A Death On a Birthday

Twenty six years ago today my father died. It was my brother’s 12th birthday.

I’ve just returned from my first run back and the almost four miles gave me time to think. I barely noticed my breath, hardly felt my legs, concentrated on the stunning last chapter of The Lovers and was lost in my thoughts.

There was a line in the last chapter of Vendela’s book about death that spoke personally to me. It said something about how we all grieve differently and in time the grief dulls more and more until it fades.

My dad’s death has faded enough for me that I don’t cry about it anymore. The loss has become an integral part of the person that I was meant to become.

I haven’t seen my brother in over seven years. His life, like all of ours, changed the day Al Feldman died. Sadly though, his own inability to move past it has darkened the days of his own life; been used as the excuse for all that is wrong with his world.

When my brother called on Christmas, I almost didn’t answer the phone because I knew I would be exhausted by the anguish he exudes and makes sure you feel throughout his conversations.

I did answer the phone, it was Christmas after all, and after a moment of niceties was bombarded by his huge anger. He was angry over the fact that his computer had died. He began a rant about needing a Mac and insisted he couldn’t learn to use a pc. It would be too expensive for him to buy a new Mac, since he hasn’t had or been able to keep a job in years. His Mac is a few years old, which is ancient, and the guy at Apple said to buy a new one. How he got one in the first place was never discussed, though I wondered. On and on in circles. Antagonizing bitterness that could be cut with a knife.

As I listened and responded with a level head, he became more and more belligerent and aggressive. He accused me of being hateful; of being like everyone else. How dare I not agree? How dare I not jump on the band wagon of woe is he?

He was beyond reason, which is what happens more and more every time we talk and I realized in that very moment, when I asked him what he wanted me to do about it, that the brother I knew as a child was really gone.

I mourn the loss of my brother today, because I honestly don’t think I’ll ever see him again. He didn’t attend my wedding and has never met my children.

When someone you love can no longer be reasoned with, when every conversation swings from highs based in an unreal world to lows that only the strongest can climb up from, what is there left to do?

Pray? Hope? Cross fingers? Stomp feet and scream?

I miss my dad today as I do all the time, but he is with me still, despite being an angel in heaven that is probably smoking a cigar with a crate of strawberries in his arms calling all the ladies, “Sweet heart.” I would bet money that my birth mom is near by; there’s no way she could resist his charms. He was of a different time. A spectacular man.

I feel like my brother is the one who has gone. I’m sad for him. I want help for him. I will always love him. But my power to protect him, to show him the way, to convince him everything will be alright is gone.

Mental illness is a death of it’s own. It is more painful than a permanent death, because the pain and suffering is so alive. Today I feel like I begin a new grieving process. I await a call to let me know he is at peace, however that peace may come. I hope it’s his voice on the other end of the phone saying, “I get it, I am responsible, I forgive, I am living, I am happy!” Unfortunately, that’s not the call I expect I will get.

I will continue to hope and pray. My fingers remain crossed and I feel at peace with how I’ve handled my part in his life.

Today I will remember the boy two years younger who was sweet and good and not marred by pain. No one should live in pain. There is far too much joy.

19 thoughts on “A Death On a Birthday

  1. Amazing post, my sweet. How I loved your father, he was bigger than life and was definitely of a different era! I too miss your brother, and your sister for that matter đŸ™‚ love you!

    1. I think I’m going to see Amanda and her three kids I haven’t met (can you believe that?) in February. Will take lots of pictures! xo

  2. I agree; WOW. Although it’s been years since we have seen each other – with each time I read your blog, I realize our lives have evolved similarly; finding running, death of a parent, complicated sibling relationships. What incredible courage you have… to answer the phone – to write about it. Admire you so much. Of course your father is proud of you, how could he not be? Love your writing, Martha! Can’t wait until our paths cross again this summer in Maine. xox Liz

    1. Liz! We Must cross paths! And be prepared, I’m going to give you a big hug! Who knew we had so much in common! Love it! xoM
      Any idea when you are heading East?

