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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A Father’s Love


A father and his daughterThe innocence of youth

 

I have been thinking of my father. It happens every year at about this time. I know his birthday is coming, (September 30) and I become depressed.  I know it’s something I feel. A darkness shrouding me. I start getting depressed, and I beg the Lord to help me out. My father died in April of 88 and my brother died a year later. It was too much to bear. I started working for my company, a year after the death of my brother. The fall, which normally is my favorite time of the year, became something I dread. It is a symbol of death. The leaves on the trees, which are beautiful, as they are turning, are now a picture of gloom.

I was in a ‘holding pattern,’ for a long time, as a result of this. I went into a training center, which became another picture of depression. But yet, the Lord, allowed all of this. Perhaps it was to protect me, from myself. He knew, that I was suffering. Had it not been for my roommates, and the fact that I had just returned to the Lord, I would have withered away. I felt desperate and alone. I used my humor and the friendships, I had developed in training, to keep me grounded.

My father had asked me, “to give his love to my mother.” I believe I am doing this every day. But he didn’t realize how difficult all of this would be. To leave in such a manner, and to wrestle my mother, on every little bit of her loss of independence. She refuses the help she needs, and I’m growing weary from the constant complaints. She believes she can “take care of herself.” I know she can’t.

My father left, because he couldn’t handle the depths of despair, which he felt he lived with. Caused by his drinking, and his own company. I understand, the anger, he felt. I’ve experienced this myself. There’s no justice and no way to understand, without the Lord. Life isn’t fair. That’s just a truth, I’ve accepted. It is for those who can afford it.

Now, I debate, what to do for my mother. What is best for her? Do I try to give her what she so desires, or ignore her pleading, as many say, and keep her with me. I know it is just going to become more difficult. I long for my father’s advice. What did he mean, “Give my love to your mother?” What would he do?

I know my father was totally dysfunctional, as all of us are. Some of us just don’t admit it. I know my faults and loved him, in spite of his own. The Lord reminds me that, “although your father loves you, he is imperfect, but I am the perfect father.”

I will be 54, in October. The same age my father was when he died. Even my birthday, is a thing of sadness. So many times, as a child, waiting for my father to show up. Left me on a porch all alone. My mother, slapped me in the face, once, as I came in to the table and sat down, crying. I was exasperated that my father, failed to show up, once again. And she was angry, that I was crying for my father. I told her I still loved him. And she became angry. Her own feelings of contempt, taken out on me. She does the same thing to me now. But, just as my father was not in his right mind, I accept this with my mother, as well. Yet, it still hurts. I feel the darkness sweeping over me.The memory of me standing right in front of him, begging him to “hang on.”  Yet, my cries went unheeded.

Now, I feel a need to run to my heavenly Father. “Help me Lord. Help me to do what is right for everyone. I don’t want to live according to my will, my ways. I want to see on the other side of this, darkness. The light of His love, and His grace.

As, I wait on the Lord, I’m asking that He turns this time of the year into a thing of beauty for me. To remind me that, after the death of all the creation, comes resurrection! The spring brings new life! I want to stay focused on this, as I enter into this season. A new beginning.

Thank you Father, for sending your son, Jesus Christ, to remind us all…this is not the end.

“I Make All Things New!” Jesus Christ


 
I received news of my aunts passing, early this morning. It was mixed emotions which I had. She had created turmoil in our lives, yet the Lord does use all of these experiences to “work together for good.”
As a child who had experienced, much pain and separation, at such a young age, this particular aunt was the one, whom I held the biggest grudge. That is, until I became a believer, and the Lord healed my heart.
Yes, I was a small child, when I was thrust into an adult world. She was the last stop before the final ‘stripping away,’ of everything and everyone, I held close.
She would scream and yell at me, when I lived with her for a very brief time. I became the scapegoat for everything which was wrong in her life. I had just lost my young brother, and even though, it was quite traumatic for me, somehow I could take the blame for this as well,
I didn’t clean the house enough, I didn’t love my father enough, I didn’t help my mother enough. I had supernatural powers, which every child believes, when they suffer this kind of loss. We take all the weight of the world and bear it for the adults.
Of course, I had no idea, that this aunt had some problems. I internalized everything she said to me.
When decision was made, not to care for us, but to place us in a Children’s Home, I believed that was my fault as well.
Surely, there must be a reason, for all of this.
I shared the quarters with children, who had been physically abused. Some still wet the bed in their teens. Other’s just abandoned. How would I know that I didn’t deserve this special punishment?
My mother, was ill, and she was furious to find out that her own children, seemed to be ‘tossed out,’ like yesterdays garbage.
Yet, her sisters had no idea, what to do, and they didn’t understand the tenacity, which my mother had. This event made her more determined than ever, to recover.
 
Now, as I said, I did not process things as an adult would, so I had no idea, that this aunt had serious issues as well. All I knew, was that I was angry. All the terrible things she spoke to me, and the cruelty of her behavior, only exacerbated my anger, when I was in this home.
But the Lord “is close to those who are brokenhearted, and those who are crushed in spirit.”
Yes, it is true. I had a nurse who I remember, to this day. Rocking me in a chair as I wept, and consoling me with the words, “Your mother will return for you.”
I also remember having a Sunday School, which we went to on the grounds. I was given my very first bible at this school.  I still have it, and have read the words written on the cover many times. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey, Robert, the Sunday School teacher.”
Yes, we don’t always understand the impact we are having on a young child’s life, when we say and do these things.
But God knew, that one day, He would heal my deepest hurts in a most miraculous way.
 
