By: Revanche

My Brother’s Keeper

November 22, 2011

I keep thinking about Mom. But it’s taking days and weeks to form words, words into a sentence, then into coherence. I’m working. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of business. But at odd moments of the day, I keep thinking about Mom. But for now, that’s not where my words want to flow. Because they’re still swirling in my heart and my gut.  And that makes this other thing that I couldn’t write before emerge from the darkness.   

It was so much easier when I could just write him off as an egomaniacal selfish jerk. Not easy, mind.  Just easier.

I’ve long missed having a big brother, I missed having a full family (a real family), I missed having someone who remembered all the family secrets, to share the jokes, mimicry and stories. Just like I’ve missed having a mom. But this was easier. Easier because it was his choice. It was his loss. It was his fault. I had tried, you see. I had done the best I could with kind words, wheedling words, empathetic words, angry words, harsher actions, drawn lines in the sand, feet planted and stone in my heart.

I had failed, which wasn’t something I could really forgive myself for, but perhaps someday I could absolve myself of the responsibility of his life having gone the way of so many other wasted lives. Trying to accept the reality, trying to swallow my crackling bitter pride, I rehearsed the explanation to my future children, that they once had an uncle, I once had a brother, we were once great enemies and great pals, fanciful adventurers and creative plotters, but alas. It was complicated.  The explanation tilted and twirled, the questions bobbed to the surface, but why….? But how….? When did it go wrong?  Couldn’t you…?

But still. I could walk away into that future where I had no good explanation. I had to – if I wanted a future. For my health, my sanity. I had my parents to think of. My future family to tend to. It rent my heart but I had to leave a piece of my family and move forward.

And so my resolution was made to move my parents into a safer place as soon as I possibly could, leaving him to fend for himself.


Labor Day weekend, I visited my parents and my soul was pummeled with all the fury of great titans, passion worthy of Ali v Frazier. My brother, the jerk, my brother, the eldest son, my brother.

He was speaking gibberish, not just his usual castle in the sky and whistling in the wind, but true, delusional gibberish. And I knew that my secret fears that I’d never uttered aloud but once had begun to come true. He’d begun to spiral into some new world of his invention, one where he could teach animals speech and they’d speak back, and so he’d converse with them, and the furniture, and the buildings, at length.

And his dog watched him, with sad, sunken eyes. He knew. Loyal with every sinew, bone, and breath. But still even he knew, there was something terribly wrong.  And he looked at me with those sad eyes.


It’s been a terrible, horrible year for my Dad. But he’s borne it well, as well as he can. He carries the guilt of my mother’s illness and now, in part, her passing; the guilt of my brother’s failed life and the revelation of his instability and probable illness; my struggles of the past years and the extra burdens created by the concessions I made due to my brother and their inability to love him any less. All these, he carries as a shroud and as a shield.

He managed to start a small business several months ago, while juggling the care of my mother, driven by the need to alleviate my financial burden any small degree, and while he’s ready to take on the care and keeping of my brother as his next responsibility, I can’t allow that.

It’s not sensible, he doesn’t have the tools to deal with this, his role as a father isn’t the right or effective one to rein in or treat the madness.  But neither do I have the tools.  We need professional help and we need to learn from the past mistakes and not let him sink the rest of the family under the weight of this.

Most importantly, most selfishly, I need my Dad to stay well; he’s the last of my family. In a mass of hundreds of relatives – cousins and aunts and uncles – I only have one parent left.  He has to stay healthy and because of that, I have to become, once again, my brother’s keeper.


It’s certain as the full moon will wane that until he has some evaluation and/or treatment, my brother will not change for the better. So the first course of action will be to find out what options are for medical treatment out there that don’t involve beggaring ourselves. I’m not putting him above my new family, or my Dad, in this situation.

Next, he needs to be in a safe place to live NOT with Dad, and certainly not with us, but again, it cannot be by sacrificing anyone else. 

Because he’s sick, I will undertake the search for what options there are but this won’t be a quick process. He’s an adult, so that complicates things.  And money isn’t freely flowing around here, and he doesn’t get any special treatment. Unlike Mom, he didn’t earn the Anything Goes package even if I were made of money. He’s my brother but he was abominable when he had a choice. He’s my brother so I will look out for him if I can but there are absolutely limits.

15 Responses to “My Brother’s Keeper”

  1. Dealing with a family member with mental illness is very difficult. Hope you can find some help soon.

  2. *hugs* I’m sorry you’re dealing with this tough situation. I hope you find a workable solution soon.

  3. Sense says:

    Oh no. I have tears in my eyes because I know of the long road ahead–for all of you–you and your brother and your dad. And how sad that this discovery comes so quickly on the heels of your mom’s death.

    Treatment will help so much, if he is willing to abide by the rules. He’ll have to. There are therapies, medications, doctors, group homes, and, for you and other family members, safe places where people understand every little bit of it. There IS hope, people DO get better.

    And no, you guys are not equipped to deal with this, esp. not now. DO NOT ever feel guilty for not taking him in and trying. Sometimes it will seem like the easiest solution but it will only make it worse. Follow the professional advice. If you need me to ask how it went down with my sister in the beginning, I’ll certainly find out and let you know. A huge hug for your loss and the strength you’ll need. You’re amazing.

