Saturday, December 26, 2015

RIP: The Tragic Death of My Baby Brother



My younger brother, the baby of the family, Rick, was discovered by the police at an RTA bus stop in Dayton, Ohio...early on Christmas Day. He was unresponsive. 

We can't be 100% sure of everything that happened that night, but the following is what I have been able to piece together...

Rick was apparently at a holiday party that may have begun at a bar, then moved to a house party as the night's celebration continued past Christmas Eve and into Christmas morning. At some point he wandered off, considerably intoxicated. He made his way to the RTA bus stop, passed out, and then quickly began to freeze to death. 

I'm not sure if the police just happened to see him there, or if some kind-hearted Good Samaritan called 911 to come and check on the middle-aged, dark skinned man sleeping at the bus stop in freezing weather. Either way, they have my gratitude.

After the police found him to be completely unresponsive, EMTs were rushed to the scene. They revived him and moved him to the hospital...where he was determined to have no brain function whatsoever. He is only kept "alive" via life support. 

And that will change in the next few days...when I and my sisters authorize the discontinuation of said life support. 

He just turned 36 earlier this month. 

I keep thinking about the day my parents brought him home. I remember thinking, "Oh, another one." This was understandable, as they'd brought my sister home almost exactly the same time one year before.

He'd been born with a pretty bad case of jaundice. My mother used to joke that he was her "little banana baby." They kept Mom and Ricky in the hospital for about a week, if I recall correctly. As a result, Mom missed my sister's first birthday (they were one year and one day apart). 

Dad and his sisters, as well as Dad's best friend Tom and his wife Juanita, were determined to give my little sister a nice birthday. All of us were doing our very best to avoid mentioning the "m" word...lest Rachel notice her Mommy wasn't there for this odd special event that, for reasons she couldn't possibly have understood, involved giving her toys and letting her destroy a cake while the adults clapped their hands and cheered. 

I still have some photos from that party: little Rachel, her blonde, wispy hair looking adorable under her birthday hat,  sitting on the table next to her birthday cake and the stuffed Big Bird from Dad that was far and away her favorite gift. 

I am standing next to her, in a cringe-inducing 70's cornflower blue pseudo-prairie gown. On the DVD set for the last season of "Mad Men," Don Draper's daughter was wearing a gown very close to that party dress I wore in 1980, even down to the awful color. 

          This, only ankle-length. 

Because they were so close in age, one of two things were bound to happen: either they would be close-knit "Irish twins," or they would be embroiled in sibling rivalry. Fortunately, it was the former and not the latter. Throughout their childhood, they were always referred to as the "Little Ones." 

    Lwaxana Troi would have approved.

My brother lived a tough life. His Path was not often easy to Walk. Our parents split up when he was still in diapers. He was the victim of a terrible hate crime when he was seven, and he never fully recovered. These days, we'd call that PTSD and treat him accordingly. But back then, the medical powers-that-be believed PTSD to be mainly a soldier-only illness, i.e. being "shell shocked." So his trauma was never fully recognized or treated at the time.  


He developed kleptomania, and while that disorder is the butt of many a joke...in reality, it's not funny. It is utterly devastating.


By the time he was nine or so, it was clear he needed help. But none was forthcoming. Some doctors thought he was faking it, even others thought kleptomania didn't even exist. 

Even the doctors who did believe it existed and did believe he suffered from it weren't able to do much to be of help. Medications didn't work, and the many therapeutic options didn't work, either. I remember one that mandated him to wear a rubber band on his wrist. He was supposed to use the rubber band to snap himself whenever the urge to steal came over him. It was supposed to make his mind associate stealing with pain. In no time, his wrists were a bloody mess. 

Like far too many troubled young people, he started to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. It became very difficult to determine whether he was stealing because the disorder was making him steal, or when he was stealing to feed his addictions.

Please don't think I only have negative things to say about my brother. While his life was often very difficult, he never gave up trying. And I have many positive things to remember him by, as the person he was at heart: kind, gentle and adventurous. 

I'm going to share some of those moments here, to give him a memorial he earned and the legacy he left behind. 

I remember how thrilled my father was when Ricky made the Northridge High football team...the same team my father had played for in his own high school days. He proudly displayed Ricky's football photo prominently in his house for all to see. 

    For some reason, this Ohio mascot
     is an animal who has never lived 
     there: the polar bear. 

And then there was the times my brother Ricky was a heroThree times, to be exact. 

We had a creek near our home, and it was a favorite place for all the kids in our neighborhood. There was an old fallen tree you could walk across, until a storm finally rid us of our bridge. 

Like many creeks, there were very shallow points, and some where the water was deeper. 

One day, my brother (who was ten or eleven at the time) went to play in the woods near the creek with a few friends. One of them was "Sidewalk" (short for "Sidewalk Cracker," an homage to his big, football-player physique). They were tossing the ol' pigskin, when Sidewalk ended up close to the deepest part of the creek. Before anyone could stop him, Sidewalk slipped, fell in, and began to drown.

It was well-known that Sidewalk wasn't a very strong swimmer. Even if he had been, there was still the possibility that he hit his head on one of the many big rocks in that part of the creek.

