Dear Little Brother,
Today is the day you would have turned 50.
There is nothing I can say, even now, to make sense of your life. The more I think about it, the more I don’t understand. I don’t understand why you had to experience what you experienced and why you had to suffer so much. I don’t understand the point of it. Was there a point? What good did it do? What kind of god would allow this type of suffering?
When you were young, I helped take care of you. I also helped Mom when you were a baby, once you were old enough for me to touch you without breaking you – you know, the premie thing. You were so small. Mom would feed you milk every fifteen minutes because I suppose back then that is what was done with fragile, premature newborns after an emergency C-section. I don’t remember if they had you in an incubator, but I am thinking you must have been put in one. Mom almost died on the operating table, but I was happy to have a little brother.
As you grew older, I felt like I was your second mother sometimes. I wanted to protect you. I wanted to show you how wonderful life could be. I loved you so much, and I thought we would grow old together – we would sit on the beach, you with your beard and a big smile and me with my wine cooler and gray hair watching the surfers and seagulls as we talk about the meaning of life. I loved that about you. I loved that you cared about discovering the meaning behind it all, about people, about truth, about honesty, about transparency, about holding people accountable for their bullshit. I loved that you loved life, your family, your friends, animals, and experiences. You were one of the most authentic persons I have ever known.
And, I loved that you loved the ocean.
I miss that person. I miss going to the movies together, laughing, the concerts, the restaurants, skiing, shooting the breeze, and watching you surf. I will never forget rooting for you at league finals for cross country (and you finished first), and I was glad that we had running in common. I loved just being with you!
But, I missed you so much when you turned into someone else due to your variety of mental illnesses from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, to depression, to schizoaffective disorder. Did they really know what the hell was happening to you or what was wrong with you? Did they? You know I just read that they still don’t really know, nor do they know exactly how to fix it.
That means they could not have fixed YOU.
They could not have fixed the YOU that was forever gone when you turned twenty and became psychotic. That was the day that your life changed forever, and so did mine. The Dito I knew and loved died that day. Not physically, of course, but you were never the same afterward.
Our minds change and our personalities change. We develop into different people. And this has to be okay because that is the way the world works, the way humans are. But, maybe I was naïve in thinking you and I would always have this great connection and would sit on the beach, watch the seagulls fly with our heels perched in the thick, wet sand talking about our latest adventures and feeling the comfort only a Pisces and a Cancer could feel. I thought you would “snap out of it” and get back to your awesome self. I thought modern medicine could fix you.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
Over the years, I watched you turn from a gregarious, happy, deep soul to an anxious, angry, critical, negative, and very troubled person. At times, you were lucid – able to chat like you did before the disease overtook your mental faculties. I had hope then. I knew you were healing, that you would eventually get back to your old self. I knew that if everyone kept encouraging you when you were down or confused, that everything would be okay, that you would become Dito again.
I had so much hope back then.
But then, out of the blue, you would change back to the disturbed version of yourself again. You would go off your meds and become psychotic. You became dangerous. You put others in danger and had to be restrained at the hospitals. I remember the time when you stopped traffic on our hometown street because you thought someone was out to get you. Dad tried to stop you from doing this and you punched him in the face. He called the police on you.
You broke Dad’s heart that day. But, was it YOU who did those things?
You would call me at all hours to talk, for years. I didn’t know what condition you would be in when I answered the phone. I became anxious just seeing your name or number on the phone because conversations became difficult. It got to the point where your voicemail made me nervous. And when I finally got a cell phone, it was easier not to take your call. I’d psyche myself up for days sometimes before I called you back. And when I finally got a hold of you, I would dread every moment I had to listen to you.
This fucking broke my heart. Over and over again.
Our conversations were like talking to a shell of you, like watching you falling to the bottom of the sea, going deeper and deeper into the dark abyss without being able to grab your hand. It was sometimes excruciating. It was hard to make sense of what you were saying or what was going through your mind sometimes. And, the few times you made sense, your statements were ignorant, paranoid, irrational, and judgmental. I could only listen to so much.
I felt guilty for not understanding you, for not having enough compassion or empathy, for not having enough patience, for not doing enough. Was I too hard on you? Was I too lenient? Should I have offered more advice? Should I have become quieter? Should I have screamed at you to get it together? Should I have taken every single phone call at all hours and listened more? Should I have given you more money? Should I have… should I have….?