  4. Kris says:

    Many hugs! This may not be workable at all, since I only know you through your blog, so take it for what it’s worth (not much), but maybe your dad can live with you while your brother is placed elsewhere? Might be totally a bad idea especially as you’re newlyweds but it occurred to me. Anyway, thinking of you.

  5. bethany_m says:

    This sounds so hard and I wish you the best as your family works through this. Reading this helped me crystallize my thoughts and my own tangled feelings about family obligations.

    My situation is different, I am the older sister to my autistic brother. When I was fifteen and wanted to leave home for boarding school (my parents didn’t want me to go)there were many fights, and in the course of one of them I told my parents that I didn’t want to be responsible for my brother for the rest of my life. I have forged my own path over years, not accumulating much wealth but getting by and holding my own and have come to feel differently about my responsibility to my brother. This past year I turned 30 and immigrated to Canada to be with my husband, which has thrown this all into high relief. It will be a difficult process to either convince my husband to immigrate to America so we can take of him when the time comes or to bring my brother here (you cannot sponsor siblings under the family class, I would have to make a special case on humanitarian grounds, under the current immigration laws, which change every year.) I need to start gathering resources so that I am prepared when the time comes, which probably means a career change and definitely means a change in priorities.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to hijack your comments, but I want you to know that I am struggling with similar issues and hope that you don’t feel too isolated. A developmental disorder like autism is a very different beast from mental illness. It is hard to get the services required and you have to fight for the things your family needs. Don’t feel guilty for the choices you need to make for your own sanity and do what you think is best for your family.


  6. Melissa says:

    I’m so sorry about the loss of your mom and your brother’s illness. Please remember to take care of yourself as well!

    A few thoughts – maybe your brother had previously behaved so terribly because he was spiraling into mental illness. I know that for older people, a change in behavior might signal mental illness, so it’s possible that the same happened to your brother. But since it coincided with growing up, it might have just been seen as rebellion.

    Next, depending on the severity of your brother’s illness and whether it can be controlled by medication, he may be eligible for social security disability and or medicaid/medicare (I can’t remember which one is for elderly people and which one is for poor people).

    Last, if you can somehow get him to move to San Francisco, there used to be free health insurance for residents. It looks like it’s still in existence.

    Good luck.

  7. Wow, you’ve had a tough year. Thank you for sharing this, and i’m so sorry you have to go through everything all at once. You are so strong!

  8. This is SO MUCH to deal with. I hope you know we are all here for you.

  9. I will keep you in my prayers. Dealing with mental illness is a long hard road if the patient does not want to acknowledge or accept the illness. Be strong. Lean on your support system. Vent. Vent. Vent. Don’t keep it all in.

  10. This just keeps going from bad to worse! Well…hang on…sooner or later it’s got to stop.

    In a way, there’s a sort of a silver lining here: Clearly the man is mentally ill. That means all the trouble he’s given you all these years is NOT HIS FAULT. And especially it’s not your fault and it’s not your parents’ fault. So at least you can quit thinking he’s a flaming jerk and then tormenting yourself with guilt for thinking that about your own brother.

    Have you looked into getting him on Medicaid, or whatever California’s equivalent of public assistance is? Here in the Neighborhood, the Perp’s Other Daughter and the Son-in-Law are on disability. He has schizophrenia and gets his meds and psychiatric care on the state’s dime. I’m pretty sure Other Daughter has some mental health issues, too. Neither of them has a nickel or a dime, but they’re adequately cared for and not living under the freeway overpass.

    The Perp (aka Tony the Romanian Landlord) bought a house here and “rents” it to them. Knowing Tony, he probably rents it as a Section 8, which means the City covers a lot of the repairs on it. And someone other than the ailing kids pays the rent. It’s close enough to his house that he can keep an eye on his daughter and The Son-in-Law.

    Soo…in terms of housing him, that’s something else you could think about: if you can get him on disability or he’s provably in the poverty range, maybe you could invest in a place and rent it to him as a Section 8, at your convenience.

  11. Shelley says:

    There are some downsides to being an only child, but for most of my life I’ve been thankful to have been one. I cannot therefore entirely relate to what you have experienced, but I do follow your reasoning. I, too, would move heaven and earth for my parents. That said, I also believe your own health has to come first and that your husband deserves priority. All I can say is that I hope you find some peace and contentment somewhere along the way.

  12. Yes, he is probably eligible for Medicaid and either SSI or SSDI (SSI if he doesn’t have much earnings history, SSDI if he does). I think the first step would be to talk to an attorney who specializes in disability cases.

    Take care of yourself too.

  13. Kay says:

    Revanche, All I can give you is big hugs!!!

  14. palmera says:

    i’m so sorry.

    you are too wise beyond your years.

    i really hope your brother is receptive to treatment, this is crucial.

  15. […] but I can’t deny that I did get to have that relationship for a short time. His later mental issues complicate things further. Much like having gotten a couple good years with my parents before life […]

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