In case you’ve never met him, this is my “little brother” Brad (I previously introduced him here and here). We weren’t particularly close growing up, but I have spent the past six years getting to know him on a level I hope that most siblings will never have to experience.
Brad was a freckle-faced, mischievous kid who had lots of friends, but I knew something was different about him with respect to his ability to learn. He went to a special school for a few years, but my parents never let on to any particulars related to his ‘special education needs’ until one day when I was about 12 years old. I don’t remember what was happening at the time, but Brad was having trouble with his school work and I think my dad sensed my annoyance with my brother over something trivial. I don’t remember Dad’s exact words, but he took me aside and urged me to be kind to my brother and try to help him out because life was harder for him than for most.
I do remember promising my dad that I would try harder to be kind. Little did I know then just what that would entail, but Facebook reminded me earlier this week that six years ago I arrived in Milwaukee to look after my mom who was in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s and ended up taking my brother to the emergency room at the VA Hospital in Milwaukee. That trip resulted in a series of appointments and a battery of tests, which led to a diagnosis of colon cancer and various cancerous skin issues, in addition to unmanaged diabetes. And so began my opportunity to keep the promise I made to my dad more than 50 years prior ago as I embarked on my ministry of care for my brother, driving him to and from various appointments in treatment for all of these problems. Somewhere along the way it was determined that Brad had experienced some mini-strokes and that he was cognitively impaired – the neurologist called it vascular dementia. It soon became apparent that it would be wise to move both my mom and my brother to live near me
Brad’s room at a nearby nursing home is scheduled for much needed renovation this summer, so the management asked families to help their resident clean out extra items. I stayed for a bit after we returned from Brad’s doctor appointment last week to take care of that. We tackled his nightstand together first, starting with a bag full of unopened cards that people had sent him. There were Easter cards, birthday cards and even a few from Christmas. I opened each of the cards and read them to Brad, reminding him of who people were if he didn’t remember them. Then, I packed up his winter coat and a few items of clothing that he doesn’t like to wear. There were a few t-shirts which were frayed and stained, obviously his favorite shirts to wear, so I took them with me and told him I would purchase new ones.
Someone had gifted Brad with cookies at Christmas. He pointed to the tin on his nightstand (pictured below) and told me he had saved it because he thought I would like it. I don’t know what it was about that simple gesture, but it meant a lot to me that he thought about something I would like. Honestly, even though he had eaten all of the cookies in the tin, it was like a belated Christmas gift.