when you can't be your brother's keeper
Posted on 14 September 2015
Jere was a thinker. He was smart and sensitive, athletic and gifted. In high school he was the Golden Child, perfect in every way. I really got to know him when I attended college. We’d hang out when I came home, go to New York to see foreign films, and shop for trendy clothes. Jere would send me mix tapes; his musical tastes were excellent and eclectic. He was one of the coolest people I ever knew, a true renaissance man.
In the late ‘80s when I graduated college and moved off to other parts of the world, I fell out of touch with Jere. When I came home on visits there was something different about him. Sure he was always a little different (weren’t we all?), but this time it was impossible to see his character and intellect coming through. Jere was suffering from mental illness and he thought he knew better than his doctors. He ignored their advice and chose which meds he would and wouldn’t take.
He had major intestinal surgery about ten years ago that left him with scarring and constant follow-on issues. It also left him with a lot pain. Jere developed a dependence on a whole slew of new drugs which, coupled with his psychiatric meds, only exacerbated his problems. He became further withdrawn. When his meds were cut off, he turned to alcohol to find relief.
Jere suffered from both mental illness and physical addictions. This meant that his psyche was too fragile to handle a traditional intervention, and he was unable to enter an assisted living facility because he was an active addict. The sword cut both ways.
After many years of doctors, psychiatrists, meds, hospitalizations, surgeries, detoxes, ups and downs, hopes and defeats, he entered the hospital for the last time early this past week. It would be his last admittance. During his final detox he entered cardiac arrest and never recovered. We are thankful that he spent his remaining days under medical care and that we did not have to suffer the horror of so many others who find their loved one dead, alone, in the privacy of their own hell. We also take comfort in knowing that Jere was free from pain when he passed and his body finally yielded the fight.
There is no amount of additional medical help or counseling that could have saved Jere. We hear so much about how society has to stop stigmatizing these two issues. Nothing could be further from the truth in this particular case. I work with countless organizations that help people just like Jere. We had so many people trying to help overtly or going to the War Room in prayer. But in the end Jere just couldn’t conquer his demons. You can’t help a person unless they want to help themselves. He was always in the untouchable zone, the one where he was lucid enough to avoid permanent hospitalization and could check himself out of treatment at will, yet never bad enough to hit the proverbial rock-bottom and bounce back up with a committed lifestyle change.
I visited his house today with my sister to make sure it was secure. I knew he was a hoarder, as are so many who suffer from mental illness, but what I saw inside brought out a rage in me. It wasn’t just the extreme filth that filled his home or the countless empty alcohol bottles and cartons of burnt cigarettes, but the fact that I could not wrap my mind around how a man with so much potential and God-given gifts and with so many people trying to help him could continue down that path.
Please understand that I do not judge Jere. I love my brother, but I hate what he did to himself. Those of you who have watched your loved ones commit a long, slow suicide over the course of decades know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m left with the vivid memories of who Jere was, the bewilderment of when I lost him, and the sadness of why I couldn’t get him back. This past week, as I was cleaning out some old files, I came across letters we exchanged during my deployment to the first Gulf War 25 years ago. I read them carefully trying to see if I could detect any hint of things to come. Where had my brother gone? I lost my best friend a long time ago.
I know where my brother is now and I know I will see him again. He has no more inner demons or pain to struggle with. He is safe in the arms of Jesus. I am so thankful for this truth, yet so remorseful it had to go this way. Regrets? You better believe it. But will I let it paralyze me from celebrating my big brother and thanking my Creator for seeing this through to the end? No way.
Thank you for letting me share my struggle and my remembrance of a beautiful big brother.