Pulitzer Prize winning writer Joe Hight reflects on his brother’s death in “Unnecessary Sorrow.”
“We need to continue having discussions over mental illness. We need to remove the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness.”
Joe Hight urged the audience attending his book launch to not be afraid of discussing mental illness. The book launch was for Hight’s new novel, “Unnecessary Sorrow.” Hight wanted to write this book to help people and to generate discussions by telling his brother’s story.
Hight is an acclaimed journalist who has won a Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting. He is also a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. He is currently a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.
“Unnecessary Sorrow” is a compelling narrative about Hight’s oldest brother, Paul. The novel details the struggles and trials Paul faced because of his mental illness. He was laicized from priesthood in 1975 because of his diagnosis of schizophrenia. In December 2000, Paul was killed by the Oklahoma City Police.
“Unnecessary Sorrow” has been ten years in the making. Hight went through a 150-page police report to find information for his novel.
He also read through his brother’s writings. In Paul’s writings, he wrote, “I missed my true vocation, which was to help people.”
During his book launch, Hight told the audience that his brother did not first experience symptoms of schizophrenia until the 1970s. His first crisis occurred while at church: He was found staring directly at the sun in a catatonic state. After this, incidences began to occur more and more.
Hight also shed light onto a study completed in Australia in 2012. In this study, it was ascertained that there is a correlation between late stage mumps and schizophrenia. Paul had contracted late stage mumps while at Seminary school. Hight believes that this, coupled with the stress of Seminary school, led to his brother’s development of schizophrenia.
Hight wants everyone to remember his brother for who he was and not for his mental illness: “I want you to think of Paul as a human being who loved, smiled and laughed.” Hight recalls that his brother was a kind person who would give away everything to someone less fortunate. He would get in trouble with his superiors at the church for giving away so many of his possessions. Paul was the type of person who would welcome anyone that knocked on his front door, literally.
During the book launch, Elena Hight, Joe Hight’s daughter, sang a song that she had written about Paul. The song is titled, “My Uncle.” In this song she sings, “How was I supposed to know, you’d never come back home.” Many audience members were visibly touched by her beautiful tribute to her late uncle.
After this, Matt Gleason, the moderator, began a Q&A with Hight. He was asked what led Paul to joining the priesthood. Hight said that it felt like destiny was calling Paul to priesthood. He also thinks that the death of his infant sister had a role in Paul’s desire to become a priest.
Hight told the audience about the first time Paul had been shot by the police. After he was laicized, he began a relationship with a nurse. A few months into the relationship, the nurse was killed by her son. This tragic event led to a momentary crisis for Paul. This crisis was the cause of the police being called on him. The officer who was on duty ended up shooting Paul in the stomach during the disturbance. Paul miraculously survived this injury.
Paul’s medication for schizophrenia were monthly shots that helped stabilize him. In Dec. 2000, a snow storm broke out and Paul was unable to receive his monthly shot due to being isolated in his apartment. Paul had another momentary crisis and it was reported that he was wielding a knife. The Oklahoma City Police were called in to the scene. Three officers approached Paul and he charged at them. He was shot three times. He died on his own doorstep, where he had welcomed so many people with open arms.
Hight hired a private investigator who found evidence that Paul, in fact, did not have a knife in his possession during the crisis. The biggest proof of this is that there is no photo that exists of Paul’s body with the knife.
Gleason made the point: “You wouldn’t shoot Paul if he had mumps. You’d put him in jail. Our state does not prioritize mental illness.” Gleason went on to say that the state doesn’t treat mental illness the same as a physical illness would be treated; even though, they are in fact the same. Hight said, “I think there’s a discrimination against those who have schizophrenia.”
Hight finished his discussion with a plea to the audience. He asked the audience to, “please help others. To me, that’s a vocation we should all have.” He also went on to describe how important forgiveness is in situations like this.
As the discussion ended, an audience member stood up and said that almost the exact same thing happened to his brother. He let his fellow audience members know that there is a local crisis team that offers 24/7 support. The organization is called Copes Tulsa. The support phone number is (918)-744-4800.
Unnecessary Sorrow is available for purchase at Magic City Books and Amazon.