The Call

By Lloyd Graff

I was watching the new Ron Howard series “Parenthood” Saturday night when my cell phone rang with a call from the 602 area code (Phoenix). One of the key threads in the show is a story about a boy diagnosed with Asperger’s, a step on the autism spectrum.

The caller was the daughter of a first cousin who went on to breathlessly recount the story of my cousin, Don, being hit by a car at 4:30 a.m. that day and being killed.

I had written an “Afterthought” awhile back about my relationship (or lack of) with Don, who ran away from a high school English class we were both taking, 48 years ago. I never saw Don again after that.

He suffered a psychotic break that day I learned, and was placed in a psychiatric ward after my Dad literally chased him down on the University of Chicago campus.

Donnie and I were not close, but we played ping pong and softball. We were kin. His family was a crumbling mess, but I didn’t know that at the time. I had no idea Don was a fragile vessel. When the vicious English teacher humiliated him in class that day and Dan bolted out of the class I was stunned by the teacher’s callousness, but I was also stunned that Don reacted by running out of the room and the building.

It was all so crazy.

It was my intro to emotional illness.

Don’s life with schizophrenia ended at 4:30 a.m. Saturday with the impact of a Honda Accord going 42 miles per hour, according to the police report. He had no wife or children. The story on the Washington Post said he was “an eccentric man” who frequented a nearby shopping center.

Don’s niece, Elizabeth, is looking for a place to bury him. She asked me if he could be buried in a plot my father had bought in the late 1960s. I didn’t know what to say to her. As close as I had been to death 18 months ago, I had no burial plans, nor did my brother or sister or our spouses. I didn’t like having to deal with Don any more in death than I did in life. For 48 years I could not get that terrible day in English class out of my head. And now I have to live with the image of Don Graff’s “eccentrism” walking into the Honda on a four lane highway at 4 a.m.

Share this post

4 thoughts on “The Call

  1. Jim C.

    I’ll say a prayer for you and the family. Terrible tragedy. Who knows what is necessary to push someone over the edge. I remember when I was just a freshman or sophmore being absolutely humiliated by a American History teacher who asked me a question about modern music. She didn’t realize our family didn’t have the money for radios, record players, etc. So I never had the opportunity to to listen to music. She didn’t just ask the question once, she had to beat on it 4 times. Every one of my classmates laughed at me, all because I didn’t know the name of an artist that sang a popular tune.

  2. Steven Horn


    What a very difficult blog today. Very emotional and touching. I doubt that there will be alot of responses. The thing I ask myself is what could I do to help someone else. In a world where it’s all about get-get and very little give-give people don’t like to get messy. We should get messy, because it’s in helping others that we can really find ourselves. Who is that person that is “our neighbor” that we can love on today. A fellow worker an employee in the shop someone I meet in the store. The world is full of people in need such as Don, but there are few that would take the time to love another. Take that time and find yourself in someone else’s pain and suffering.

    Matthew 22:38.39

    Steven Horn
    Midwest Screw Products

  3. Deborah Rudy


    It’s a terrible situation, all around. Tragic and sad. Maybe what might help get those awful images of your cousin’s breakdown 48 years ago and the “eccentrism” of his death out of your mind would be, if you can find a way, to provide him with the dignity in death that he probably rarely was treated with in life. You can not “un-ring a bell”, but you might be able to give Don and yourself the kind of closure we all would want under the right circumstances. It’s a tough one, friend.

  4. Richard Cahn

    Dear Lloyd–I am very sorry for your cousin.
    We are all in the same boat,I guess its because of our age, and the amount of friends and relatives we are blessed to have.I have had one call this week ,one close call this week ,and a scare.I have asked the Rabbi how to conduct a wedding and a funeral at the same time just in case–so this topic is on my mind. This brings me to the point of my discussion and question.What is the best response to a friend who has a death in the family,what should you say or not say?


Comments are closed.