The Family Speaks

by Hersh Rosner and Shelley Coulson

You can read Hersh’s story at A Mensch in The Making. Here’s how it seemed to his sister-in-law Shelly.


I’m going to tell you about my relationship with Hersh Rosner. I am his sister-in-law, and have been so, for almost 41 years. Wow, just writing that seems like a very long time. My sister, Linda, brought him to our home to introduce a guy she met in college.

We all liked this outgoing, cheerful, somewhat accelerated talker, who was in our kitchen doing dishes.

As time went on, Linda and Hersh became serious. I perceived this young man in many ways. He was often funny, full of stories, and anecdotes, somewhat aggressive when he wanted to make sure we understood what he was trying to tell me, he was very kind and helpful to my children, and was always willing to help out if he could. All these perceptions made me feel like he would be a great husband, and father, someday.

Hersh was different in lots of ways from my husband. He was loud, as I said, often aggressive in manner, when he wanted something to be done it was his way, or else he would argue the point until he managed to convince everyone that it was easier to go along with him, than to keep arguing. I saw that he was very good to Linda, in the early days, and we all thought she would be happy.

Several years into the marriage, I wondered sometimes, how Linda could put up with the very aggressive behaviours that I observed, Hersh had rules about how things were to be done.

It was starting to appear that perhaps there were some problems, but they were working  together to buy a home and neither of them wanted  family to know what was occurring in the marriage.

I remember, as time went on, that my sister told me Hersh had some medical problems and was going to start taking a drug that would help him. I believe she said he was diagnosed with manic depressive behaviour. The words startled, but she seemed to be handling things well, and she felt the medicine would control the mood swings, and aggressiveness.

These behaviours were now starting to interfere with their relationship, although she still kept a lot of this to herself. It was visible when we were at their home, Hersh would either be UP or very quiet and irritable, which hard to visit, as we began to see that things were never just smooth in that household. It manifested itself to me as rudeness towards my sister and my mother. Yelling and swearing were part of Hersh’s language to Linda and left me feeling so uncomfortable.

Time marches on, and with medications, Linda’s help, Hersh had a very accomplished future. He completed University, worked hard, and attended Teacher’s College, and also during the years, received his Real Estate License, and was a successful broker for many years, before returning to education. We (my family) admired how hard he worked, and he used his knowledge often to talk with my sons, giving them good advice, and did the same with my daughter.

It was if Hersh was two different people. I never knew how the evening   would end when he was at our home for dinner. He could come in, kiss everyone, talk quietly to the
kids, enjoy his dinner, and then the slightest thing could cause an explosion,
swearing, and his picking up and just leaving, giving my sister cause for embarrassment
and her not being able to control the situation.

I will skip over many, many years. I know that Hersh has had medical issues, mental illness is not hidden, and although it has not been discussed too much, everyone in the family knew that he had his demons, but most of the time over all the years we have known Hersh, I would say that we all got along, and except for the times when my sister would unburden herself to me, causing me heartache, and hurting for her. I think for my brother in law, life was so difficult every single day. To have to control yourself, and be on
medication, and work, and be a father and a husband, and maintain a lifestyle must have been extremely difficult.

Last year was just the worst in Hersh’s life. All of the medications failed him. He had a toxic reaction to his medications. This almost caused him to lose his life. My sister was so brave, and hardly shared her fears, but I could hear it in her voice, and she was amazingly strong, both for her family, and for Hersh. We thank God that the doctors found the cause of the problems Hersh was facing and were able to reverse his kidney poisoning and
change the medications that he was taking for forty years.

I spent a couple of days with my brother in law, not to long ago, and learned a lot about him, which surprised me. I thought that after 43 years of knowing him that I had him figured out. Hersh uses the word demon often, when writing about his life. He faced those demons from the time he was a little boy, when all he should have been dealing with should have been a happy and nourishing childhood.

