Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Memory of My Brother, Greg, R.I.P.

October is a bittersweet month for me. I love everything about fall; the scent of crisp leaves crumbling beneath my boots, the way the sunlight seems weaker in the morning, pumpkin pie, and Halloween. I love it all, but I also associate a family tragedy with this month too, a painful memory -- my brother, Greg, being admitted to the veteran's hospital downtown.

Greg was my half-brother from my father's first marriage and about eighteen years older than I was. I didn't know him well. My brother struggled with an addiction to alcohol. While enlisted in The U.S. Navy, he learned he actually was allergic to alcohol, which made him an angry, violent drunk. Medically discharged decades ago, he went on S.S.I. and sometimes was homeless. Sometimes he lived in an apartment or rented a hotel room, but he never stayed in one place long. My parents tried repeatedly to get him help to no avail.

I was 22 years of age in October of 1998 when we learned my brother, Greg, was seriously ill with the new strain of tuberculosis resistant to antibiotic treatment; he'd gotten it from someone at the bar that he often shared bottles with. Greg holed himself up in his hotel room, continuing to drink heavily. He thought it was just a cold. My other half-brother tried to get him to see a doctor, but Greg, true to his nature, believed he was invincible and would beat this thing on his own. He continued drinking, having friends from the local dive bar deliver bottles of alcohol to his room, which he did not leave. By the time he realized he was very ill, it was too late.

My brother had to be placed in restraints at the hospital, so he would not pull out his breathing tube. He was so strong and the D.T.s were so bad, that the doctors decided to medically induce a coma to give his body a chance to fight the infection, but it was in vain. Greg woke up the only time my family and I visited him, confused and in a panic, trying to speak around his breathing tube. He looked like a caged, wild animal. My father rushed us from the room because Greg's heart monitor started bleeping frantically. I never got to say goodbye. That is the last memory I have of my brother. He died on Friday the 13th, November 1998. My father was 68 at the time; he has never fully recovered from having to bury his son. A parent is not meant to outlive their children.

I thought about Greg a lot last night, as the end of October nears. I couldn't sleep. This morning, I want to share one of the poems I wrote about my experience. 

All Hallow's Eve
for my my father

Death stares back at him from a bloodstained phlemgy ventilator
and his eyes are like two slick oil pools
amidst the hiss of the oxygen machine
that pumps life into his tuberculosis ridden body.
He is a wild caged animal riddled with piss-stinking fear,
trapped by I.V. lines, oxygen lines, heart monitors,
and chest tubes to keep his lung from collapsing,
and outside children dressed as ghosts, goblins, and witches
are trick or treating on this dreary All Hallow's Eve.
He claws at the sterile white hospital sheets,
grasping for his father's hand to pull him back into humanity,
tears dripping from the corners of his eyes
like sugar water dripping through clear tubes into his shrunken veins.
I tell him that when he is better we will play cribbage together,
and meanwhile my father is on the phone talking to his ex-wife,
and making funeral arrangements,
teetering on the brink of indecision --
"should he be resusticated," the doctors ask him again and again
each day as his son slips further away from the living.
"Should he be cremated or buried," my father asks my mother.
My father decides on cremation.
They are arranging for his funeral while he is still with us,
and my father is trying not to cry, to be a man, to be the head of the family
the way all good little boys from the depression era
were taught by their mothers,
but he can't wind up so many loose ends into
a neat ball of string and brown paper wrapping.
He can't bind up all the memories of his son
and toss them into the trash to be recycled.
He can't forget December 27, 1954,
the day his son was born
in a renovated castle in San Juan,
or 1974 when his son graduated high school
and enlisted in the navy to conquer the world,
and so many holidays spent with the family.
He can't help but ask why he hasn't said it earlier,
why he hasn't said, "I love you, son."


Shah Wharton said...

This really hit home to me - I lost my brother to suicide Spring 2004 and father to addiction Autumn 2005. I know my dad, in his last year had those thoughts a thousand times - esp the last line. And my poor mother aged so quickly in the years that passed. She even fell in love with a much younger guy who 'needed' her (he has a thing for mother figures) to fill the hole he left. Creepy, but grief takes us into uncharted territory.

This is a deeply moving post Nora. I'll link it up at my blog hop for you - sorry about the inconvenience of earlier.

Shah. X

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thank for the linkup. Saw that this morning.

My older siblings from my dad's first marriage saved me from getting into alcohol in drugs. I have seen what both do to a family. It is very sad and hard to deal with and affects them in so many ways.

If this post lets one person know they are not alone in dealing with issues like this or saves one person from starting down a path that will only harm them and others around them, then I feel I've done some good.

Grandma Bonnie said...

W very well written poem. It brought tears to my eyes. Your writing is very moving. Stopping by form the sit and relax weekend hop. I am now following with GFC. I hope you have a good weekend.

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thank you, Bonnie. Glad to have a new follower.

shah wharton said...

I would love you to link this up on Monday for the mental health readers if you have time and don't mind?

Oh, if you're into such things there's a writing challenge/linky in town. Every weekend I'll share a PROMPT and every Wednesday everyone can link up there (poem or short story 500 max)response at the Storyteller Linky. This weeks prompt is a Picture. Check it out. :)

I also have a spooky book review and the weekend blog hop right now too!

Have a great weekend either way. Shah.X

Like a Giraffe said...

heartbreaking. so sorry for your loss.

May said...

Wish there were words that could actually be useful here. But the depth of this tragedy defies words. This is so incredibly raw and sad.

Your words about the loss from your dad's perspective hold great truth. My own dad died only 3 yrs after burying my brother. I contend of a broken heart. That is simply not the natural order of things.

Peace to you and yours.

Nora B. Peevy said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. It has been a defining moment in my life.

Oh, and Shah, yes, you can link this up for Monday Madness. That's fine. :)

Nora B. Peevy said...

Veronica Lee, Blogger is going bonkers today. I got a message you had commented, but it isn't showing up here, yet. Anyrats, thanks for the kind words. And the follow! Welcome aboard!

Erin O'Riordan said...

I'm terribly sorry for your loss, Nora. My family, too, has known the sorrow of loving a family member with an alcohol addiction. It's a very difficult disease for the family members, but I have found that Al-Anon can be a great source of hope and inspiration.

amy@ Souldipper said...

Nora, this incredible tribute to a father and son given by a half-sister demonstrates a love and compassion that Greg probably never suspected could be his gift - given to him by a sister he never really knew. In fact, his diseases may have progressed to the point where he could not have been able to receive that indescribably piercing love before being on his deathbed.

The war, TB, alcoholism helped him make decisions that we cannot understand. They build an irrationality that cannot be reasoned and only breaks hearts.

Glory in the fact that your father and you were there. The tears tell all.

(I do work in grief recovery.)

Nora B. Peevy said...

Amy, grief recovery is a noble calling. I once tinkered with the idea of working at a funeral home because I like to work with people. I should clarify ... the ones left behind, though the cosmetic side of the funerary business also interested me and I once landed a job interview to sell burial plots for a living.

Erin, thank you. I haven't gone to Al-Anon, but have talked with someone professionally about my experiences.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking this up at monday madness Nora. I'm actually considering stopping it soon. I have to really work to get people to link up and only a few check in on other links. Not sure its worth it. Thanks for your support. Hope you're well. :D Shah. X

Nora B. Peevy said...


If it's close to your heart, I wouldn't give up on it.

I got sick yesterday and couldn't hop in the afternoon, but was going to check out some of the posts today.