Rest in Peace
I found out today that my brother died. At the age of 58, he had a major heart attack and dropped dead in front of his computer. We’ve been estranged for a long time. Not because of any major break or fight, just my wanting distance. He moved out West years ago and lives several thousand miles away, which makes it easier. At one point, the whole family, such as it is, had lost touch with him until my sister got a call that he was in a psychiatric hospital. After close to 30 years of self-medicating, he had a moment of clarity and stopped. Unfortunately, all the things he had been holding at bay with the drinking and drugs came crashing in on him. He was suicidal and his therapist told him either he took himself to inpatient care or he’d do it for him. After that he came back east for a couple of visits.
I hadn’t seen him in around 18 years at that point, and he was about the age my father had been the last time I had seen my father. The resemblance was close enough to be disturbing. Especially since during the years when I was recovering the memories of my father’s abuse, I had a very vivid dream about my father and brother. That, put together with the odd memory or two I had always discounted, led me to believe that it wasn’t only my father who had abused me. My brother had also. My older sister whom I am close to (she’s done as much therapy as I have) also recovered memories of an incestuous relationship with my brother. She had cut off all contact with him just a few years ago, and when she did, the improvement in her life and healing was distinctly marked.
My brother in so many ways grew up to be my father. Self-centered, treating everyone around him as appendages and caring only for his own needs. When my sister and I spoke today she was trying to remember any good memories about my brother. That’s when I realized that my brother shared a few other things with my father. One of the good things I learned from my dad was a love of classical music, from my brother it was the blues and really outstanding guitar. He was a talented musician and during the one period in my life I actually hung out with him, it was because I used to go his band practices. He was also a rather amazing artist with real skill at drawing. I still have an inked in drawing he did in a comic book style that I had on my dorm room wall in college. He was also intelligent. But in the end it all came to nothing. He never did accomplish very much except two failed marriages and a string of dead-end jobs. No one got out of my family in one piece it seems.
There is one other thing he shared in common with my father: my main emotion upon hearing of his death was relief. The world became a safer place. I am numb and unsure of how I feel, and have even found myself dissociating somewhat, but I do know that I think there is something terribly hurtful to the truth that when the two closest men of my childhood died, I felt relief. I’m not castigating myself for it, I have good reason. Anyone who knows me well, understands. So it’s not that I am doing anything wrong, but it is a terrible truth to face. A loss of what should have been.
I called the Boundary Ninja, I think more out of an attempt to shake some kind of response out of myself, but it was a strangely bloodless call (and only one minute 28 secs long, I hated that I was interrupting his holiday (for those not from the US today was a National Holiday, Labor Day)). I am seeing him tomorrow afternoon and told him that more than anything I just wanted to give him a heads up. That I wasn’t feeling much but recognized it was significant that my brother had died. BN’s response was to say we had never discussed him much, and I realized it was true. I have barely even mentioned him to my therapist of five years. Somehow that made it all the more pathetic.
The oddest thing about this is the strange reluctance to tell anyone. Because when you say “my brother died” of course, everyone’s first response is to offer condolences and comfort, but I don’t feel like I need any. Which is incredibly awkward. It’s as if I don’t want anyone to see me not grieving. Or maybe it’s that I’m just so unsure of how I am feeling, so it’s hard to know how to react. Part of the reason I am writing this is to try to work through just what it is I am feeling.
My sister, who is an absolute saint, is taking my mother out to the funeral, using her frequent flyer mileage to purchase both their flights. I offered to go in order to support her, but we both came to the conclusion that the tension of my mother and I being together would wear more than the support of my presence would help. So I will not attend my brother’s funeral. Frankly, I didn’t want to see him when he was alive, so it’s seems hypocritical to go the expense and effort now to attend his funeral. Another sadness, as I realized that if this was either of my brother-in-laws, at least one of which is occasionally annoying, there would be no question that we would planning our trip right now.
So I am guessing tomorrow’s session will be interesting. I must confess to some curiosity as to what will emerge. And I realized that I am very grateful that I have people in my life who will understand my strange reactions to this news. And even more grateful that I have my husband and BN in my life so that I know all men are not cut from the same cloth as my father and brother.