My brother jumped into action. He yelled at the other friend, telling him to go get help. In a flash, Ricky kicked off his shoes and jumped into the water. He dragged Sidewalk back to dry land, rolled him on his side, and hit him in the back until he vomited the water. 

Sidewalk's mother came running, and the paramedics soon followed. 

After that, Sidewalk's mother treated my brother like a king. She would tell anyone who listened how Ricky had saved her boy's life. We were all so very proud of him. 

I'd have another reason to be proud of him, just a few years later. 

I was a 20 when my mother called me to tell me she had breast cancer. As her battle progressed, she needed a bone marrow transplant. I lived 2500 miles away, and had started having the symptoms that would eventually lead to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. I was not a candidate, as no doctor would take such a donation from a woman undergoing tests for serious neurological disorders. 

It was Ricky who stepped up to the plate. I respected him for doing so. After all, that sort of donation is quite painful. 

And then, a year or so later...he did it again. 

I respected him for donating the first time. But that second time? That time, he had both my respect and my admiration. He knew exactly what he was getting into that time, exactly how painful it was going to be. Yet, he didn't even hesitate. 

In his teens, his growth spurts, plus years of working with our dad in construction, resulted in a true linebacker physique. He may have taken after our father insofar as his size went, but otherwise, he was his mother's son: kind-hearted and non-confrontational. He wouldn't even hurt a fly. I don't even recall him ever saying he hated anyone. 

There's so much more to him. So here's a short list of things I want to remember him by. They are the true legacy of a life gone far too soon. They are the memories of a gentle giant and a gentle soul. These are some of my memories, and the things I will cherish and keep close to my heart: 

•He had a great sense of humor and loved comedic movies. Eddie Murphy's "Delirious" was one of the VHS tapes we got when Dad brought home our first VCR. Ricky probably watched "Delirious" so often, he likely had it memorized! 


•He enjoyed being outdoors, and was a better than average tracker & hiker.
•He was a strong swimmer and a good fisherman. Every other year or so, my family had a big reunion, usually at Rocky Fork. 

The very first year Ricky was deemed old enough to participate, the men came back grumbling...and my brother came back smiling ear-to-ear. 

Why? Well, most of the men caught only small stuff or nothing at all...while my brother caught a HUGE fish! I think it was a bass or a trout, but I am not certain. The men had to put up with a lot of teasing during that reunion! 
•As a young child, he loved Hot Wheels and those race tracks that advertised the cars going around a loop...which they rarely ever did outside of that tv commercial. 


•Saturday morning cartoons were a favorite for pretty much all kids, but Ricky especially loved watching the cartoons. He liked Woody Woodpecker, He-Man, the Laff-Olympicans???, and Fraggle Rock.


•Ricky enjoyed spending Summer's playing football, badminton, baseball, basketball and dodgeball. 
•He loved spending time at Ceasar's Creek. 
 He was always out in the woods near our home, climbing on trees and sheds and so forth. If it could be climbed, Ricky would climb it. He was equally adept with caves. There were many times my mother worried that he'd fall or get lost, but he never did. 
•He was a big fan of dirt bikes and mopeds.
•He had such a wonderful, infectious smile. It was almost impossible not to smile alone with him, not unlike the chain reaction you see when someone yawns.
•He was a big fan of Marion's Piazza, and always wanted the corner pieces. 


In fact, the last time I saw him that didn't become a shouting match was the night before my 23rd birthday. We had buried her earlier that day, and I didn't feel much like celebrating. But my dad sent one of my siblings (I can't remember who) to Marion's with our regular order: one half extra pepperoni & one half everything excepts anchovies. 


Everyone was trying to lighten the mood, Ricky included. He gave me a duffle bag to put some of Mom's stuff in on the four day bus trip. I remember thinking how sweet he was to do that. 
•He and Dad bonded on two things they had in common: one was NASCAR. He actually purchased some small collectibles for Dad after the death of my father's favorite racer: Dale Earnhardt. 

•The second thing my brother and my father bonded over was pro-wrestling, they just loved it.

•He was a pretty good poker player (and coming from a family which includes a successful professional gambler, that's saying something). We were permitted as kids to play poker on Halloween, with candy instead of chips or cash. I remember one year, he nearly cleared me out! 
We lived near the Dixie Drive-In theater, and it was a favorite summertime activity for our whole family. 


My dad & stepmother would pull up to the "grown-up" movie, while us kids would take lawn chairs and sit in a little area for children to watch the "kiddie cartoons." I remember one time, the grown-up movie was "Children of the Corn." We took off for the kid area to watch "The Jungle Book." 
•He attended church for years, and was baptized at the First Baptist Church in Vandalia (where our dad, stepmother, my sister and I were also baptized). 

And now, that big-hearted man who was my brother is gone. 

Sadly, I cannot attend the funeral. My recent surgery--and the resultant adhesions--aren't conducive to travel at the moment, I fear. I am holding up about as well as I can, given the circumstances.

But try as I might, I cannot get over the mental image of my baby brother, sitting at a bus stop, freezing to death on Christmas. 

