I do not know where I will go with post. I have a lot going on in my mind and I feel compelled to type until something concrete comes out. As stated in my previous post, my brother has been diagnosed with cancer and it’s put a bit of a crack in our hard-fought for and fiercely maintained foundation that we built. Our family was blasted apart years ago due to alcoholism, abuse, depression, and poor choices. Actually we weren’t blasted apart; we just kind of disintegrated because we weren’t that strong to begin with. Enough of the construction metaphors, though. We are sadly just a typical family.

My husband told me recently that he doesn’t know what to think about my brother and his diagnosis, mostly because he has only known him as a mentally ill prick. Yes, he is mentally ill. And yeah, he is a prick. The two are sometimes related, and sometimes not. Sometimes, someone can just be a prick. I can relate to his feelings. More than once Theo did or said something foul and rude and harsh, often in the middle of a perfectly nice conversation. His triggers are really sneaky and you really just never know what’s going to set him off. I guess my husband heard me sob in the bathroom after talking to him one too many times and put the kibosh on giving a shit about him. I can dig it. So in a display of newly found empathy and surprising articulation, hubby asked me exactly what it is I needed from him from here on out, because he cannot find any emotions regarding the subject. In the past, he would have just acted like a giant brick wall and quite possibly not have noticed had I started on fire. But that was then. His actions with this one request show why we are still married, and why we work when we probably really shouldn’t.

My response to this was that he is to just be there when I react however it is I am going to react when the tough stuff starts to happen. And by tough stuff, I mean making contact with my estranged brother. Namely, speaking with my estranged step-grandmother or seeing my long estranged and very much ex-step-father. He raised me for roughly 20 years, and I never really considered him a step father until it occurred to me that he had let go of any rights to any loyalty from me a long while ago. I made a long and conscientious decision about cutting ties for my own mental health and well-being. It was a good choice that I don’t regret. Next to being in that circle of people again, my brother dying is secondary to my fears. I say that only because I know my strengths, and I have been with two different loved ones while they died, and while I am not a stranger to the harsh realities and emotions that come with this, I know I am equipped with a weird and uncanny measure of accepting what is in front of me and knowing that death is a part of life, and being there when that happens is a rare and profound gift.

The next thing I told my husband I need is to be in charge of the boy, who will have nothing to do with this process. He has no clue who these people are, and he won’t have to. He has two fully functional sets of grandparents; my mom and her wonderful husband and my dad and his incredible wife. In the process of cutting ties and figuring out my life, I found a whole different level of relationship with my biological father and we have worked our way to dad and daughter. My kid can be in the same room with his grandparents, all of them, and enjoy life. Something I didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing.

On the flip side to this really positive interaction between hubby and me, I also warned him that if he felt like saying something dumb, or felt like looking at me like I was a fool, he needed to remember the following: the word of the day, month, and year is compassion. And I have it in spades, by nature, nurture and sheer force of will. While I did segregate myself from my family members, I didn’t stop loving them in a certain way. I didn’t stop thinking about how they wasted every chance they got in life to be better people, and it didn’t escape me that in doing what was right and continuing to love these people and hope the best for them, that my immediate family will benefit. I helped to raise my brother from the time he was born until the day I left home. He has known only small amounts of joy in his life. He is dying. And if hubby were dying, and had all sorts of baggage (which, he does) I would hope and pray that his sister stood by him no matter what. I told him to know that the reason why we are always such fucked up humans is because very few know how to be compassionate, or just don’t want to be. Rightfully so for some people. I am not here to judge other people’s emotions. The reason why I called my family typical is because the pain never stops and the compassion never overcomes and it goes on and on and on. I don’t know one family who doesn’t have some kind of family dynamic that never changed because no one thought to change it, or heal it, or lay it to rest, or whatever healthy verb that needed to happen to set it right. No one taught anyone in that family what was acceptable, what was right, and what was healthy. My mom slowed that cycle down by leaving and working hard on a new life. Now it’s my turn to slow it down a little more. Maybe even stop it.  

I asked him if he understood what the ramifications would be for our son, and for him, and for me, if I chose to not care about my brother, ignore his suffering, and not work with the people who scare me the most throughout this unfolding drama. How would I handle that? What regrets would I have? I am already beginning to mourn the loss of a big part of my mom’s spirit during all of this. She will never be the same, and I need to accept that. Would my son see me crying for hours on end on some random Sunday three years from now? Will he look into my eyes one day and think to himself that there is something wrong with mom? Will he say she has never been the same and I don’t know why? No. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t intend on sheltering him from the realities of the world, and emotions that he will need to have and learn to process. Lord knows I can list right off the top of my head the various things about me he might find himself being embarrassed by, annoyed at, or struggle with. But none of that will be something I carried over with me from my old life. Not if I can help it.

