Tuesday, January 10, 2012

For my Brother...

My oldest brother was an alcoholic and an addict.  He passed away today, January, 10th 2012; he was only 57 years old.  He'd been an addict since he was 19. The story that follows is an ode to his life, his choices and ultimately his addiction's affect on me. It's a story that I hope others will read and if they're bound to addiction, they'll seek help and grasp it with both hands,  because it isn't just your life you affect, but everyone around you. Mostly it's the story of how God moves and works in your heart...if you'll let him.

When I was eleven years old, and my brother was 27, I played softball with our church team.  Slow pitch, underhanded softball, where little girls get together and show their prowess, and marvel at their cool new hair ribbons that perfectly match the stripes on their cool new softball socks that are encased in tiny little cleats.  We were cool, and we were friends.  One Saturday after softball practice would be where my brother's actions would affect me for the first time outside of the tension that permeated my home anytime he came around.  My friend, who we'll call "Andrea", wanted to come home with me after practice to play.  We converged on her father to beg for his permission for her to come over.  I must have been less than 4 feet away when she excitedly asked to come over to my house to play.  After all, we had 148 acres of fun stuff to explore over at my house.  I had parents who'd been married over 25 years, at that time, and neither of them so much as smoked a cigarette.  His answer was this, "You can't go to her house.  They're dope heads". I suppose he thought I was also deaf?   I'd never heard that word before and wasn't entirely sure what it meant, but I knew for sure that it wasn't good.  I remember thinking that something wasn't quite right, but at eleven, it was pretty tough to peg down what it was.  "Andrea" never asked again, and frankly, neither did I.

When I was sixteen, I got my first job at a little fast food place called Hardee's.  I worked all summer for the express purpose of purchasing myself a 3/4 length leather coat.  They were expensive and my parents didn't spend that kind of money on something as frivolous as a coat, but they had no problems with it if I earned the money myself.  So, I did.  Can I just say that coat still has a warm place in my heart?  I loved it.  It was all the thing, and I'd bought it myself.  One night, I came home from work and left the coat laying on the passenger seat of my old Mustang.  Later that evening, for whatever reason,  my brother came by for about 20 minutes and left.  The visit didn't go well because he wanted money and my parents refused.  Addicts rarely respond well to the word "no" and this visit was no different.  He didn't want to work for money, he wanted someone to give it to him, or he could always just steal something.  This time, my leather coat was as good as anything.  We found my coat at the local pawn shop, and my father refused to pay the pawn shop owner for it because he'd told the owner multiple times that if my brother brought something in it wouldn't be something he had the right to pawn.  After all, if you don't work, and you're an addict or not, it's pretty tough to buy a 450.00 coat, or anything else of value, right?   So while we recovered the coat,  we couldn't recover the anger that I felt toward someone stealing from me.  I'd worked hard and he had no right to put me through that...and he was my brother.  I felt cheated in more ways than one.

I could write a book with stories and instances of the interactions with my brother, and all of them are pretty much along the same lines as the first two that I've written.  I resented my brother for many reasons, not the least of which is that he had two kids that he never took proper care of.  I felt anger toward him.  The deep down kind of anger that you can't express to someone who hasn't had a lifetime of reasons to feel it.  Almost every year of my life could be recounted with a story of abuse, hurt, disappointment and anger at my oldest brother.  I resented that people would talk to me about how I "should" feel toward him...after all, he was to be pitied and sympathized with, although I couldn't recall a single instance when my brother had accused anyone of holding him down and shoving the alcohol and pills down his throat.  He made choices that I simply could not, and do not, understand.  And he died today, in a hospital where no one but our parents were present.  I'd be hard pressed to say that there's anyone in the world who would truly miss his presence, or his influence in their lives.  But, the story doesn't really end there.

Alcohol had hardened his liver to the point that it had to be drained every few months, and ammonia had built up on his brain.  Drugs had ravaged his health, his beauty, and his gifts. You see, my brother could disassemble anything with a motor, and reassemble it completely.  If it had an engine, he could fix it.  If it was broken, he could repair it. I've seen him work his gift on everything from a complex car engine, all the way down to a small clock that was broken...until he got hold of it. He'd never been to any school past high school, and he didn't graduate from there.  He'd never been an apprentice to anyone, and he'd never taken any sort of "class" to learn the skills he had.  This kind of gift comes only from God, and I know that God loves my brother just as much as He loves me.  I know that God wept with me when I was hurt, and He wept when my brother was hurting. I know that God rains on the just, and the unjust.  And still, I could not bring myself to release my anger, extend forgiveness and heal...until 72 hours ago.

My brother lived the last three years of his life in and out of hospitals and nursing homes.  He lived on morphine to reduce the constant pain of a liver that simply could not take the abuse that had been laid upon it and he developed Type 2 diabetes from weight gain, and a completely sedentary lifestyle. He began to age more rapidly than anyone I'd ever observed and slowly began to take on the yellow pallor that's common in liver failure patients. And still, my heart would not let go of it's bitterness and anger toward him. I prayed fervently...but, not really.  My prayers were stilted and aimed at relief for myself.  I don't think God holds it against us when we're angry, at least the Bible certainly doesn't portray that He does.  What I do believe is that healing can't happen until we admit to God that we're angry, why we're angry and then turn it over to Him.  He created anger just like he created love...it's all in what you do with those emotions that make them sinful.  And 72 hours ago, I walked into my brother's hospital room and laid eyes on him for the first time in almost 18 months.