I sat and listened all afternoon to his stories, which he had been writing down, to help himself get through a difficult time, and to reach into his past to help him towards a clearer future. I had no idea how rough he had it growing up. How hard he had to work to support any of the things he wanted, and had the right to. His parents were so poor, and it is just fascinating to me that he managed to achieve all that he has, by literally working all his life. Children should expect that their parents would provide for them, make their home safe, and happy, and at least support them until they finish high school. Hersh had no support if he wanted anything in his life, there was one way, and that was for him to do it by himself. That is so hard on a child, and can change their entire way of thinking, causing undo stress, and anxiety, and I am sure a lot of Hersh’s problems. My immediate family, have always seen how difficult it is for Hersh to be relaxed and calm. He was always going to do something, riding off on his bike, skiing, shopping, booking
holidays to escape his life, they saw how he argued with his son, with his wife, and it seemed like he could never just slow down and enjoy a peaceful moment.

I think the last year has been better. I believe Hersh has found some ways to cope with his illness, and is at last doing some of the things that make him truly happy. I know that he loves going to New York City.  I couldn’t figure that out, how  can going to a place where millions of people are mulling around, where there are skyscrapers, hiding the sun, and homeless people begging for money, where everyone appears to be in a hurry, taxis
honking, bikes rushing in and out of traffic, noise, noise, noise, how does that make one happy? I picture happiness, always with the thought of water, sand, boats, blue sky, and quiet. My brother in law however is the most at peace in the bustle and hustle, talking with the homeless, investigating what is in their minds. This became very clear when Hersh related to me the story of his acquaintance with Oloff. It started when Hersh had gone to New York City,  and was simply walking along the street, watching the people and being aware of the noise, excitement, and the sounds and sites of this wonderful city. He told
me that he noticed a street person, very shabbily dressed, and obviously living for a long long time, on the streets. When Hersh told me about Oloff, he referred to him as,”The Bogey Man.” This homeless gentleman was wearing plastic bags on his feet and was very unkempt and dirty .He hadn’t washed in six months and it took me three showers to start to get rid of his body odor. He met my brother in law eye to eye, and Hersh started a conversation. He tried to give him some money, but it was refused, and the homeless man confused Hersh by saying he did not need any money. He told how he used chopsticks to carefully extract food from the garbage, and he explained his philosophy of life. He
talked about his heroin addiction, and also that his parents were upstanding ministers in a church. Oloff, as he was named, told Hersh about his beliefs against organized religion, and how he was fighting the lifestyle of the average man, by rebelling against this current world, one he called “mixed up.”  He explained how he obtained his smokes, by getting butts, and rolling the tobacco, in paper to make his own cigarettes, he said he was on a 6-month hiatus from washing himself, to protest the destruction of the world. Hersh did
note that Oloff smelled horrible, and this odor had rubbed off onto his own clothes. They had spent over 3 hours discussing everything and anything. This  meeting made a huge impression on Hersh. Oloff said that teachers should not teach. They should be facilitators for their students. The next day while strolling along 5th Ave, Oloff was there and again a three-hour conversation was enjoyed while we sat on the curb. It seemed that it was meant to be. In a city of 8 million people we met again.

When Hersh was describing this whole experience to me, I think that I saw the excitement and more importantly began to understand what it was that made my brother in law so hyped up on this experience. He loved his time with Oloff, it really made a huge impression on him. Perhaps showing him a truer meaning of what life really is, or can be. It is hard to get into someone’s head, especially when most people are consumed with having, owning, wanting, and striving to do everything they can to accumulate so much
meaningless materialistic and unimportant acquisitions which they think will make them “HAPPY.”

