National Sibling Day recently passed. I didn’t know about it ahead of time. Even when I was made aware of it, I didn’t search around for old photos and post a shot of my siblings and me. Not that I don’t love my siblings. I do. But my sister doesn’t bother with social media, so she wouldn’t see my loving tribute to sisterhood.
And my brother. Well, he wouldn’t see it either. My brother, you see, isn’t in this world any more. And I don’t talk about that. I don’t write about it. I don’t mess with it. It’s not a fun or easy story, and I’m all about happy endings and problems with solutions.
But lately I’ve felt the need to share the hidden stories. Not stories that will hurt people, but the ones I’ve hidden for the wrong reasons. Usually I hide them as much from myself as anyone. I want to believe I have things together. I want to believe knowing God means all my wounds are healed or can be healed. I want to believe I don’t have issues that make me see God through the wrong lens.
Yet there lies my brother’s story, silently melting a hole in my heart. Rarely mentioned, seldom salted with tears, and often relegated to fairy tale in my head. Something old. I’m over that. It was a long time ago. I’ve moved past it. Barely happened. Like he wasn’t even here. Something imagined.
Except he was my brother.
My parents loved family. We did all kinds of things together. Vacations, dinners out, trick-or-treating. I was dragged to cheer contests and gymnastic meets and t-ball games. And that’s a great thing. But it also means nearly every perfect memory I have from childhood includes my brother, and when he died they all darkened. Childhood is haunted. I don’t visit much any more.
Maybe it’s time to revisit him. Let out a few memories, because memories spoken and dampened with tears lose some of their darkness.
He drank. He struggled with severe anxiety disorder, meaning he had anxiety attacks that didn’t last minutes. They lasted hours. Days. And that’s almost a fate worse than death. He was funny and adorable, and people loved him. But he could never see that.
For a decade, phone calls scared me, because often they were about him. Missing. In jail. Broken. He struggled to hold jobs. His marriage was messy. He had four children way too fast and couldn’t support them. His mental state got worse. His ability to make good decisions dwindled.
Then came the early morning phone call from my parents to come get his kids. He’d made a mistake, and his kids needed to be removed from the situation to keep them out of the hands of the state. I drove through the darkness to get them, brought them home. My family intervened to help him. We had a plan to watch the kids while he treated illness, fixed his marriage, put away the drinking. The plan meant a future. It was hope after a decade of fear.
I had one of his daughters, and my sister had his other three. She’s a physician, so she was in a better financial place to do that. My brother had all the support he could get from us. He couldn’t fix his life, though. He had no money for professional help, so he went to the state. He wanted psychiatric help. They said no. He was too healthy. There was nothing they would do.
In a fit of anger and desperation, he took too many psychiatric drugs. Not to die, but to spite someone. To scream that he didn’t know what to do now. He wanted his family back, his life back, but he didn’t know how to do it.
Two days later, his heart stopped. Paramedics started it. For ten days we lived in the hospital. I stayed at my parent’s house with my four kids and his daughter, sometimes with all the kids. The cable kept going out, and the TV would say Not receiving signal. That felt prophetic, or maybe like a haunting. Brain waves. Nobody could tell if he still had brain waves. Not receiving signal.
It was winter. Icy cold. I remember that best. Hours at home with little ones waiting. Short icy drive to the hospital. More hours in the waiting room with the tension of family members that didn’t get along, blaming each other, waiting with very little hope. Phil Collins sang Can’t Stop Loving You every time I got in the car. (Still can’t listen to that song without bursting into tears– Heard you’re leaving, in the morning, on the early train…)
Enough short icy drives that my car battery died. Dad took a break from the hospital vigil to help me. That felt like normal life. I remember that clearly, how good it felt to jump a battery, talk outside of the waiting room, freezing in the snow like the rest of the world. Hospitals aren’t real. They stand outside of time and space, some kind of alternate reality. Outside had seasons and hours and days. Inside had nothing. Stillness and bleach. Anger and tears.
The world watched a space shuttle blow. Astronauts died. I don’t think I’ve seen that footage to this day. It was barely a blip in my universe. But it happened sometime during those two weeks. I’m sure it did. I remember flags at half mast, and they sure weren’t for my brother.
For a decade we had prayed. For ten days we prayed more. God’s answer wasn’t what we wanted it to be. I don’t know why.
I went home a few days before he died. Had to get back to my life. Then he passed, and I went back. Funeral. Children crying to wake up Daddy. One of those moments that never, ever, ever hurts less. The only positive is those kids don’t remember that part. Might wreck me on a regular basis, but their memories are hazy. Lucky them.
Turning back in the cemetery as we walked away, seeing a lonely box on a gurney in the freezing cold. All alone. Leaving him all alone.
This isn’t a post about drugs or alcohol or mental illness. It’s not a post about anything. There’s no point. Death has no point. It’s powerful, and it hurts, and I shut it away. I don’t tell the story. But if you read this, you’re helping me brighten things up a bit. It helps to share. I know that. I listen. I listen to stories all the time, and I turn them into stories of my own. But I don’t like to tell mine. I prefer to write fiction than to tell the the darkest, most painful truths. I like happy endings. I don’t know if this story had one. Won’t know that until I get Home someday.
I had a brother. He was younger than me. He isn’t here now. He took my childhood with him when he left. Some days I hate him. Mostly I miss him. I didn’t post his photo on National Sibling Day, but I still love him. I didn’t post my sister. I love her, too. She’s brought a lot less drama to my life. Bless her for that.
Share a story today. If there’s a story lurking in the darkness, drawing shadows and casting fear, give it words. Salt it with tears. Take away some of its power by letting someone else know it’s in there. Don’t let it melt holes.
And if you don’t have someone close to share with, email me. Or post it here. I listen better than I share. I promise.