I walked into hospital room 6240 and was assaulted with what death smells like.  I didn't recognize that person lying there.  Was that my brother?   He appeared to be a 90 year old man, with a distended stomach and a body so thin his skin looked like paper.  His teeth had been gone for years, and his skin was sliding quickly from sort of yellow to a deep amber like color.  His breathing could be heard two doors down and his moans began to melt the ice that began to form around my heart toward him at the age of eleven.  I pulled the chair up to his bedside, carefully laid my hand on his arm, and let all the words I wanted to say to him pour out.

I told him about the hurt that he probably didn't even know he'd inflicted on me. I confessed the shame that his choices had brought to my life.  I told him that people had made fun of me because he was my brother and others had ostracized me because of his addiction and alcohol abuse.  I confessed my anger, and disappointment that he had cheated me out of a big brother. I had missed him. I told him that I deserved better, and so did he.  I told him I was sorry he was there, and that I wished that he wasn't.  I told him things about me that he should have known, but that addiction had cheated us both out of.  I told him that I had longed for him to make different, better, choices for almost the entire 40 years I'd been alive.  I told him that I loved him.  I told him the Lord did, too.  I reminded him of the time almost 2 years ago that the Lord had urged me to make him supper and take it to him. That I remembered.  I asked him if he remembered when he'd let me pray with him. I want to hold on to that memory...in many ways it seems like the only good one I have of my oldest brother. He was kind that day and cried as we prayed together.  God worked in me in that hospital room and I was able to leave behind a lifetime of bitterness, anger and resentment toward a brother that I can honestly say I don't think I knew at all, but by the power of a sweet and gracious God I was finally able to feel compassion that had so long been absent between us.

I was wrong when I said that no one will miss him, because I am missing the thought of him as I write this post.  Ken, my brother, had a great sense of humor and I'm going to choose to hold on to that.  When he was sober, there wasn't a single person who could be around him without sharing genuine laughter and fun. He was blessed like that. God allowed me the opportunity to forgive my brother face to face, and I can't tell you how thankful I am that I took it.  Forgiveness and forgiving is a gift, too. If there is anyone in your life who you are withholding forgiveness from, or someone who's forgiveness you refuse to accept, can I urge you to do so?   

We get the ultimate gift, and portrayal of forgiveness in God's Son, Jesus.  I got the opportunity to experience that with my brother and I'm grateful.  I didn't have many experiences with Ken, but I  got the one that matters the very most and it was real... 

Good-bye, Ken. I can't tell you how much I hope that you accepted Christ's gift to you. I love you.  Your sister, Kristi...


  1. God certainly does redeem in HIS own way. In those short moments with your brother before his passing, HE redeemed a place of love, peace and forgiveness that had been robbed from your heart all of those years. Wow!!! I'm glad that you can hold on to that for the rest of your life.

    I pray that Ken accepted the Savior at some point.

    Peace and comfort to your family during your time of bereavement.

    ~Angela Perry

  2. This is certainly a story that will be read over our cheruch service tonight. I am thankful too that you and he were able to spend time in the fathers presence together before his leaving into eternity. I am also thankful that you shared this story with all who will listen. As Jesus says "let all who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying" in this heartfelt letter of Struggles, life, addiction, hurt, shame, guilt and ultimately, at least for you, frogiveness and release.
    Rev. Charles Brewington Sr, Pastor of Open Door alcohol and drug rehabilitation Center!

  3. I certainly hope Ken accepted God's free gift, also. This is very touching and heart-felt. Love you!

  4. I love you! May God bless you. ZC

  5. I personally knew Ken, and witnessed his great personality and since of humor on a regular basis...he will be missed! ~KP

  6. Wow..such a heartfelt story...God bless u and ur family!

  7. I too had an addictive sibling. It is a long hard road, an embarrassing one too. I knew Ken way back when and he really did ruin his life with the drugs and alcohol. It is so sad, I supposed some have the addictive personality. I know my sister did, But Thank God, she decided to change her lifestyle, and when I say she did, that's what I mean. You can pray and pray and beg them to quit, but until they want too, it's not going to happen. I am so happy and thankful to God that she changed and is living for Jesus now. She could have ended up like Ken, and so many others. I hate that you had to go through this with your brother, and I can sympathize with you. I also have many stories I could tell, but am glad she straightened up her life, before it was to late.
    God Bless you Kristi, Jody, Kathy and Mr. and Mrs. Henderson. My thoughts and prayers will be with you. May God comfort you as only He can.

  8. I have read this post several times over the past year. I got to spend some quality time with Ken many times over this past year. I held him when he would weep for what he knew he had done to so many people. He talked about God a lot those last few months and often wondered how God could Love someone that had hurt so many people through the years. I ASSURED him that God Loved him just as much as he Loved me are anyone else. I do believe that Ken at some point and time was saved. I think he felt that in his heart also. Kristi I felt some of the same pain you felt toward him. He really knew that you and other people really Loved him and understood why a lot of people choose to stay away from him. We need to Love when someone is unlovable. God Loves us no matter what and Ken knew that Love even though we did not think he did. So one day when I get to glory land I hope I find Ken so I can tell how much I love him.