There follows a club magazine article I wrote on Kelmen Bartocci, who succumbed suddenly to pneumonia — as so many of us do — during the Southern winter (August) of 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand.
KELMEN in GOD’S PRESENCE: LIVING the DREAM
The actual experience of mental illness is seldom discussed in so-called ‘consumer’ circles. Like mentioning suicide, it’s publicly discouraged in favour of ‘being positive’: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil — and it might go away. The great thing about Kelmen on earth was he was almost always affable — agreeable. But he did have his moments, with those who didn’t live up to his gentlemanly standards. With his strong Irish accent and quizzical, crooked smile that spoke of another world, he was unfailingly leprecaunish. To his closest friends, members of the Te Atatu Catholic congregation at the funeral, he was a “broken” or “weak” man whom they loved all the more, as this brought him closer to God. He was tormented by his standing in the sight of God — always questioning his worth, but especially as he came closer to his time as if he had a fore-inkling of what was in store for him.
Kelmen was of a generation of immigrants to New Zealand in 1959, as a seven-year-old from Dublin. He wasn’t always a devout Christian. Before the traumatic breakup of his marriage and the malicious aftermath contributing to his breakdown, he was a devotee of Indian wisdom. Local identity Herrwig, an old friend of Kelmen’s and who regularly spoke to his mother, alive until three years ago, told me he rarely made an important move without his guru. It was a lifestyle that worked for Kelmen then, at least materially, plying a trade as a fruit-and-vege marketer near Pak’n’Save, Mt Albert, to be very well off.
Kelmen showed extremely high functioning in activities he liked — chess, mathematics, languages, astronomy, and lately tennis! — but the emotional reverses of life got to him in a cruel way. Sensibly, like many of us who like to see the best in people, for self-preservation he avoided harmful situations but showed a happy exterior to the world. If the serotonin is running right, all of us have fond illusions about ourselves — if we want to keep our self-esteem up. If you’re in the mental health system these illusions are called delusions, something pathological. Kelmen’s delusion, constantly underestimating himself, was that of a formidably intelligent but humble man let down by life. His immersion in religion was obvious, with blessings and praises flowing freely. Alternating feelings of elation and encroaching fear were almost palpable as he sat hands clenched together waiting for lunch or an imminent house meeting at Crossroads Clubhouse, Grey Lynn, Auckland. He talked about people he met in terms of seeing God in them or not, and how close they were to Him. So when I heard of Kelmen’s sudden death at just 59 and six weeks — a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky — mixed with the sadness was the thought that it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. He is now exactly where he wants to be. — Gaz