My Brother’s Birthday

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.


How in the world did we learn how to love? We were raised with deceit and cruelty. The people who were supposed to cherish us were sadists. We had to bond to monsters, because that’s all there was to bond to. By all odds, we should be incapable of love because we have no idea what it is.

I asked one of my healing buddies how he explained it. He said, “I just looked at the fields and knew that there was more, and that it was wrong.” Somehow that little boy could see the beauty of the fields amid the ugliness of his upbringing and his heart went out to it. There must be an intrinsic capacity in children to love.

Of course, love goes against everything we were taught. It was seen as an act of rebellion and invited severe punishment. We learned to love in secret to protect both ourselves and the people and things we cherished. We didn’t stop loving, we just went underground with it.

When we got enough power to escape, we gained the opportunity to love openly. Of course we were afraid to love, afraid to let anybody know we cared. We had to fight against our well-learned fear with every ounce of our strength. But we did it and we continue doing it daily in continued defiance of the cult. The instinct is just too great to deny.