My Friend Judy

Beryl Gorbman

This is about mental illness.

My friend Judy Rosenfeld in Seattle had a 43-year-old son who was mentally ill since the age of 12. The other night he was shot and killed by police in a confrontation. It is a shock to our whole community up here in Seattle. I’m visiting, trying to help out and just sitting with her.

Judy’s son, Ariel, struggled all of his adult life. He was a terrified and frightened boy who grew up to be a terrified, frightened and violent man. He was violent toward Judy and to his ex-wife.

Ariel was an orthodox Jew and as such, knew that some of the things he did were unforgivable. He prayed daily at the synagogue with the rabbis, talked about the Torah and about God, and tried to be a good person. But the demons inside of him were stronger than God.

I’ve known this family for 35 years, since Ariel was a boy. I’ve watched Judy live in fear for about 23 of those years. At one point she moved to Israel, where she worked as an RN, partly to get away from him. But then Ariel decided he wanted to go to Israel to become a rabbi. He studied Torah in Israel for five years.

Judy came back, got a good nursing job and bought a house. When Ariel came back to Seattle, her life became hell.

Judy’s house is bright pink with a red roof. The inside is about the most charming and most comfortable a home can get. Books, religious symbols, her beloved piano, lots of lovely textile patterns. One whole wall is covered with ceramic and metal suns, her favorite symbol.

As Ariel’s condition worsened, Judy went through these last years bravely, always there to help her friends (like me) with anything we needed. She is the most generous person I know. And in all ways. She loved her son and was always optimistic about him.

After the shooting in the supermarket where Ariel worked, the officer who killed him called Judy. She told him not to feel guilty, that she understood and wasn’t angry, and she knew he did what he had to do. Apparently, Ariel had pulled a gun on the officers. Knowing how terrible police officers feel when they have to kill someone in the line of duty, however justified it is, Judy’s statement to him was what we call a mitzvah, a good deed. I imagine her words were a great comfort to him.

When the detectives came to her house to interview her, Judy asked them to bring a pizza, which they did.

She called Bob, the manager of the QFC grocery store a few days after her son was killed, to tell him how sorry she was that such a commotion occured in his store, which was closed by the police for several hours.

Since Judy is an observant Jew, we sat shiva for Ariel, which means that we sat around the house while parades of people visited her. People from the neighborhood, people from several Jewish congregations, rabbis, old friends. Hundreds of people came over the one-week period and every one of them brought food. Lots of food.

Judy was very grateful for the shiva because the tremendous support and the occupation of her time with guests really got her through the first awful period after her son’s death. Everyone I saw was marvelously compassionate.

We all knew Ariel was mentally ill when he was twelve and helplessly watched as his illness progressed to the point where he committed crimes and used drugs. He has never been able to fully maintain himself or hold a real job. Judy has bailed him out of tough situations dozens of times. He was her son after all, and she couldn’t bear to see him alone and confused.

I am in awe of Judy’s strength and in her ability to be kind and thoughtful to other people in the midst of her own grief. I’ve learned a lot this week about kindness and humility.

Mental illness doesn’t go away. It gets worse. In Ariel’s case, like many other people, he was simply overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all. He could no longer bear it. Many mentally ill people resist taking medication and Ariel was one of them.

This was a tragedy. And it was unavoidable.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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7 Responses to My Friend Judy

  1. Judy R says:

    Thank you, Beryl. I am humbled by your words.
    You have always been unfailingly loyal and available to me…setting me straight, helping me understand myself.
    You are always there. You are my hero!

  2. BG says:

    At the risk of sounding maudlin, it’s an honor to know you and to go through this with you.

  3. Leila says:

    What a lovely post about friendship and love. You and Judy are lucky to know each other.

  4. Eleanor Owen says:

    Judy & Beryl,,

    A sad, sad, tragic and too often repeated, story. You say “unavoidable.” I believe otherwise. As a daughter, sister, cousin, aunt and mother of persons with schizophrenia, I, too know too well the tragic consequences of minds without reason. However, as an advocate for persons with mental illness and their families for more than a quarter of a century, I have come to a place that people who need to hear what I have to say, turn away.

