Oh, Brother…

My brother arrived at the hospital before i did.  Mom had gone into respiratory arrest, was intubated and moved to the Intensive Care Unit.  It was the third time Tim had visited with Mom in nine months – and this visit was triggered by – and shortened by – a medical emergency.

When Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, Tim lived in a house about a mile away*.  He didn’t visit much – “I just can’t bear to see him this way…” being the main excuse.  Apparently he couldn’t bear to hear him that way either, as he rarely called.

When Dad started his final lap, Tim showed up at the hospital.  Tears and apologies.  Seeking forgiveness and absolution from his dying father.  Dad gave him that… Tim promised to spend more time with Mom, and not repeat the same mistake.

No one was entirely shocked when he failed to keep that promise.  His third wife made a concerted effort to visit, but Tim would usually bail out – citing a ‘stomach bug’ or other obligations.  After Wife #3 took a walk, there were no more attempts.

Twelve years (and one wife) later, he was a fixture at Mom’s hospital bedside.  He was attentive during the week – many tears, many apologies.  On the days when Mom was somewhat cognizant, she would become agitated whenever he spoke to her.  She had unfinished business with him – and that had become apparent to me as she made adjustments to her beneficiaries while we tackled her estate planning.

Needless to say, it irritated the shit out of the rest of us.  Reminding my sisters and niece that there was nothing we could say or do to take away the hurt Mom carried.  There was nothing we could say or do to change what had, or hadn’t, happened.  “Be kinder than you feel” became our mantra, and we kept our mouths shut to maintain peace, and avoid drama.

After Mom died, Tim asked to be involved with planning the funeral.  He joined us at the church when we met with the minister to plan the service.  My niece sent an e-mail to all, asking for any ‘recent photos of you, or your children’ with Mom.  Tim, of course, had none to provide.  Mom had given me envelopes of cash to deliver to her children and select grandchildren.  Tim’s envelope was a little lighter than the others, and had been marked with a $3,000 withdrawal – a loan he’d received from her to buy Wife #3 an engagement ring.

He asked me about some of the things from her home… Old jewelry… The coin collection… Some collectible items… “We’re not ready to deal with that just yet”, with the mantra “Be kinder than you feel” scrolling on continuous loop in my head.

Several cousins came for the funeral, but my cousin Penny and her family hadn’t been able to attend.  She still wanted to visit and pay respects.  We arranged for Penny and her clan to attend the annual “Remembrance” service at Mom’s church last weekend.  Inviting the entire local family, i offered to take everyone out for lunch afterwards to give us time to visit.

With a group of 18, we had to wait in the bar until our tables were ready.  i had Bailey’s and coffee, and bought my niece a mimosa.  Others had coffee or soda.  When Tim and his wife arrived, they ordered bourbon.  i was a bit surprised that they got through two rounds each before we were seated.

Over the course of the next two hours, they drank a lot of bourbon – ordering another drink before finishing the one in hand.  Tim’s wife seems able to hold her liquor, but Tim became loud and obnoxious.  As i chased down our server to get the check, Tim pulled out his phone to share a picture.

“I need to show you something.  If anyone ever thinks I didn’t love Mom and Dad…. This is something I built on my porch… It’s my shrine to them.”

The photo showed a fountain with an integrated propane torch.  “I have a ritual.  Every night, I light the torch and turn on the fountain.  I talk to them.  They know I love them.”

My cousin commented “It’s very nice…” and looked my way with a gently furrowed brow.

My intra-cranial chant was momentarily drowned out by a scream.


“i like the combination of fire and water…” 

He is doing what he has always done… what he has to do to survive.  Revising history.  He is creating a relationship that was never there.  There is nothing to be gained by calling him out on this.  Nothing can change the hurt Mom carried… The one thing she couldn’t resolve before she died.

“Be kinder than you feel…” and move the fuck on.

The only rule

* When he divorced Wife #2, i loaned him money and cosigned a loan so he could keep the house.  It provided a home for him and his three sons, but it was also close to Mom and Dad.  In theory, it would be easy to visit them…

22 thoughts on “Oh, Brother…

  1. I am sorry for the pain you and your mother suffered, but your brother hurt himself more. That’s no consolation, but you need to remember that you can’t change how someone else acts, but you can control how you react. It sounds to me as though you are handling the situation well and that you have a loving support system with the other members of your family.