That sounds so loaded and so sanctimonious and I truly do not mean it to be. I am not trying to be a martyr or a saint, and I am not going to turn the other cheek when things start to get hairy, which I know they will. But I am a different person now than I was all of those years ago. I see them differently. I see myself differently. No one is allowed to mistreat me or speak ill of anyone I love, whether it be from Sickly McCancerpants, Chief Drinks Continuously or Old Spirit from Enables-Alot. I will state my business and do my job as a sister, a human being, and someone who to bring love, peace, and fond memories with him to where he goes.

I called him a few days ago and he was asleep. He called me right back though, and we spoke for about an hour. He immediately professed his love to me, how much he misses me, and what life has been like for him without me. I ditto all of that and more, but I also winced every time he opened his mouth, because I was waiting for the trigger to go off. It didn’t. We ended the conversation with the hope that we could slowly talk and piece ourselves together. Prognosis, timelines, angst, and kin were not mentioned. With the exception of how dumb the spelling of my nephew’s name is. I couldn’t argue with that one. I don’t know what my sister was thinking.

I think that from here on out my portion of The Bucket is going to be primarily about this cancer business and how it affects my already fractured, fragile yet resilient ridiculous family. It will be about the various ways I choose to react to what is put before me, because that’s the only thing I can control. My reactions. Theo’s prognosis right now is fairly decent, but not permanent, as nothing is, and while he isn’t at death’s door at the moment, the path seems to be paving itself. Of course this time should be spent praying for miracles and tracking down Dr. Greg House to save the day. Of course I would rather I work on finding a cure and imagining my brother alive and well in twenty years. But it’s not twenty years from now. It’s now.



Dear Theo, Letter Two

I posted something deeply personal to my dearest brother a while back and left it to the air in prayed for healing and resolution. Last week I walked into a cathedral during my lunch break to sit and meditate. To reflect on my issues of the week, to feel closer to the center of everything in my life, and to be calm. As I walked out, I noticed for the first time that there was an open book in the corner with a pen next to it. I went to see what it was and it was the prayer requests for the Sunday mass. Without much thought, as if on autopilot, I wrote Theo’s name down. I never stop thinking about him, and while I know he isn’t of sound mind to appreciate others praying and putting out positive love for a complete stranger, I know I would.

I found out yesterday that he is suffering from pancreatic cancer and it’s not looking good. Actually, I was informed a few days earlier that he had cancer through the grapevine that I typically try to ignore. I didn’t believe it. I discussed it with other siblings, and they didn’t either. We had no doubt he was probably ill. He has been ill his whole life. Stomach problems, arthritis problems, mystery illnesses, asthma, basically everything. Looking back now, I feel like Theo’s whole existence was akin to when foreign matter enters your body and your immune system won’t accept it and tries to destroy it. He is the foreign matter and life is the immune system. The fact that he is now dying of cancer only makes it far more literal.

My siblings and I held a quick meeting about the validity of this claim and I decided that our mother, who made the difficult decision a long time ago to cut Theo out of her life until he could get better, should know about this. She would clarify this with one phone call and we would do what we could from there on out. And it was true. She is understandably beside herself with confusion, fear, sadness, regret, and insurmountable motherly love, and has nowhere to place it. He most likely will not agree to see her or spend time with her, or any of us. My hope is that his physical sickness puts to rest his mental sickness if not only for a moment, so that he will allow his mother to do what she does best. Love. Nurture. Nurse. Make everything ok.

As for me, I still only picture him as a small child and I feel helpless and sad for all involved. I’ve allowed myself to think that when he dies, he will finally be at peace. It’s not something that I will broadcast to my immediate family. I think that they probably feel the same way.

As someone with a strong viewpoint and belief that lessons are to be learned from everything and that death is all part of the whole river of life, I have already seen some good come out of this. Within the one phone call my mom made to her ex-mother in law, kind words were spoken between two women who had a very complicated relationship. The words “I never once doubted you loved all of your children” was said with the same voice that defended her abusive son. The same woman who very clearly stated that “perhaps if more meat and potatoes were on the table, my boy wouldn’t be so angry with you.” As this process takes its course, the only line of communication will most likely be between these two women. One that picked up the pieces of her life and created a brilliant new one, and the other too old to change now and in a weird prison of her own. One that wants desperately to nurse her son; the other who will be doing the nursing. I don’t know if that balance is harmonious, or even fair, but it’s balance. And hearing her say those words brought a lot of closure for my mom.

I do not know what happens next. I do not know what else to think. I will keep writing my brother’s name down in that book and I will keep meditating and carrying Theo on my hip.