‘He wanted to be normal’

As a rule, I don’t go to fundraisers or benefit dinners for organizations that have lobbyists at the Capitol, even though I work for one.

The exception is the annual dinner for the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which was held last night in Golden Valley.

The only part of the evening that puts me in an uncomfortable position is when the executive director recounts the legislative battles of the just-concluded legislative session. This year, Sue Abderholden declared, NAMI MN stopped $50 million in cuts to mental health programs in the state. There was applause all around.

Bowing to my duty as a journalist to engage in the fraud of making you believe I don’t have opinions and biases if you don’t know about them, I don’t applaud legislators or governors. The current crowd makes the task easy.

“Then why are you at a function like that?” I imagine people asking. I’m for whatever gets people help for their mental illness. Aren’t you?

The evening often compels people to acknowledge their own battles. A marvelous speaker with bipolar disorder told of her journey with an illness that “feels like someone sticking pins at me from the inside.”

At a pause in the music, the head of a jazz group revealed his diagnosis. Later, singer Charmin Michelle talked about her uncle who battled schizophrenia.

A gentleman grabbed a woman and danced in the dark by the tables through much of the concert, eliciting states of disapproval by some Minnesotans. If there’s ever a Minnesota version of Apocalypse Now, the signature quote from it will be, “Minnesota don’t dance.”

They ate, they listened, some danced, they threw money in an envelope for a new computer server for the organization, and then everyone went home and if they combed through this morning’s obituaries, they spotted this account of another battle well fought.

Sievers, Harold Thomas “Hal” age 34, originally of St. Paul, died unexpectedly May 10 at his home in Iowa City. He was a psychology student at the University of Iowa, had deep interests in schizophrenia and hypnosis and was nearing graduation. Hal loved his family, friends, art, cats, gardening, cooking, baggy floral shorts, movies, hockey and reading the Koran. He accepted others, was open to their ways and beliefs and was well regarded in return. He was active in AA. In recent years he opened his apartment on several occasions to people living on the street. He offered them safe haven, sometimes for many months. To his mother who expressed concern, he said, “I can’t just talk about what I believe, I have to live it.” Hal loved Frisbee golf and was a strong and graceful player. He organized the first annual Frisbee golf tournament, The Sweet Melon Open, in Muscatine, Iowa. For years Hal battled the lethal duo of schizophrenia and cocaine and fell, in the end, under their grip. He fought hard to be “normal”. It is all he ever wanted. We are proud of him. We loved him well and will miss him forever. Hal is survived by his partner, Lori Steele of Iowa City; his parents, Mary Sievers (nee Huberty) and Jerry Sievers; his brother, John; his grandmother, Leona Miller; and a large extended family, including 15 beloved aunts and uncles, 22 cousins, and second spouses of his father and grandmother. Most of the family resides in Minnesota. A celebration of Hal’s life will be held from 1-4 pm on Wednesday, May 26, at The Commodore Hotel, 79 Western Ave. North, St. Paul. In place of flowers or gifts, donations may be sent to New Beginnings at Waverly, 109 North Shore Drive, Waverly, MN 55390.

  • Lily

    I have never met a person with a major mental illness who didn’t want, more than anything, “to be normal”. That’s the tragic awareness they live with. Thanks to NAMI for salvaging some of the funding needed to support our most vulnerable citizens. Deepest sympathy to the family of the young man in this story, who have also suffered greatly.

  • Diane

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Lily. Mental illness is so misunderstood. Those who suffer and their families are often judged or alienated from peers and friends. Other long-term illnesses are more accepted and supported. Thank you NAMI and Sue!

  • Tim

    We have a mentally ill daughter. It is terribly hard to get support from all the usual places. We worry about her future and ours. Thanks to NAMI for the work they do.

    Sincere sympathy to the family of this man.