My brother is dying. I say this with resignation. Or perhaps it is feigned resignation. Several weeks ago, my therapist told me there is always hope. And she’s right: there is always hope. Until death.
There was always hope with my brother, Mike. Until he died in April. And so it is with Steve.
I hired an interventionist on Thursday. My therapist had given me her number. I filed it away and promptly forgot about it. Hope, she had said. Weeks later, the word popped into my head. Hope. On impulse, I picked up the phone in my office and dialed the number for the interventionist, Ellen.
As I paced in my office, looking out the window at the parking garages and rooftops, I explained to Ellen that my father had died in October. He had Alzheimer’s, I told her. He’d had a stroke and died. He hadn’t really had a stroke. But that’s what the hospice doctor wrote on his death certificate. To save my mother from the specter of an autopsy. My father actually fell out of bed and hit his head. But if his death certificate had said he’d died from a fall, there would have been an inquest. An autopsy. Like there’d been for my oldest brother in April. They didn’t release his body for weeks. The hospice doctor wanted to spare my mother that again. So the official word: my father died of a stroke. Six months after my oldest brother was found dead in his home. I’ve got a copy of my brother’s autopsy report. I didn’t get past the opening lines: 1. Hypertension. 2. Cirrhosis. 3. Hepatitis C. I read no further. I moved the file into “Personal,” and told myself I’d read it another time. It’s been six months. I haven’t read it.
And my remaining brother is killing himself.
He’s having neurological problems, I told Ellen. He has trouble walking. He recovered from mouth cancer earlier this year. But then he started drinking again, fell, hit his head. My nephew found his father unconscious in a pool of blood. He had a transfusion. They thought he was going to die, then. He didn’t. But it’s only a matter of time. My brother will be gone within six months. I know this. As with Mike, it won’t be a surprise. It is inevitable.
Hope. As long as he’s still alive, there’s that.
As I told her my brother’s story, my family’s story, I fought to hold at bay the despair that kept springing forth from deep within.
“I didn’t know this would be so difficult,” I told her, as the tears choked off my words.
I regained my composure and continued with my narration. My mother gave him an ultimatum, I told her. Stop drinking, or else. But there was no “or else.” And he knew it. He said he wasn’t going to stop. And so she said she’d dock his pay. She couldn’t fire him. Then where would she be? Without income, and him without a job. A job he wasn’t able to do. Not with the cans of beer he halfheartedly hid in his desk drawer, file cabinets, in the back of the bathroom cupboard.
“Since when did money become more important than your brother’s life?” Ellen asked me.
My mother thought she was saving him by keeping him employed.
“She’s helping him kill himself,” the interventionist said. “To make this work, she needs to be willing to fire him. There have to be consequences. Your mother’s going to be the most difficult to get on board.”
“You think?” I asked.
She paused, and then laughed, acknowledging my sarcasm.
“I don’t even know you yet. But you’ve still got your sense of humor. You’ll be okay.”
We talked about the timing. My mother begged me to wait until after Christmas.
“Just let me get through Christmas,” she said. And I agreed.
“Let’s do it right after Christmas,” I told Ellen.
Ellen told me to have anyone call her who might want to participate. It was not my job to convince them. It was not my job to explain the process to them. I was to have my family call her. She would explain it.
I was allowed to let go. I was allowed to cede control to Ellen. I didn’t have to do it all.
I started crying again.
“You have to stop bleeding for them,” Ellen said.
Stop bleeding. The words are frozen in my head. I don’t know what to do with them.