighed on me for my entire life to date.

When those kids made the joke about Schizophrenia, I told Omie about it. I was angry and I wanted somebody to be outraged with me. Instead, Omie explained to me that perhaps these kids were unaware of the effects that come with this illness and most likely had never faced it firsthand. Still, to me, it seemed like no excuse should be made to those who acted unkind about the things they did not understand.

All my life I have known my uncle Marty had Schizophrenia. At a young age, I was told what this meant and how it affected him. I always felt sad for him, sad that he struggled and wasn’t able to enjoy life as freely. Just as I knew Marty had Schizophrenia, I also knew that he was brilliant. When I say brilliant, I mean I had never met anyone more creative or determined than my uncle Marty. He wrote scripts for film, he sketched and drew portraits, he invented things and possessed knowledge I couldn’t comprehend. He was by far one of the most interesting people I ever knew.

As I got older, my uncle’s state grew worse. At one time in my life, he was able to live and operate on his own. As the years went on, it was more difficult for him to do those things anymore. He needed supervision due to his illness and furthermore, supervision from himself. He suffered from delusions and was drawn to alcohol as a way to combat his pain. He was troubled and trying to survive the best way he knew how. At his core, he was a kind, thoughtful and truly unconditional person.

For 26 years (as of next month), I’ve been alive. That means I have celebrated 26 birthdays, Christmases, Easters, Valentine’s Days, etc. Of those almost 26 years I’ve been alive, not a single holiday has passed that my uncle forgot to write me. He would buy me a card for every holiday, no matter how big it was, find a stamp and send it to my address. Always signed, “Love, Uncle Mart.” I keep a folder with cards and letters I’ve received over the years and if you went through that today, you would find stacks of beautiful cards and handwritten letters from Marty. He cared about me and did the best of anyone at showing it.

Yesterday, my uncle Marty passed away. His body was no longer able to keep going. His kindness and warmth will never leave me, or the people who knew him best. The books he gave me and the letters he wrote me will always be a reminder that someone with so little, gave so much, out of nothing other than love.