Oloff was happy, needing so little, striving to stay alive, and yet seemingly content with his life. He may have wanted to be more comfortable, but he was living each day, still interested in what was going on in his world, trying to protest against evil, taking nothing from society, and not being expected to contribute and that is what made him appear to be happy.
I don’t know for certain if he was truly happy, or if living his way was just easier for him. I do know it impressed Hersh, and gave him lots of food for thought. He took from Oloff , wisdom, and Oloff became the teacher in this situation. I truly believe Hersh likes being a good friend, imparting his knowledge and wisdom, and creativity to help others, especially those he finds a bond with. His experience with Oloff changed him somehow, and I could see that in his expression, his writing, and his language. I think I finally,”got it,” and saw Hersh with different eyes, after he told me his experience. We all need to find our own way, we all do it in different ways, but in essence I think, that we look way beyond what is right there in front of us, and simple conversation on a street in New York City, amid the noise, the clatter, the confusion, it all became simple and clear for Hersh Rosner.

I believe Hersh is an example of how a man can be raised from a sad, unhappy boyhood, to a life of strong convictions, many accomplishments, a loving husband and father, uncle and brother in law. A man who has fought for what he needs, and that fight still needs to continue.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness, is not ever something that will just,” go away.” With medication, support from all Hersh’s family, and friends, and taking the initiative to go on with his daily life, to the best of his ability, will be a big part of that ”fight” To be able to speak to people is still difficult in our present day society, but it is becoming easier. There are many so called celebrities, who have come out, so to speak, and making their plight and struggles known, which will help those yet to disclose their illness. I believe that Hersh Rosner has found his own” medicine,” and that is in his writing, and talking about his problems, but more importantly, his desire now, seems to be to help others, and make us all more aware of people who face a Bi polar diagnosis. Hersh’s writing is clearing a path amongst a huge back load of demons, and I think anger and unhappiness that he has Always been trying to cope with in the many years I have known him. It can’t be easy be easy when you have voices and thoughts that you may perceive to be telling you how to act, or what to say, and in some part of your brain, you also know that you could be causing your wife or son a huge amount of pain, but you just cannot control what you’re saying, or doing that time. With new medications, with a future that gives Hersh a new focus and a fresh outlook on good ideas, how to deal with his problems, will become easier and easier. The disease, or mental disability will never go away, although I would love to see that happen. It can be controlled however, and his family is so grateful for that. I am very proud of  Hersh Rosner, it is wonderful to see him happy and busy, and doing things that make my sister happy and living with much less stress. I understand his love for all the excitement and happiness he derives from being in New York City. I understand his happiness and excitement when he is able to put to pen, his feelings, and by doing this he understands how he arrived at this point in his life, and how he can possibly help others
in the same or similar situations.

This is how I think he is a very wonderful human being.
He is an aspiring Mensch.

3 Responses to The Family Speaks

  1. Cory coulson says:

    I really enjoyed the story about my uncle Hersh Rosner. He is very special in so many ways. He has always been there for advice and help and he has shown me so many positive ways to try to get things done and to over come some of my own hard situations. “Life is what it is” if we can find happiness in the smallest way it can explode into many positive situations. I think everyone on our planet has a little mental illness. I know I do. Anxiety. I deal with it every day. The more I deal with it the easier it gets. But sometimes after years and years it still there and strong. Oh well ” it is what it is”. Thanks.


  2. Niece Lisa says:

    Great job Uncle Hersh and Mom….I think these stories will definately help others who are going through similar experiences. As part of the family, I never really understood all that was going on in Linda and Hersh’s life. Reading this helps to make things more clear, and emphasizes why communication is so important in family relationships, so they can understand and support one another. I think the most genuine people are those who take the time to really understand others who are different from them, and what they might be going through – to talk to them and to sometimes just listen to what they have to say. You’ve both done just that and it makes you wonderful human beings. Job well done.


    • Shelley says:

      Thank you Lisa and Cory, both for your input, and more importantly, for your understanding. You are both correct when you say support is the most valuable tool we have to help one another. I certainly appreciate your encouraging comments with regard to the “stories”, so again, Thank You. Shelley Coulson


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