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Commentary: A family's tragedy: We will miss both of our good men

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commentary Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

We would like to thank our friends, families, communities, local law enforcement, Olivia Ambulance Service, RC Hospital and Clinic, Dirks-Blem Funeral Home, and church communities for your sincere care and support during this very heart-breaking and trying time in our lives. While we will always remember the tragedy we experienced that night, we will also remember the care you showed us. Your thoughtful words, prayers, and generosity were overwhelming. It reminds us that God is everywhere, even in such times of sadness.

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It is important to us that people know who Jay was. While he did indeed battle mental illness and chemical addiction for many years, he was not his mental illness, just as someone with cancer is not defined by their illness. A disease is something someone has, not something someone is. So, we would like to take this opportunity to tell you what and who Jay was.

First, he was a Christian. Jay attended St. Aloysius grade school from first through sixth grade. He sought God out during his good and dark times. He looked to the Bible when he needed guidance and liked to encourage his siblings to do the same.

Second, Jay had a kind heart. He especially had a soft spot for children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and people led astray. He regularly befriended people that we may not have, and if ever he heard us being judgmental, he defended those individuals and encouraged us to imagine what it was like to walk in their shoes.

Third, Jay was a good citizen. He was a member of the National Guard, and once came to the rescue of a family stranded in a blizzard. Finally, Jay loved his family and cherished spending time with them, especially his daughter, Brooklyn.

Mental illness is a very difficult disease for the individuals it affects and their families. Society has come a long way in recognizing it as an illness, and thanks to the recent passage of the late Senator Paul Wellstone's Mental Health Parity Act, we are getting better at making treatment more accessible; however, the stigma surrounding mental illness still remains.

We want you to know that Jay did seek treatment for his illness. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This diagnosis came late in his life, but when he did get diagnosed, he felt relieved to know that there was a name for what he was experiencing and that it was not his fault that he had this illness.

Jay was on medication and went to therapy. As you also now know from the West Central Tribune and the Renville County Register, Jay went to jail as a result of alcoholism. As is often common with people with mental illness, Jay used alcohol and other chemicals to self-medicate. He sought out treatment for this illness as well. Jay went to a number of treatment programs that were either on his own initiative or court-ordered. In the end, Jay's treatments -- the therapy, medication, chemical addiction programs -- were just not enough, just as sometimes chemotherapy or radiation are not enough to cure individuals with cancer.

We have asked ourselves many times, what more we could have done, and of course can think of a million different things we should have done differently. It was hard to ask Jay honest questions about his mental health functioning, and it was equally hard for him to tell us his honest feelings. We dream of a day when there is no stigma surrounding mental health, and those battling it will talk openly about what they are experiencing.

We will never know all the details that surrounded those last moments, but the family truly believes that this was not a murder-suicide but rather an accidental death-suicide. We believe that our dad died not only protecting mom, but also protecting Jay from himself. The circumstances suggest that Jay did not intend to harm anyone but himself that night. The difficulty is that we will never know.

Jay and dad were both good men, and we will miss them greatly.

Deb Mahoney, Olivia

Molly and Jason Jacobs, Hopkins

Jeff Mahoney and Jen Nelson, Hopkins

Elizabeth and Nathan Stieren, Windom

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