My Brother Died Today
My brother died today. My sister, who lives a few miles away from him, called me early this morning to share the news. She was crying. I didn’t.
My brother was unique in many special ways.
He was 13 years younger than me, so we didn’t grow up interacting much. I was off to high school and then to college just as he was learning to walk and heading to kindergarten.
Shortly after 2nd grade, he was shot in the head. It was an accident by a neighborhood kid. We lived in a rural area, and having children running around in the woods with BB guns was nothing unusual. Getting plunked with a bb wasn’t that surprising either, but when the tiny brass sphere finds a soft spot on a skull and lodges in the brain, all hell breaks loose.
So, after learning his multiplication tables and geography in 1st grade, he had to start all over again as he was basically rebooted with a damaged brain.
At around this same time, our parents were going through a divorce. I can’t imagine that their marriage – or any marriage – could survive the nightmare that was to come.
First, my brother had to learn to eat, talk, crawl, and walk again and my youngest sister worked with him every day before and after school. They surprised our mom one day after she came home from work with him saying his first word – Hi. He repeated that word with every range and pitch all day long until he learned more words and continued in his growth. The whole family surrounded him with love and constantly worked to get him back. We sensed he’d be different, but we encouraged him to put in the work.
As he started to gain strength, he began to hurt people. He was still so small, weak, and uncoordinated that it didn’t seem like a real threat. But it was strange. Here is this cute eight-year-old just relearning to crawl and say hello, and he would bite you if he could.
The doctors described his condition like this … think of his brain as a building with 3 floors but the 2nd floor is missing – there was no communication between the first and third floors, so the normal reactions and attention spans and knowing what is right and wrong were gone.
How do you process that? What makes a person want to hurt another person? Our family had no violence. We were rarely even spanked as kids. There was no verbal abuse either. Sure, we had drama, but nothing in our wildest dream that might spawn evil.
As the years progressed and my baby brother grew up, he continued to hurt others. If you left an object around that he could throw at you; he would. And throw it with enough force and precision to cause serious harm.
When you were around him, you had to be on guard at all times. When he was injured, it didn’t affect his intelligence. Everyone in my family is clever. He was the smartest. And he would use it to pull you into a potential trap.
I recall one particularly harrowing incident where he was left unattended for a few minutes while my stepfather was doing carpentry work on an addition to our house. My brother picked up a jigsaw and slammed the blade into my stepfather’s head. The force and intent were enough to cause the same type of damage that he had suffered. Fortunately, it narrowly missed any critical nerves or arteries and lodged into his ear, nearly severing it.
He also had a death wish. I have vivid memories of him trying to jump out of a moving car or running toward a busy highway as fast as possible.
We tried many times to find a way for him to live in a center or school with brain injury professionals. We hoped someone could work with him to help him overcome his challenges. But none of them worked. My brother was too dangerous. He would lash out and hurt himself and others without warning or provocation.
The only alternative was to place him in the custody of the State, where they would sedate him enough not to harm anyone.
My brother was a sweet, intelligent boy one minute and an unhinged psychopath the next.
So instead, he’s lived with my parents at home under lock and key.
I was off to college, then marriage, and a career that took me all over the country and world. While at home, my mother and my stepfather dealt with the unbelievable challenges of living with a child that had become a part-time monster.
God bless my stepfather. He is a saint. He walked into a crazy mixed-up situation and was ever-present and totally supportive of everyone. He loved my mother more than I can even imagine. There was something magical between those two. Despite the challenges with my brother, my mother found happiness with my stepfather.
But eventually, the accumulation of sadness, anger, guilt, and shame broke my mother.
She died of cancer. Cancer can sometimes be a manifestation of the lack of love you have for yourself. My mom suffered greatly from depression for much of her life.
After she died, once again, my stepfather was there. He promised my mother never to let my brother go to an institution where we were certain he would be drugged, bound, and abused.
He kept his promise. As he was bringing my brother his breakfast this morning, as he has without fail for the past several decades, he found my brother dead of a heart attack.
God bless my stepfather, sister, mother, brother, and all my family.