    • Welcome to The Park! You are on-target — there is no point telling my brother all of the things he’s screwed up. He knows it, and it doesn’t fix anything to tell him… He has a lifetime history of revising his past – some of it for good reason. It has been a survival mechanism for him. We can’t fix him, or his past behavior. As you said, we can only manage our reaction to him. When Mom was alive, we tried on many occasions (sometimes successfully) to get him in the same room with her. Now that she’s gone, we can’t do that. And we move onward…

  2. All too familiar. To the extent that I could feel my temper rising. And yes, I tamped down the flames when it happened, and thought I had buried it. Reading this, it is still quite close to the surface.
    Family mythology has always insisted that I am weak. And the weak one carried much of the caring load…
    I so admire your attitude. And will continue to work on my own.

    • Sorry you’ve experienced this particular familial demon. On the drive home Sunday, i called Studley and was screaming in absolute RAGE about his behavior. When my sister, T, called later that night – and i finally told her what he’d done, i screamed with more rage! i am not a saint – far, far from it. i only know that by picking the scabs my brother has created, i will only get covered in blood… and i’m just too damn emotionally tired for that…

      There is no doubt in my mind that there is more to come. i cannot avoid interaction. There will be more rage. i may not be able to maintain the “be kinder than you feel” approach. i will try, however…

      • I was often and often ballistic with rage. And, as I said, I thought I had buried it – but the rage is still not far from the surface.
        Good luck.
        Vent anywhere you can, anytime you need. And then vent some more.

        • i often joke that the reason our parents and siblings are so efficient at ‘pushing our buttons’ is because they installed them! i am not surprised that your anger and rage have stayed close to the surface… i doubt that i’ll ever shake this… i just don’t want to make it worse for myself by getting engaged in deep discussions with him that will ultimately change nothing. he is 60 years old. he will never see this. i can’t carry the burden of educating him, and then holding his hand through therapy…. i will vent…. sorry that it’s stirring up your demons.

  3. There’s always one. My one sister was estranged from the family until right before Mom died. And then she walked away with Mom’s furs. Not that I wanted them, for many reasons, but it still tables a bit 20 years later. You are a better woman than I am for not yelling at your brother. Shrine, indeed! My Mom always said to send her flowers whole she was alive and never mind her grave, so I did.

    • That’s the part that rattles us – he had so many opportunities to get it right, and couldn’t/wouldn’t step up. It’s not the ‘stuff’ – it’s that he has convinced himself that he deserves these mementos… It’s when his revisionist history collides with our memories that we want to throttle him. i may yet unload a few choice words on him before this is settled. He is being very responsive to all requests i’ve sent regarding settlement of the estate. The minute he cops an entitled attitude, or gets snippy with me regarding my slow, deliberate, and cautious approach to getting these things sorted? i might unleash a little fire and brimstone on him to kick him back in line…. it ain’t over. far from it…

  4. I admire your patience in the service of keeping a wider peace. I wonder if he realises that everyone sees through him — he seems to have the odd pang of guilt but not enough to make him actually care that much.

    • it’s not only in service for the greater good – there’s a huge degree of selfishness here. i simply do not want to become mired in endless, and pointless, discussions with him (or the others) about the past. Mom is dead. Dad is dead. My interests in the situation have moved along with them…

      i also wonder if he knows. Tim is not stupid – very bright mechanically, skilled musician. What he lacks is self awareness, and the ability to empathize with others. He’s not mean. He’s not malicious. i’d have given up on him years ago if he were deliberately cruel. i simply believe that he can’t help it. The difficulties in his early childhood drove his internal wiring in a way that forced him to re-construct his own history. It is survival…

  5. This makes me kind of mad. Why? I’m not involved in your family. I’m merely a bystander as the parade marches by. I can watch from the curb and enjoy the show without getting involved. But here I am; coffee at my side, sun rising on Manhattan and I’m steamed. Why do I get sucked in? I’m sorry about Tim. You seem to be handling it much better than I am. I don’t like seeing you treated so.

