JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Winter Of Our Discontent

I’ve been away. It’s been nearly two months since I took a punch to the gut, the likes of which I have never experienced.

I lost a brother in the COVID pandemic. He was younger, just 66. Unknown to his family or friends, he suffered from severe depression, which engulfed him during the isolation of the last year, taking him deeper and deeper into despair. He hit bottom on January 12, 2021, and ended his life alone in his home in Williston, N.D.

I have not hesitated for an instant when asked how he died, to respond, “COVID.” Because it is true.

All of us have suffered through the isolation forced on us by this horrible pandemic. We stayed away from our favorite restaurants and bars, canceled our vacations, gave up pleasant evenings and casual lunches with our friends, missed all the new movies, drove separate cars to meeting destinations and worked from home, or alone, in our offices with masks on.

But at the end of the day, we had someone to go home to, someone to cook for, or cook for us, to talk over the highlights or lowlights of the day at suppertime, someone to hug at bedtime, someone to share coffee with over the morning paper, someone to walk with on warm evenings, or take a drive with in the bright, snowy countryside on a sunny winter morning, to cheer us up.

My brother Jay had none of those things. The victim of a broken marriage and a broken heart, he looked on in envy as his six siblings and their spouses and children shared the often raucous joy of their families. He lived alone, far from the rest of us. And while we were able to invite him to holiday gatherings and summer golf and lake outings, the pandemic canceled all those enjoyable family times together, and he was left alone in a deepening downward spiral none of us recognized in time to save him.

Oh, how I wish I had been able to call him and say, “Hey, Jay, remember a couple of years ago when you came down and spent Thanksgiving weekend, and we went out to McKenzie Slough and shot a couple of pheasants on Thanksgiving morning while Lillian cooked dinner? Why don’t you come down, and we’ll do that again this year?”

But by then, we were conditioned by the pandemic not to even consider doing that. Damn, I wish I had made that call anyway.

He often spent Christmastime with my brother Blake, and his family in Sioux Falls, S.D., but this year they just talked on the phone. And he observed his 66th birthday two days later alone in his house in Williston. His Social Security birthday. His retirement birthday. Two weeks later, he was dead.

All of us have been touched, hurt, delayed, saddened, displaced and angered by this awful time we’ve been through. But we’ve survived it, so far. We’re still here. But not Jay. The Fuglie family will always remember this nightmarish winter when we lost our brother Jay. To COVID. Each time I hear those numbers on the radio, I automatically add one. I often shout it. “No! 1,449!”

From all appearances, everything was just fine in Jay’s life. He was a successful businessman with a good reputation for taking care of his customers. He was well-liked at the Western Community Credit Union, where he had his offices, and enjoyed his daily repartee with his co-workers. He mentored young people, shepherding them to advancement in the business world. He was quiet and well-behaved (unlike some of his siblings) and always well-dressed and well-groomed. He drove a nice car, lived in a comfortable townhouse just a short walk from his office, had healthy bank accounts, and through his community involvement had a wide circle of friends, many of them important citizens of Williston. He gave freely to charities, especially those serving the needy, often in cash so his goodwill could remain anonymous. He may have been the most humble man I knew.

That’s why his death was so unexpected. None of us knew of his life’s secrets, the curtain of depression he was hiding behind, unable to recover from the idea that somehow he had failed to arrive at his approaching retirement, for which he had carefully prepared, with a traveling companion he loved and who loved him. In the end, he could not face that alone.

One of my brothers summed it up this way: He was able to get up each morning and achieve his daily goal, but he couldn’t achieve his life’s goal.

And in his Norwegian stubbornness, he refused to ask for help. Until it was too late. In that troubled mind, the only solution was to end it.

When I think of Jay now, I think of the words of Edwin Arlington Robinson.


By Edward Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich — yes, richer than a king —

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

It’s taken me a good bit of time to gather these thoughts and the courage to share them. Thank you for waiting. It has been a long winter, the longest of my life. I need to get back to writing. There is much to write about. And to read about. And to care about.

13 thoughts on “JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Winter Of Our Discontent”

  • Doyle Lentz March 5, 2021 at 2:26 pm

    Sorry for your loss.

  • DINA BUTCHER March 5, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    Sharing is very brave. Hope the happy memories soon over take this heavy sadness.

  • Terry Haugen March 5, 2021 at 3:16 pm

    Yanks for sharing a really tough story. My thoughts and prayers for you and your family. I wish I had known your brother….

  • Alan Webster March 5, 2021 at 4:15 pm

    Our condolences. Thanks for sharing. Depression is crippling and near impossible to win a lone battle against.

  • Lillian Bachmeier March 5, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    My husband and his family, even our children suffer from depression. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Tim Mathern March 6, 2021 at 11:20 am


    Thank you for the deeply insightful reflection regarding Jay and your coping mechanisms. In your honor and his I will call 5 people today who are alone.

    I have been a social worker for 50 years and have come to believe persons do not end their lives, it is depression/mental illness that sometimes takes over and ends a persons life by way of suicide. For a person who dies of cancer we do not say the person ended their life, we say cancer did it. You have grasped this truth and help us end the stigma that surrounds diseases of the mind and culture.

    Senator Tim Mathern

  • Mary Prestrude Fruesz March 6, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Depression can be devastating – and heartbreaking for all. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  • Kevin Bonham March 6, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Losing a brother, especially a younger one, is a particularly traumatic experience. May your cherished memories help to ease your pain.

  • loren myran March 7, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Thank you Jim for sharing Jay’s story. Your writing ability is a wonderful outlet for your grief and will inspire your readers in many ways. Thinking of you and your family.

  • Connie Triplett March 7, 2021 at 2:56 pm


    I am certain that you have saved lives with this post. Your brother’s very sad story has inspired Senator Mathern’s commitment to call people who are alone. I will do the same, as will many others, I’m sure.

    I will add to the conversation that people can be quite alone in their depression even when they share living quarters with others. Thanks for sharing your loss with your audience of friends. Hoping that our collective responses will help to heal your heart.

  • Barry Nelson March 7, 2021 at 5:46 pm

    Thank you, Jim, for sharing this heartbreaking story. I am so sorry for your loss. I agree with Tim. You lost your brother to depression.

  • Jacki Juvrud March 9, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks you for sharing, Jim–I am sincerely saddened to hear of the loss of your brother. It has been a very difficult year–especially for those struggling with depression and other mental health challenges–isolation is not kind. I’m glad that you’re writing again as I hope that you may find comfort in that and in the special memories/ special times that you shared with your brother. My thoughts are with you and your family

  • Bruce Anderson March 14, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    Jim, I commend you for sharing your grief with the rest of us.

    During this pandemic, not only did we lose my good friend Jay, who I worked with for years at Western Cooperative Credit Union, but also my good friend and brother-in-law, from cancer.

    Like you, these tragedies will provoke me to look at my own life to pursue ways to help others.


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