      1. Oh no! We will be there in July! We always want to stay longer though, so maybe we will this year!

  3. Oh, how I feel for you!! I have a sister who i am estranged with….she is so angry and bitter at everyone in our family due to a divorce etc. It’s hard…all you can do is wait and pray that one day there will be a reconcilement of sorts. I hope he finds peace and one day you have your brother back.

  4. Wow…I can relate to this so painfully much…I lost my dad not on a birthday, but on a major holiday coming up and it certainly does taint the day and make it hard to celebrate. But beyond that, my husband, who has 2 older brothers, lost their mother on one of his brother’s birthdays and his other brother sounds like yours, blaming the world for his own problems, so, knowing what drama my own brother in law creates, I deeply sympathize with you. I also gotta give you a lot of respect for picking up the phone. We don’t anymore because it’s just never good news. My husband and I are of the opinion that tough love is the only way he can ever learn some responsibility, but their dad disagrees and refuses to let him fall and hit rock bottom. The best we can do is try and reason with his father to see how he enables it, and we pray that his brother will find peace one way or another (you put that so beautifully!!) whatever that means. But as long as you have peace with your own decision, I think that’s all you need. (Not that my opinion should matter, but I think you’re doing the right thing and it sounds like your heart is in the exact perfect place.)

    1. Thank you so much for posting. I’m finding that we all (humans that we are) have so many shared experiences! Your words meant a lot to me!

  5. That has got to be a tough relationship with your brother. I don’t think it would be completely unfair to not only disagree with him, but also tell him that you simply cannot be sucked into the “woe is me” feeling every conversation if he begins to get hateful. It takes a toll on you, too. I am not at all trying to sound unsympathetic and I have NO idea what it is like to lose a parent, but it can’t be healthy for you to dread your conversations with him. It must be a tough place for him to be in….

    1. He is in a really tough place, which is hard for the people who wish the best for him to watch. It’s taught me a lot about personal responsibility, but also mental illness. I think I need to write a novel one day that touches on it. It’s such an extraordinary thing.

      OMG…you race is days away!!!!!!! You must be getting excited!

  6. Martha,
    Such a beautiful honest and poignant post. I can relate to so much of what you share and I too remember that 12 year old boy. It makes you stop and wonder – I mean “wonder” how life works. Some of us have the insight, strength, willingness to go in toward the pain and take a good long look and grab a lesson or two on the way up. Keep holding love and hope in your heart – I know you love that boy – who really in all his upset is still just that… a boy. Hold the space for his “becoming” a man, a healed man who takes responsibility for his life, his responses and their outcomes. Sending him light and love,

    1. Mon…. Your words are so helpful. That boy is still….that boy. It is a hard pill to swallow when your life goes on and you do grab hold, but others (whom you love) can’t do the same. I do that that stinkin’ kid, so let’s just keep sending light and love and hope that one day he does take some responsibility and forgive, mostly himself.

      BTW… That post about Shaw sneaking into bed at 3 a.m. Brilliant! I mean it! Lots of Love!

  7. Hey Martha,
    I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying a sneak peak into your life and bits of it’s past. It’s so interesting to remember my childhood friend and imagine the person you are today but with every post the picture morphs into the real (and lovely) you! Mental illness is in my family too and have to agree with you that it is more painful than a permanent death..sometimes even for the people surrounded by it. So much to share on the beach next summer!

    1. Suzy! You are lovely too! Thanks for the comments! I’m finding the more that I share, the more others share too. It’s been a wonderful experience, all this blogging! Any idea when you’ll head to the beach? We’ll be there in July and Maybe a bit of June….. xo

  8. I had to read the first sentence of this post about three times because my Dad passed on Jan. 11 27 years ago. I also blogged about it (http://lovelifesurf.blogspot.com/2012/01/dad.html). The pain and loss has faded for me too but has also made me stronger and definitely helped to shape who I am today. I think about him more now that I have kids and it makes me sad that they won’t have a chance to know each other. I can’t even begin to imagine what you are going through with your brother. It must have taken a lot of courage to pick up the phone. Thanks for sharing this.

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