‘A hard love that stings’

Francisco Javier Ojeda, 50, was struck and killed by a car while crossing a street against the light when walking to work at the Home Depot in Fridley this week. He commuted there from his home in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, a gauntlet that appears to mirror much of his life.

Ojeda suffered from mental illness and his life story, told lovingly by his brother — Pioneer Press reporter Julio Ojeda-Zapata — is a familiar one: he was a “gentle soul”, the “smartest one in the family”, but he dropped out of college, roamed the world, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals and jail, his brother said.

He’d turned his life around in recent years, learned never to go off his meds, found housing, and a job, Ojeda-Zapata said in a Facebook post.

He lived not far from me under humble circumstances. He struggled with mental illness most of his life, as I have. In Minnesota, he found a social safety net that kept him off the streets and in good health after many years as a vagabond elsewhere in the country and the world. He learned never to go off his meds, a lesson I’ve also learned the hard way, and found steady work at Home Depot.

He played the piano. He was a whiz at languages and kept giving me on-the-fly Chinese lessons. He spammed me constantly with YouTube links to his favorite singers; he once asked me if he was annoying me with the links, and I said, “Nah, it’s cool.” (The on-the-fly Chinese lessons were a little annoying, but I never said so.)

I didn’t spend enough time with him. Honestly, we were never close, but I should have made a greater effort. Now I can’t, and I’ll have to live with that.

In matters of considering people with mental illness, maybe this is what we need to see, a gift from the Ojeda family.

(Video link)

In the comments section of Ojeda-Zapata’s post is a truism from a former MPR colleague: “Loving a family member with mental illness is a hard love that stings,” she wrote.

  • Anna

    The biggest challenge is to get the public and police agencies to stop treating them like they are extremely dangerous.

    They need a steady supply of the medications that enable them to live functional, normal lives and good counselors that understand their disorders yet we don’t seem to have the motivation to do this.

    The airport shooter in Fort Lauderdale was failed by the system. He had mental health issues that went untreated by the military and the VA. The people killed in Fort Lauderdale did not have to die if only someone somewhere had taken the time to care.

    We are our brothers’ keepers.

  • MrE85

    Heartbreaking news.

  • Gary F

    “I didn’t spend enough time with him. Honestly, we were never close, but I should have made a greater effort. Now I can’t, and I’ll have to live with that.”

    • MikeB

      We keep forgetting that, even though we keep hearing this from others.

      • Gary F


  • MrE85

    I’m way overdue for some time with my sister.

  • Laurie K.

    Love the diseased, hate the disease. When you are a family member in the throes of the disease, it’s often hard to separate. My heart goes out to Mr. Ojeda-Zapata and his family.

  • joetron2030

    My deepest condolences to the Ojeda family and friends.

  • Veronica

    Time to make a plug: If you aren’t already listening to John Moe’s The Hilarious World of Depression, YOU MUST. The 3 most recent episodes are profoundly enlightening. I have figured out more about myself in the last 3 weeks listening to John and guests talk about depression and mental illness– and there’s something so powerful to hear that other people have brains that aren’t normal in the same ways mine isn’t.

    We’ve gotta keep talking about it. And really, nobody is immune. Keep talking about it and REALLY learn more if you hold all of this at arm’s length.