Marley’s Ghost

by Bill Brenner on August 1, 2010

I’ve written a lot in this blog about Sean Marley, my friend and brother, who took his life in 1996. It’s been unavoidable. He left a huge mark on my life in ways dark and wonderful. Yesterday was all about the latter.

Mood music: “Hollywood” by The Runaways:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWSoOnSfk_8&hl=en_US&fs=1]

With Erin working and the kids camping with their grandparents, I found myself in the rare situation where I had a lot of time on my hands. I used it wisely, visiting a couple dear friends who wouldn’t be in my life had it not been for Sean.

First, I drove to Lynnfield and visited Stacey Scutellaro Cotter, Sean’s cousin. I met her when I was 15 at one of the Marley family gatherings at their house on the Lynnway in Revere, which was two doors down from me. She spent her junior and senior years at Northeast Metro Tech, where I was going, and senior year I would drive to Winthrop to pick her up and drive her to and from school in my battered green Ford LTD.

We had a lot in common, most notably a love for metal music. Most importantly, we had Sean in common.

We fell out of touch after Sean died, but reconnected a couple years ago on Facebook. She got married the same year as me and Erin, and, like me, has two sons.

It was great to see the beautiful family she’s built with her husband, Tim.

From there, I went down to Revere to see Mary, another friend I met through Sean. I used to have a Thanksgiving Eve tradition where I’d go to her house and shoot the breeze with her mom. Her mom had a heavy Irish accent and all the word color you would expect with that. One of my favorite lines from her was that Mary “could use a good blow” — Irish-speak for a slap in the face. I can’t remember what Mary did to get that response, but we laughed hard, and I still do. Now Mary lives in Revere with a great husband and son. Her husband, Vinny, is a biker type, exactly the kind of guy I expected her to marry. I say that as a compliment.

We had a great visit. I love talking to her 5-year-old son, Johnny, who is currently having the obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine that Sean (my son Sean, not Marley) and Duncan had a couple years ago, before they decided Legos and Indiana Jones were way cooler. Johnny is a sweet kid. He gets it from his parents.

The ghost of Marley inevitably came up during both visits. We always revisit the same questions: Did we do enough to help him? Would he still be alive today if there wasn’t so much secrecy surrounding his illness back then?

Had you asked me those questions a decade ago, you’d have gotten different opinions than what I’d tell you today.

I spent the better part of 13-plus years convinced that I didn’t do enough to help him; that I was too wrapped up in my own little world to notice what was happening. I was also angry with his family, because I felt that they were far too secretive about what was happening, feeding the stigma and making it impossible for Sean to get the help he needed.

My opinion on these things has evolved in the last couple years.

I’m no longer angry about the secrecy. Was more openness and honesty required to deal with the unfolding tragedy? Absolutely. But Sean’s parents are a product of the world they grew up in. Back then, if you had a mental illness you were usually locked away. It wasn’t understood back then that this is a legitimate illness that can be treated.

I think the treatment Sean got was the best treatment available in the 1990s. Unfortunately, treatment wasn’t as good and effective as it became a decade later.

He suffered in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But he lived a good life and I wouldn’t have survived without his guidance. Before he fell ill, he lived life at 1,000 miles per hour. He left no stone unturned in his quest to understand the meaning of life.

And while his death cut me to the core, he left me many gifts as well.

I’m glad I got to appreciate two of those gifts yesterday.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary August 1, 2010 at 6:17 am

I thank Sean for bringing you into my life.
Love you Bill!

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