I have been down and discouraged all week, only yesterday realizing that today is my brother’s birthday. He has been dead six years now after having been totally disabled by a massive stoke for eight years. Those fourteen years feel like an eternity and an instant at the same time. I can’t seem to come to terms with this: I cry every time I think of him. I’m crying as I write this.
I realize that strokes occur to those who were not born into cults, as well as those that were, but I cannot help but feel that there was a connection. I resonate with the factors that led to it — self-neglect, shame, and guilt, all-encompassing guilt. He was told he had high blood pressure, but that he could lower it by losing weight. I’m sure he said to himself that he would go back to the doctor when he lost weight, and then never did, until he was forced to by a medium-sized stroke. A couple of years later, a second stroke left him unable to communicate, unable to eat except through a feeding tube, and able to move only one arm. The ER, intensive care unit, and nursing home gave him very good care for eight years and kept him alive in total dependence. It was heart-breaking.
I was close to my brother as a child in both the “day life” and the “night life,” although we never spoke of the cult — it was buried under impenetrable layers of amnesia. He was the only person in my family that I liked and trusted. But slowly, we grew apart. In high school he appeared increasingly shy and by the time he graduated college he had what these days we call “social phobia.” People made him so uncomfortable that he withdrew as far as he could.
It wasn’t just strangers — everybody made him anxious, including me. First he stopped calling me, then he stopped answering his phone when I called. If I did reach him and invited him to something, he found an excuse. My sweet brother had become a ghost. We managed to see each other every few years, more so after my husband died. He sensed I needed him, and rose to the occasion. He painted rooms, changed tires, fixed my fence. We connected over tasks, but couldn’t talk personally.
When I discovered I had been molested, and later, when my cult background came to light, I disclosed to him without hesitation. I was hoping that he, too, would remember and would have a chance for a happier life. He said a few things that indicated he had been cult-abused, like “I cannot look people in the eye because I see a knife in their eye or a beating heart.” But that was all.
I couldn’t protect him when we were children and I couldn’t help him heal when we were adults. As I became more connected to my past, he became more disconnected from me. And then the strokes came.
I see that the way I handle my grief is to reach out to others. Although I could never help him, I can at least try to make a difference in the lives of some people I do not know. Every word I have written is in his memory.