June 3rd, 2018
Today is my younger brother’s birthday. Chuck would have been fifty-eight today.
Chuck died in October of 2009. I think the official cause of death was a heart attack. Chuck had extremely high blood pressure, but he refused to take his meds. Instead, he drank all the time. I don’t think that he wanted to live. The last fifteen years of his life were like a slow motion suicide. It was an endless series of close calls, and visits to the emergency room.
It wasn’t always like that. When Chuck was young, he was athletic and smart. He was a brave man, sometimes recklessly so. He was funny and goofy and crazy as hell. He was bold and adventurous, and almost always at odds with our father. After a bitter argument, our dad threw Chuck out of the house. Chuck found a job, found a wife, and started a family…all on his own. Chuck was a self-made man.
Things fell apart. Chuck’s drinking tore up his family. He lost everything that he loved. I think that destroyed him. He never recovered from the divorce. He and our father never really reconciled. Chuck couldn’t fix what was broken, and eventually he stopped trying.
I have always felt guilty about Chuck’s death. I often kept him at arm’s length. I guess I was scared or ashamed or just clueless. Was I a good brother to him? I doubt it.
I know people who would say that Chuck’s life was a tragic waste. I don’t agree with that. Something is only a waste if nobody learns from the experience. I learned from Chuck’s experience. I learned that I cannot save anyone. I can be present and supportive. I can love them. However, I cannot save somebody who does not want to be saved.
I also learned that I have to love somebody as they are, not as I wish they would be. I often wished that Chuck wasn’t so angry, so bitter, or so depressed. I wanted him to be somebody besides the man who I knew. Because of that, I missed the chance to love my brother as he was. I often rejected the man who was standing there in front of me, because I wanted so badly to see somebody else.
Do these lessons matter? Yes, they do. History repeats itself. Now I have to love another person who in some ways resembles my brother. Now I can see that I have to do things differently. Chuck taught me to love differently. Whether he knew it or not, Chuck taught me to see the others in a new light, and to accept them as they are.
Happy birthday, Brother. It’s a beautiful day outside. Maybe be we should sit on the porch and enjoy it together.