    Severe mental illness has been with us since the beginning of recorded history. Aids for less than 50 years. Yet, because gays, lesbians, and their families came out of the closet by the hundreds of thousands, research, in less than 20 years! has made it possible for those with Aids and HIV positive to live out their lives the same as others.

    Why, when in Washington alone, with its 167,000 persons with mental illnes enrolled in the publicly funded system — not to mention the thousands in private treatment– are there only a little over 1,000 members in the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

    Why? Why? Think what we could do with the 166,000 in our camp. Not just a few of us, but all of us. Together we could make the lives of those like Ariel, my son, your son as different as those with AIDS. If the millions of us with sons, daughters, siblings, parents marched on Washington we could force the federal government to fund the kind of research that led to cures for polio, tuberculosiss and sky rocketed for AIDs. Tragic, yes. Unavoidable, no.


  5. BG says:

    Eleanor, I have always fully agreed with you on this matter. What I meant was in this particular case, and in this place in time, what happened to Ariel was unavoidable.
    But you are right. I can at least join NAMI and will do so today. Thanks for the kick in the butt.

  6. Hugo de Naranja says:

    As someone with a first-degree relative, someone whom I very much loved, whose premature death was directly related to chronic mental illness, I, too, know of success stories.

    I’m familiar with other people who presented with personality disorders or refractory depression or schizo-affective disorders in adolescence and young adulthood.

    But for as harrowing as these periods were, for as marked as they were by suicide attempts and substance abuse and long stretches of irrational behavior, these people, thanks to therapy and medication and, in some instances, diligent and loving families, managed to pull through and work their way to a reasonably normal, very productive adulthood.

    The difficulty, however, with a great many cases of mental illness is that there’s no way at all of forcing a person to regularly take his or her medication or, more importantly, to persist through various protocols and endure their side-effects until an effective well-tolerated regime can be identified, fine-tuned, and implemented.

    Few mentally healthy people have the virtues of tenacity and patience.

    And the mentally ill are no more or less virtuous than the sanest among us.

    While we all might march on Washington to demand a “Manhattan Project” aimed at finding cures for mental illness, no march on any capital in the world, no matter how angry, exigent, or vast, could ever secure the abolition of human nature’s imperfections.

    Were it possible to abolish despair within people, to retrofit them with hope and resolve, I shouldn’t now mourn someone I so loved who is gone forever and ever.

    May his memory be always for blessing.

    • BG says:

      A mild disagreement. There are as many degrees and types of mental illnesses as there are flowers. Some people indeed come out the other end. Usually changed, but at least they come out. Many, however, remain in the pit forever and there is nothing anyone can do short of finding a “cure” as Eleanor suggests. It isn’t just about despair. It isn’t about giving them hope and resolve. It’s about altering their brain cells in a very physical way so they are no longer a danger to themselves and others.
      Since the massive “de-institutionalization” of mental patients from state hospitals in the USA in the 1950s (a cost-saving measure), many of them became victims of violence on the streets and many became violent perpetrators. Something like 78 percent of the prison population in the US is mentally ill. These people receive no treatment whatsoever. Some are placed in special facilities where they are “managed,” but not treated. Half of the homeless are mentally ill.
      Many of the mentally ill today live in state-supported group homes, also not a good solution, but better than prison. Group homes are often staffed with well meaning but inadequately trained people.
      Mentally ill people fill our emergency rooms. They drain the resources of those close to them (financial and emotional). Sometimes they kill people or cause other great harm, leading to trials that can cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Nonetheless, some clearly mentally ill people are executed in the “corrections system.”
      Mentally ill people (some studies identify one in eight people) are expensive. As a group, they are more expensive than AIDS, cancer, or cardiac patients. And there are hundreds of thousands of them.
      Why then, as Eleanor Owen asks, has no massive effort been launched to alleviate this condition?
      I did join National Advocates for the Mentally Ill on the day Eleanor wrote her comment. It is free and $35 to be a full member. The URL is

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