I became a believer, and I started to see the things which I harbored in my heart, were a stumbling block, to the transformation which the Lord was going to bring about.
I started to pray for certain people, who I knew were assigned to me in a special way. Those who had brought the deepest wounds to my soul, would be at the very top of the list. The Lord reminded me, that I may be the only one praying for these souls, and if not, then the power of combined prayer, would be even more dynamic.
As I prayed, I was reminded that it really wasn’t about, ‘how I felt.’ This enabled me to lift them up to my Father, and release the anger, I had felt.
I knew when I took a step in faith, and this being the act of my will, the emotions would follow. As I could see a changed heart, I would perceive this person differently.
Well, with this aunt of mine, the Lord brought the visual picture full circle.
She had been such a painful part of my past, when my mother had her breakdown. After losing everyone close to me, the last person in my life, who was part of the decision to place my siblings, and I, in the home, was this aunt.
How many years, did I harbor this anger and hurt? I can say, for half of my life.
Then one day, after becoming a believer, it happened. This aunt called me.
Full of fear and extremely depressed, she had come down to my area of the country. She had lost her husband, spent a lot of money, while running, and systematically, ‘cut off,’ the communication with her own siblings and children.
Now she was calling me to come and help her. She had a breakdown and she was in a residence near me.
The thought first came, “Serves her right. The exact same thing has happened to her, and now she also lost her own children, by her own hands.”
How incredible was this, I thought.
Then the voice of someone close to me spoke. “Do you really believe that any of this is a coincidence? I mean of all the places for this aunt to be, in the whole world? She’s 15 minutes away from you? And not to mention, she’s in the same situation as your mother was.
Don’t you think, that the Lord is doing something?”
As much as I didn’t want to believe it, I had no other choice. If I were to plan a revenge, this would be similar, except the part about the phone call would have been played out in a different manner.
I would have instead, answered the call and twisted the knife. “Oh, you say you had a breakdown, like my mom did? Oh,, and you have no children to help you? Oh, and now you are calling me, the one child you tormented and placed in a home, oh so many years ago? Hmmm, that’s too bad. I’m very busy.”
 
No, I knew that this was not what the Lord had planned, when He said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
I saw this as something He was doing for me. After all, I had been praying for her.
Now, I made the drive to see her. Still feeling the remnants of my childhood anger, I arrived at this little shack of a house. It held a few rooms and a cafeteria.
As I asked one of the nurses, where my aunt was, she told me she was dining in the cafeteria. She pointed to a small,, circular window.
“She’s right there!”
“I don’t understand,” I told her. “Where?”
She pointed again, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. It could have been that I was looking for the woman, who had always looked much younger than her age. Full of spunk, a full head of red hair, and wild as a young girl.
All I could see was an old woman with gray, unkempt hair. Much heavier than my aunt, sipping a spoon of soup, while hands trying to steady the shaky fingers, to her mouth, without spilling.
“That’s my aunt?” I was in shock. What had happened to her?
I realized at that moment, that I was filled with pity. I started to weep. All of the desire for any revenge, left my heart. All I wanted to do was give her a hug, and let her know everything would be ok.
Now, I realized that this was part of the Lord’s plan. Not just for her, but for me.
I sat with her, and listened to her tales woe. Knowing that she had been responsible, did not decrease my compassion. She was the ‘Prodigal Daughter,’ and I know that I have been her myself, many times.
So, I continued to grow closer to her, and pray fervently for her over the years.
I had gone up to pray for her since, finding out she had this heart condition.
I found in my bible, a prayer request listed from my church in 1989, for her salvation.
She was so blessed when I gave this to her. Just to know, I had been doing this for many years.
Yes, I have come to realize that the Lord doesn’t heal us, because we deserve it, but because we don’t deserve it.
This is true grace.
I reflected back on ‘Robert, the Sunday school teacher.’ And this experience which the Lord would one day use, for His own purposes. Who knew,if this aunt had placed me in this awful place, that I would be praying over her one day.
Yes, I am blessed.
 
Now, I heard from my cousin, yesterday, that my aunt had taken a turn for the worse.
I called and asked her caregiver, to place the phone up to her ear, so that my mother and I would be able to speak to her.
As my mother gave her words of comfort and love, I marveled at the things our Lord had done. But the ultimate healing is to be with Him. This was my message to her.
I reminisced of the fun times we’ve had and made her laugh  quite hard, as I recounted some of our experiences together. I told her to ‘hold on,’ to these funny memories, as the Lord came for her. Because it is true, the “joy of the Lord is our strength.
At about midnight, I received a message that my aunt had passed away.
I went to tell my mother, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen my mother cry like this. Even at the loss of her mother. Perhaps it is because of the long history with her own sister, and the fact that they shared the same womb.
I held my mother again this morning and was so comforted in knowing that I am with her, when she heard this news.
Yes, this is difficult, but I can say, “Thank you,” in spite of the circumstances. For the ones, who had given to the Lord. My life has truly been changed.
I will miss her, but the one thing I do know in this life, we will see each other again. In a place where there is no pain or sorrow.
Until that time, Rest In Peace, Aunt Dottie!