Gone, But Not Forgotten

As you might already know if we're connected through Facebook or Instagram, my brother, Eric, passed away on June 16th. As I'm sure you can understand, this is a pretty difficult time for me. He was only 34 year old, and while he had lifelong health issues, he seemed to be doing well. This has been a shocking loss for me and for my family.

My brother was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, which is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, and throughout his life he had to deal with all of the complications that come with that, including numerous brain surgeries. He was also neuroatypical, and though he could be kind and generous, he was also often obsessive, and had difficulty understanding things from another person's point of view. He was never officially diagnosed as autistic, but it seems almost certain that he was. This could make him a somewhat difficult person to be around, which was one of the reasons that we didn't have a lot of contact after I moved away from home.

On Facebook, Eric would often start out posts with a phrase like "has anyone ever experienced..." It seems to me now that what he really wanted was to be understood, to feel as if there was some kind of a connection with his own experiences and those of others. I've looked back over what he wrote in the last couple of years, and I hope that he found those connections that he was looking for. I deeply regret that I didn't see then what I see now, and reach out to show him that I saw him, and that I understood, and that I have also had those same experiences and feelings.

When we were growing up, I didn't feel as if we were treated differently by out parents. It felt like they had the same expectations of both of us, tempered by an understanding of our differing abilities. I went off to university, but he did graduate from community college. He held down a job, and he even supported our mother for a time.

A few years after I left home, though, my mother kicked him out of the house. I want to be understanding of that decision; it must have been difficult for her to feel like she would never have an independent life away from her children, and given that she had her first child at 17, I see how stifling it might have felt to think that her entire adult life would be dedicated to caring for someone else. The way that she did it, though, seems cruel to me. She sent him to live with her mother, our grandmother, and when our grandmother said that she couldn't support him any longer, my mom just told him that he couldn't come home. For someone like him - obsessed with routine, unaccustomed to living on his own and supporting himself, and lacking many of the life skills necessary to do so - it just feels like there was much more that she could have done to help him build that life.

I'm so deeply thankful that Eric reached out to our brother, Joe. Joe, who is more than a decade older than us, lives in Omaha, and when Eric reached out to him he took him in. More than that, he helped enroll him in a program run by the state of Nebraska that helps individuals like my brother, and those who are much more profoundly disabled, learn life skills, find jobs, and in some cases (such as Eric's) eventually live independently. Eric sometimes chafed at the requirements of this program, but I think it made him really happy to find a job and an apartment and be able to just live, more or less, as he wished. For the last 4 years of his life he was largely independent, which was a tremendous accomplishment for him.

Although I have other half-brothers and step-siblings, Eric was the brother that I was raised with. We fought and we played; I would blame him for everything when I got into trouble, even though it had to be immediately obvious to everyone that I was the real troublemaker. He was a good brother, though. I remember running away from a fight when I was in elementary school and dropping my backpack to make a quicker getaway; he stopped and picked it up and brought it home with him so that I wouldn't get into trouble. I once covered myself in blue paint, then hid under a desk from my parents; I don't remember if he actually helped me lever the top off of the can, or if that just what I told him to share the blame around, but he certainly didn't do anything to stop me. And I remember getting up in the middle of the night and eating his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles birthday cake, and how even though our mom was so mad, he just thought it was the funniest thing that he'd ever seen. He loved football, and was a huge fan of the Oakland Raiders; he had an amazing memory, and could recite back any football stat that you might want to ask him. Towards the end of his life he became very religious, and while I don't know much about that side of him, I like to think that even as he left this world, he felt hopeful about entering a new one.

I'm not a motivational person, so I don't want to try and wrap something inherently messy and emotional up in a tidy little bow. But just remember that life is short, and sometimes you don't have the time that you might wish to have with the people that you love. If you're thinking about calling someone, just call them; if you love someone, tell them. The hardest thing to live with is having put that off until, suddenly, it's too late.

I'm leaving for his funeral tomorrow, and then after that I have a planned vacation. Before Eric passed away I had planned to schedule a few posts for while I was gone, but with everything else going on in my life I think it feels right to take a short break. I will be back once I return from my trip, though.