Curated Leadership for Today's World

when you can't be your brother's keeper

Posted on 14 September 2015

Jones Scans 2 335My brother Jere was fourteen years older than me, so by the time I was old enough to grasp the concept of siblings he was already out of the house. He graduated from the College of William and Mary and attended Wheaton College and Seminary. He was even in the Army JROTC.

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 He became further withdrawn.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.

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  • Mary: February 20, 2016

    Tracey, thank you so much for publishing this story both of your brother’s struggle and your reaction. Too often people feel alone in their feelings about family issues-and need to hear that they are not. My experiences are different yet still a challenge and I’ve been able to survive and thrive because of people like you.

  • Jim Barnes: February 20, 2016

    A beautiful tribute, Tracey. Sorry for your loss.

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you so much Cynthia, I truly appreciate you taking the time to read, comment, and for your prayers of support and dear friendship.


  • Cynthia McGrath: February 20, 2016

    So sorry for your loss Tracey. Thanks for sharing your story….my heart breaks for you and your family and pray for comfort for you all, in whatever form it comes.

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you Meg, have to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, even in the times of pain where we can’t possibly hope to make any type of sense. Love to you dear sister!

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    You are most welcome Terri, and thank you for sharing your pain as well. It’s the most difficult kind of grief I’ve ever felt. Love you!!


  • Terri Murphy: February 20, 2016

    This is such a heart breaker of a situation. I have the same issue with a sibling, and being unable to “touch” is a challenge we have both shared.

    Just know our prayers are with you and the family. Your post is so well written and heartfelt.
    thank you for being a light in this dark moment..

    terri murphy

  • Laura Stocker: February 20, 2016

    Jere’s story touched me deeply, Tracey. It’s heartbreaking when we can’t “fix” the ones we love – however much we’d love to. The “long goodbye” is always brutal and painful for all involved. Peace be with YOU now too, my friend.

  • Meg Hays: February 20, 2016

    Thank you for your sharing your struggle. I’m sorry for your loss and grateful for a living God who will guide you through. My heart hurts for your family. Much love and many hugs!!

  • george: February 20, 2016

    You are a very courageous woman, a fighter to the nth degree and from what I read and see in what you share Jere was so fortunate to have you and your family and many friends there to offer aid. My Dad had his demons too. It wasn’t socially acceptable to talk about depression and way back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s the treatment options were so much more limited. It is one of the most challenging and heartbreaking illnesses that can overcome a person and unless you’ve been there, it is SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND. I have been there, I know. My Dad said goodbye to his pain in Nov. of 86 when he couldn’t deal with it anymore. I have an insiders glimpse of what you’re going thru. You and your family will be wrapped up in the arms of our Lord as you celebrate Jere’s life and cherish the sweet memories that I know you have. God bless you!

  • Kevin: February 20, 2016

    Wonderful words Tracey. Thank you for sharing.

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you so much Jim, for taking the time to read and comment, and for being my friend:-)

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you for your words of encouragement Mary, especially during this time of loss! Will be remembering you during your challenge as well.

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you so much Anita, I truly appreciate your support xxxoxxxo

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you Mike, there sure are so many others that are still dealing with their similar grief and are in it right now. Thank you for your prayers and love!

  • Mike Shuff: February 20, 2016

    So sorry for your loss Tracy! Thanks for sharing your heart. There are so many who have similar on-going situations who will relate to Jere and to you.
    Praying for you, GLoria and your family! Love you!

  • Anita: February 20, 2016

    I am so sorry for your loss. May God guide you and your family through this difficult time. Hugs to you and your family.

  • Todd Weaver: February 20, 2016

    Beautiful post Tracey. Some things are very hard to understand. I am glad you choose to celebrate the big brother you were blessed with.

  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you sister Meg, for sharing in my sorrow and for the reminder of our living God. Love to you too xxxoxxxo


  • Tracey Jones: February 20, 2016

    Thank you so much my dear friend, I am thankful for your words of wisdom and friendship.

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