    • In general, he’s not treating me badly – he’s just clueless. There was one moment while Mom was in the hospital that i came very close to raining fire upon his being…. He had to go to work during the day, and i was sending him updates by text from the hospital. He’d asked me to keep him informed of any significant changes in Mom’s condition – which i did. Later that night, when he got to the hospital, he was mad at me for not telling him about a report from one doctor, saying that they didn’t find any indication of cancer cells in the clot in her lung. i didn’t share that with him because the doc said it didn’t really matter, her lung was dead, and she wasn’t going to get better. He sent me an angry text, upbraiding me for not telling him the news. i responded with a lengthy explanation, deleted it, and just wrote ‘sorry’. i had to remind myself that he was struggling, grieving, and scared. Even though i was pissed off that he’d dumped the burden on me to keep him informed, then got pissy about what information i’d shared, or not shared. His complete failure to recognize that i was driving an hour each way to be at the hospital, getting home, taking care of my own shit, and then doing it again the next day…

      He is simply incapable of being anything else. Over time, i will move the fuck on, be polite, and maintain a safe bubble around my life. Unfortunately, i promised my father that i’d look after all of them – and he is one of them. So i can’t completely check out…

  6. You’ve got it sussed out, the world is full of nitwit’s, one just happens to be related to you, i have a few like that myself… you remember the Late Night Maudlin St. posts? It’s why i finally told my mom i was sorry, more likely more for me than for her, the buddhist in me says be kind and let it go, there is no use carrying around so much anger and hurt and resentment, the asshole in me says otherwise, of course as i age i notice the former wins out more often than not… and that one comment is right, it’s Tim that has to live with it, whether he denies it or not, there will come a day when he must look it in the eye and face the cold, harsh truth… or maybe not, the world is full of morons with little or no self awareness… sometimes i’m almost jealous of them… glad we have people like Kurt to keep us straight.

    • i remember your story about making peace with your mom – certainly something that should not be regretted. the true gift mom gave me? living long enough for me to get right with her… going back through my posts here in this ol’ blog, i am reminded that i had some serious issues with her as recently as 3-4 years ago. i lucked out… nothing undone or unfinished with her. i miss her. my brother is kinda fucked in that regard, and in some ways i hope he can just move the fuck on…

  7. It’s tough. Letting stuff go. Being kind when you’d rather just sling their idiocy back at them and let them deal with it while you walk off into the sunset.

    My brother was a complete knob when Dad died. My mother and sister have not forgotten and there will be retribution. I am staying out of it. I might sit in the back of the church and skip the lunch even because … whatever. My life is too short.

    On occasion the loop of grievances plays in my head about parents, siblings, in-laws. I try to silence it as quickly as possible because there is nothing good waiting there for me to discover it and go “yes, finally, this!”

    People from our parents generation though, they are boot-strap. No changing them. And no point in trying.

    Siblings? Kinda the same. Mostly they never stop being the people you grew up with for better or worse (usually the latter).

    Hope you are doing well.

    • i was pretty certain that i would completely walk away from the family after mom died. don’t think i need to… i’m pretty sure that once the money is distributed, my brother will go his own way and disappear until he needs help again. i will likely pick him up, dust him off, and move on again… damn deathbed promises.

      the rest? i like my sister, T, and appreciate that she lives far enough away to stay out of my shit. sister S? annoying, but broken and sort of sweet and lost. niece DQ? the biggest surprise is the grace and strength she’s displayed through this. i don’t hate her, and have come to appreciate her as one who has done the best she could with what she had…

      mom left virtually all assets directly to me for distribution. that forces me to stay engaged. she wasn’t stupid about this – it was quite deliberate… will have to explain some of that in the future, but what she set up was brilliant. not sure if it was intentional, instinctive or completely accidental…

      i’m good. kinetic as hell these days, with a stream of adventures keeping me distracted and entertained, and my job becoming more challenging (in a good way). retirement beckons – a mere 2 years, 7 months away…. no complaints….

  8. We must have an ESP connection, you and I, daisyfae. I was thinking about my own brother, also named Tim, this morning and then read your post. We have never been close, but I thought just maybe there would be a little more contact after our mother died, given that I was the one who shouldered all of her care.
    Nope. Mainly *crickets.* Ah, well. It sounds like you’re handling things just right. I like your mantra of being kinder than you feel. We can all benefit from that! Take care, kiddo.

    • i mostly use modified names… brother isn’t actually “Tim” but something close….

      It may be frustrating that your brother didn’t stay connected, but it may also be a hidden gift. i won’t ever give up on my brother, and i’ll be kind… unless he does something really rotten. but i can’t see getting wrapped up in his drama…

      he’s already invited himself to visit my sister, T in Florida for a free vacation for his upcoming 60th b-day. i helped her finesse a way out of that. last time he visited her, he proceeded to get incredibly drunk on her booze, while enjoying her pool, and told her that he had a real problem with homosexuality…. he really isn’t welcome back, but she doesn’t want to be quite that direct…

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