To make matters worse is an eerie coincidence between this death and my mother's back in 1998.

My mother was losing her battle with breast cancer. We all were taking turns sitting with her while the rest of us slept. Ricky was on duty when our mother drew her last breath, and woke us all with his outcries of grief. He was only a teenager at the time, and was my mother's only son. 

Soon, we will be turning off life support. His only child, his son Dylan, is a teenager. 

I hope, with all my heart, that when we turn off those machines...my brother will finally, at long last, be at peace. 

Please keep us in your thoughts & prayers, particularly his son, Dylan. It is very much appreciated.



•••UPDATE #1: My brother is still on life support, likely awaiting some tests coming back. 

•••UPDATE #2: A family meeting will be held later today. All the decisions will be made at that time: if he is to be buried, cremated, or donated to science. 

If we decide on burial, I own a plot that is ideal. When my maternal grandmother died, my grandfather bought adjoining burial plots. When my mother died, he bought the plot next to his and she is buried there. However, when his time came in 2012, my grandfather chose to be buried in a different cemetery, in a double plot he'd purchased for himself and his second wife (who died just months after Grandpa did). So that leaves us with an empty plot in between my mother and my grandmother. 

I have only one request, that I do hope will be considered: it regards the grave of my paternal grandparents. The gravestone is very beautiful, with inlaid photos of my grandparents at their wedding. After my father was cremated, part of his ashes were buried there with his parents, and a photo of my father was added to the gravestone. It is my hope that we can cut Rick's hair and bury it there as well, adding a photo of him near our father's. It would mean that all those with our family name would be together (my father was an only son, and so is my brother). 

•••UPDATE #3: I received a call from the hospital, informing me that the call was being recorded. 

I was told my brother's condition has not and will not change. I then had to state, for the record, what I wanted to have happen from here on out...and why. I told them I was in favor of turning off the life support, because my brother would not want to live like this. I then thanked his nurse, Heather, for her care of my brother.

 When I got off the phone, I felt physically ill. It was a strange feeling. Almost as if I was a governor who didn't give amnesty to a prisoner who deserved it, but ordered him to the firing squad instead. Like I had signed the death warrant on my own brother. 

I didn't have this problem when I chose to terminate my mom's life support back in 1998. My mother had a living will, and all her choices were there to guide me. I had no such guiding light this time. If reading this blog post has taught you anything, dear readers, let it be this: get a living will, and discuss it with your loved ones. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give them: piece of mind when they need it most. 

It will be done in the morning on Friday. 

•••UPDATE #4: Friday never came. On New Year's Eve, he simply died on his own, in the hospital. 

The cruel irony of it is painfully substantial: frozen on Christmas, dead on New Year's Eve. December 31st was also the birthday of our maternal great-grandmother. 

I am glad now that he is finally free of the uncontrollable need to steal, free from the frequent stints in jail, free from the addictions he suffered while desperately trying to feel "normal." Free also of the people who didn't believe him and turned him away. Sadly, I was one of them.

The last time we spoke, he wanted his share of our dad's ashes. I reminded him of the times he was arrested and everything he owned ended up in a dumpster. I didn't want my dad's remains to be among them. So I told him, "Stay out of prison and clean for one year, then I will happily hand them over." He was incarcerated again approximately three months later. 

Those memories deserve to be left in the past. The list I made above are the memories that need to stay alive.

And I will do my best to do so.

Goodbye, Ricky. I'm going to miss you. I love you, little brother. Rest in the peace you have been denied for so long, and so greatly deserved.

Rest, at last, in peace. 

•••UPDATE 5: I never thought this would hit me so hard. I miss him. 

More importantly, I miss the hope, the hope I had that he would someday get help and turn his life around. 

And I am angry, because he WAS trying: he wasn't using drugs, he was trying to be more involved as a father, and he was engaged to a wonderful woman who I have known my entire life (her dad was my father's lifelong best friend). And what happens? He gets back in the bottle on Christmas, and now he's gone. 

My heart goes out to her. She just recently lost her dad to alcoholism, too. And now, this. If you read this, Crystal, you are in my heart and prayers. 

I am so very weary, weary to the bone, of burying people I love because of the drink. I am heartsick, as my Granny would say. 

The pain I felt when filling out his cremation order and realizing that I just did this exact same thing five years ago...for someone with the exact same name: my dad, Rick Sr. I broke down and cried, and had to put the paperwork aside for a few hours. It is just so unspeakably agonizing. 

I will need some time. But I don't think I will ever really get over losing my baby brother like this. 

And I hope and pray it will be some time before I get another call and am told another loved one drowned in the drink, leaving the rest of us behind to wonder when it will ever end. 

MY BROTHER'S ONLINE MEMORIAL CAN BE FOUND HERE:





 


2 Comments:

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Mj Pettengill said...

Very powerful. You are very grounded, which will serve you well in the days, months, and years to come. If you remain in a state of heightened awareness, you will be able to sense his peace in the new world around you. Nothing stays the same. Love and healing to you.

 
At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this a lot. Thank you for sharing. I'm always looking for upcycles like this. In the end, you don't know it was a shipping pallet to begin with!

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