I Have two Brothers but I am Brotherless
My brother is going to die.
It's almost impossible to describe the overwhelming sense of sadness in that hospital room. With my sister, step-mom, my brother's step-daughter, and her child, we stood around trying to make sense of it all. Five days after his hemorrhagic stroke, he is still unresponsive. The doctor described two possible outcomes. The less likely is that he will surface and, in the best possible scenario, will de disabled and have massive brain damage. The other - more likely scenario - is that he will slip into a coma and die of something else, like an infection, perhaps pneumonia. So certain is he of this outcome, that we all agreed with a "do not resuscitate" plan. In short, my brother is going to die, but we don't know exactly when. It could take hours or days or weeks or longer. But, the timing is irrelevant: my brother is already gone.
The average hospital bed is not up to the task of containing a 475+ pound man. By some estimates, he is over 500 pounds, but that won't last, not in a hospital bed, especially since his stomach no longer functions: the food forced into him by a tube is regurgitated immediately. My brother fills the bed completely, like a child lying in a bed made for a toy doll. Cables and tubes connect him to an array of medical instruments: a heart rate monitor, a blood pressure cuff, two IVs, and a respirator with its long tube running down his throat.
Throughout the day, I experienced a deep sense of guilt and anger. My brother is such an asshole. It's difficult to write that about a family member, one who is on the verge of death, but he is an asshole and it has always pissed me off. I was supposed to be his friend. I was supposed to be close to him for my entire life. We were both supposed to have kids who would play with each other and come over at Christmas. We were supposed to go to the beach together. Or, he was just supposed to be around, to be an unconditional friend, to a part of my life. Instead, he bailed on his entire family, after being a jerk when he was an adolescent.
His three kids (the first of whom came when he was only 16) were sexually abused; the mother and step-father were sent off to prison, the kids being distributed to various foster homes, never to be seen again, though we are looking for them. Sure, he paid some child support, but only after court orders, and then that dried up when he went on a disability pension. He made no effort to find them. He didn't try to obtain custody after the trial when their step-father was found guilty of sexual assault and the mother found guilty of permitting it to happen.
I am angry with my brother for ruining so much of my childhood. From his violent behaviour toward me to the theft of family possessions, he was a complete bastard. What can you say about someone who would steal from his own family? At least my other brother, the one who left home when I was 4 years old, never stole from us. He sold drugs and paid the price, and then I never really saw him again. He disappeared and I have seen in a handful of times, and only twice in the past 25 years, maybe 5 times since I was four years old. It's like he was never my brother. He is a mystery to me and I can't even say that I know him.
In the hospital, staring at him in the bed, I was inexplicably on the verge of tears, for a man I never liked, for a man that failed to be a brother, who was a terrible son, a lousy human being, and a disinterested father. He spent his life barely able to survive, finally ending up a on disability pension because he was too obese to work. He has sleep apnea, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, troubles with blood clots, and a weak heart. By all accounts he ate massive amounts of unhealthy food and had an immense passion for smoking. I still insist that this is the outcome he wanted: he wanted to be pitied, to be the village freak, and he did it. In the end, I might compare him with Ignatius J. Reilly, but without the creativity, or maybe Homer Simpson, but a Homer without any sense of responsibility or love for anyone other than himself.
You may think this uncharitable, but it's true. The way he spoke clearly indicated that he loved attention. If he was sick, everyone knew about it. Everyone knew how many pills he had to take each day because he displayed them in his apartment for some sort of pitying effect.
After a conversation with the doctor, we went to have lunch, and then drove to his apartment. It's difficult to think about him as being dead, when his is still alive and breathing, but we were forced to investigate the bills, to pay the landlord the overdue rent, to plan for the emptying of the apartment.
The floor around his bed is scarred with burns from cigarettes that fell through his hands as he drifted off to sleep. Miraculously, there was never a fire. He gave up smoking six months ago when he needed oxygen. The bedroom has six oxygen tanks; he has a night-time breathing apparatus. Another oxygen machine sits in the living room. I looked around the dismal place and was stunned to see a shelf of family photographs.
I didn't speak to him over the past 25 years, maybe once or twice. I was angry with him and could never understand how my father could have forgiven him so easily. My mother too. But, I guess that's what parents do. Standing there, staring at the photographs, I began to feel angry with myself for being the holdout, especially when my sister said she had been speaking with him recently. And then, I saw two photos of me and my two kids (whom he has never met) on a shelf along with recent photos of my sister. My sister had sent him photos and he ran out to buy frames so he could display them.
I felt like such an idiot. In the back of my mind, I always assumed that our paths would cross, that we would speak again, that we could forget all of the garbage of the past, but now that's impossible. He is dying in a hospital, and I am pissed off, but I am not sure if I am angry about him dying or for him failing to be a brother. How is it that I ended up with two brothers who walked away from their family and never tried to keep in contact with any of us?
I got back in the rental car and headed back to Toronto, feeling a profound sense of loss for a brother I hardly knew.