Excited To Die?


My brother is.

The joy of the Lord!

I’ve always been close to him. He’s one year older than I am. He’s mentally challenged.

My mother tells me stories of him claiming me as his baby, when I was born. He would swing me in my little swing, and when it would stop, I would cry. He would go over and start it up again. He would rock me in the chair. He would hold me like I was his.

My brother was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. It deprived him of oxygen and damaged his vocal cords. He also has cerebral palsy.

I didn’t see anything different until we went through the shaking in our lives. The loss of my baby brother, and my father. The transition into a life of poverty.

But kids are very adaptable. Trauma sets in, but it may take years. And for someone like my brother, it is ignored by many.

My mother had to find a way to care for us. And at that time, there wasn’t much available for someone like my brother. I was getting older, and it seemed he was frozen in time. I also had another brother, who had cerebral palsy.  My poor mother was in the midst of the most intense heat. Struggling to survive.

I felt that I was right there with her. Living those moments, but not having a way of expressing anything, nor the right to say anything. After all, I was only a child. And as my mother lost ground, her very controlling family took over. To them, the old adage, “children should be seen and not heard,” still applied. No matter how difficult it was for us. I was screaming on the inside, but I dare not speak.

I remember the death of my brother, Dennis. I was in so much pain. I treated him the way my brother treated me. My mother was busy caring for my other young brother, and I would take great pride in being the ‘second mother.’ Teaching ‘Dennie,’ as we called him, how to walk. I played a game with him. “The bunny’s going to get you!” I would run from across the room and he would squeal so loud. He knew like clockwork, when I was coming down the street, on my walk home from school.

He was only 13 months old, when he died. I remember the convulsions in his crib. I remember the hushed tones, of my aunts and my grandmother, as they tried to conceal his condition. I was angry, that I was not a part of these conversations. After all, he was my baby!

I asked my cousin, if he was going to die. She vehemently told me, “no.” When he was taken to the hospital, he was placed in an oxygen tent. He was supposedly on the road to recovery, and then he died. I still remember thinking that it was some kind of massive conspiracy. As if they had all known, and deliberately lied to me. I was only five, but I was angry.

I was riding in the car, as my grandmother and aunt, discussed the funeral arrangements. It was as if I was invisible. I was so full of pain and anger. I was not allowed to be at the funeral, because my grandmother and my aunts, thought it was inappropriate. As I tried to come to grips with all of this loss, I would say, this just added to my pain, as they had no idea, what I was experiencing. There was no closure for me. Years later, I had come to realize that my grandmother, had a similar experience when she had to watch her own father being cut down, from a rafter, in the barn,  after hanging himself.

As I analyzed this, and the nonchalant way my grandmother would tell us the story of her father’s suicide, I knew that this, explained her lack of emotion. It made me sad for her and my mother.

When my mother was faced with decisions, one was to place my brother, in an institution, for people with special needs. During the 60’s, these places were terrible places. When my brother would go away, he would scream and cry. Already traumatized, I couldn’t bear it. I watched him and I would become hysterical. My heart would break. I knew my mother had to do this, because she couldn’t care for him, and had no options available, but I couldn’t bear it. I knew one day, I would restore him to his family.

I would visit him, when I could and when I moved to a different state, I would have him come to me.Taking him to the airport presented challenges. He would get very upset and it was always the same scene. He would make shooting gestures toward the planes, which was not good, especially when I was in uniform! He would say, that his flight was cancelled or it ‘blew up.’ I had to be careful with him.And quietly thanked God, that it was difficult for most to understand him.

The day I decided to bring him home, was a moment of awareness for me. Almost like having a child. You just can’t plan for it. Or it’s not going to happen.

I had been through another trauma. The bombings in London. I had reassessed my life and what is important to me. From beginning to end. I thought of how things started out. My brother rocking me. Claiming me as his own. I had him home for Christmas, once again. He gave me two beautiful books. And he always looks so sweet and excited to give a gift. I thought, “you know, I can’t bear to keep sending him back. This is where he wants to stay.”

My life has been so rich because of him.The funniest thing about him, is his acceptance of things which most people fear. Death, is just a natural thing to him. I’ve told this story many times, but when my brother, Chris passed away, in 1989, we were all crying. We were standing around his casket, before they closed it. At this point my brother, Kevin pointed at Chris and said, “He owes me $5.00.” At this we started cracking up. I said, “Well, you’re going to have to wait a while to collect.” My grandmother reached into her purse and handed him $5.00.

Apparently where he lived, they had set all these people up with funeral arrangements. He came home once and was all excited about his casket. I thought, “What in the world is going on here? They’ve got these people all excited like they’re going to a party.” Besides the fact that they signed their own documents, which was preposterous, he was excited about the whole prospect!

Now, every time he gets sick, no matter how small the cold, he tells me, “I’m going to die. I’m going to the funeral home.” I realized early on, when he got sick, that he isn’t unlike most guys. He started to milk it out. I was running up and down the stairs. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, in bed. Then, when I said, “That’s enough,” he told me he was going to die.

If he doesn’t have a fever, and he’s not sick, he tells me he’s going to have a heart attack. That’s when he starts to remind me of Fred Sanford, from the old sitcom, Sanford and Son.

He’s just waiting to go to that place! Now I’m thinking, he’s going to outlive all of us. He’s so excited that the Lord’s going to keep him around for a little longer than usual. I’m sure you’ll see Willard Scott, announcing his name for birthdays in the 100 year mark.

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