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A Real Tragedy




Just a few days ago my brother died. He’d been unconscious for several days; the hosparus nurse administered morphine so that he wouldn’t be in pain. He had stage four bone cancer in a femur, cancer in his liver and a large tumor in his brain. I will not see him before he passes.


Larry has been angry with everyone in the family for as long as I can remember. A substance abuser since his mid teens, his immediate family - my parents and I, and his ex-wife - were enablers for a very long time until we realized we were making his disease worse. When Larry could no longer manipulate us (as most substance abusers and alcoholics learn to do so effectively) he lashed out. More than once he made credible threats to kill me; when I refused to give him large amounts of money several times his rage escalated to the point that I was concerned for the safety of my own family.


Five years ago I decided I couldn’t have any contact with him. His irrationality and outbursts both angered and frustrated me. Until a couple of days ago Larry’s daughter from his first relationship hadn’t spoken with him for ten years for essentially the same reasons. When she learned from her cousin of his advanced illness she arranged to see him only to be verbally assaulted and threatened not to contact me. 


This is all very complicated for me. He is my brother and, by default, I love him. But I don’t like him and never have. There was a part of me that felt I should have seen him before he lost consciousness, but I didn’t want to. Gratefully, I didn’t have to struggle with that for long since he lost consciousness only a couple of hours after I learned of his condition.


When my niece, Larry’s daughter, called to tell me of his condition I was at Wednesday evening church. We were just beginning to share prayer requests when I walked back into our fellowship hall. Through tears I tried to ask for prayers for Larry and those few who cared about him. I simply couldn’t get all the words out. My church family understood even though I wasn’t able to finish expressing myself. It’s no coincidence that I was surrounded by folks that I love and love me when I got the call about Larry’s imminent passing.


I have a few regrets. I regret that Larry self-ostracized from his family; we all wanted more from him. I regret that he didn’t fully exploit his talents; Larry was a brilliant dog trainer who spent only a year of his work life pursuing that career. I regret that none of us could help him overcome his disease, but the more we tried the more he used us; that’s just part of the M.O. of addicts. Most of all, I regret not being able to have a healthy relationship with my brother.


Soon he will be gone without any fanfare. There will be no funeral, no celebration of his life, no coming together of friends and family because there are no friends and only his daughter and I left behind. Larry will die and almost no one will care or miss him. That just feels so very sad. 


My brother’s death isn’t a tragedy; we will all die. The real tragedy is that no one will notice.


Something to think about for our own lives.

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