I felt guilty for not knowing what the fuck to do to help you. (I still sometimes do.)
And, I prayed back then. I prayed hard and for what? It did nothing.
We had arguments when I could not stand listening to this new and painful version of you anymore and I had to correct what you were saying. (Maybe I was wrong for doing that.) It was impossible to continuously listen to you. It was like watching the tide come in closer and closer and not being able to move and getting smacked by wave after wave.
It was exhausting.
I educated myself on your disease as much as I could. I have to admit it was depressing and hard to do this. A part of me did not want to know. I wanted to deny this was happening to my little brother. I wanted everything to be fine. After a happy phone call or a happy visit, I wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay with you, that we were still going to sit together when we were old on the rock quarry at the beach and comfort each other. I wanted to live in denial.
When I read about schizophrenia, I wanted to know there was a solution – that you would not have to take harmful drugs for the rest of your life. I needed to know you wouldn’t have to worry about organ failure, kidney disease, becoming obese, feeling one side effect after another for the rest of your life. I wanted to read that you would eventually be happy, healthy, and whole. And I wanted to know DITO would be here again.
I wanted you at the beach with me again. Always at the beach.
The time finally came when I became selfish. I could not take your calls anymore. I could not deal with the rollercoaster ride of Dito: of one day being elated, one day attacking me, another day spewing ignorance and bullshit about people and things, or taking my advice when you asked for it and then ignoring it, every single time. I was tired of being called a bitch, a liar, a Satanist, or of having to deal with whatever delusion was in your mind that day. I wanted no more of this. I wanted a normal, non-abusive relationship with you.
I needed you to be my friend again. I needed you to talk to me about what mattered to me once in a while – not every time, but once in a while. I needed you to stop talking about yourself and your problems. I needed you to notice that I had left an abusive relationship, that I was now a single mother, that life was tough for me, too, and you were not the only one with problems or the only one struggling.
I needed you to care about me again. Not just yourself.
I needed you to know that I could not take you in when you were homeless because I was afraid of you. I was afraid you would hurt Lexi. I was afraid you would hurt me. I was afraid you would destroy my house. I needed to focus on healing myself and be there for my daughter. And that is the way it was.
Every day, I thought about you. I thought about why this had to happen, how hard it was for you to make changes for the better, how hard it must have been to suffer debilitating mental illness. I never wanted you to suffer. I loved you and wanted the best for you always. I tried to help you as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.
During the last few years before your death in 2020, the year from hell, you became more manipulative on top of all the other crap. For years, I wondered if you had given up on life and just learned to manipulate the system to your advantage so you didn’t ever have to work again, even though with your medicine, you appeared “normal.” I caught you in various lies about your prior work history. I let so many lies go until I could no longer, and I then exploded. I let you have it, and we then didn’t speak for over a year. It was always a rollercoaster with you, like being tossed by waves in a ship at sea with no one to call for help.
To this day, I don’t know if you were manipulative or not. The disease can easily hide that. You could have convinced everyone to feel sorry for you easily. And, they did.
Who the fuck knows now?
Do I blame you? Not at all. I was not in your situation, so I don’t know what I would have done if I had been in your shoes. I don’t understand why a person like you who was so amazing, who would have contributed so much to this world, had to experience your turmoil and lot in life. I will never understand it. Never.
Life is cruel.
On the day I heard you had died, I wasn’t surprised – I was expecting it. I knew that when you were sent to the hospital because your kidney failed, that this was it. I don’t know what it is. I have some sort of sixth sense about these things. I knew Mom would die when she collapsed from a stroke, and I knew you would die when I heard you were taken to the hospital.
But you know I had already mourned your death. I had already mourned the Dito that was no more decades ago. I can’t tell you exactly what day it was, but it happened. I cried for a long time. I went through all the steps of the grief process, and I let go. I lost you, the YOU everyone loved, the YOU full of life, full of empathy, compassion, and truth. I lost the YOU the cross country team valued, the YOU your friends cherished, the YOU our family loved. And, the YOU, the surfer, the ocean embraced.
So, I was not surprised when I got the call. I was waiting for it.
They say you might be in heaven now. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. You are gone. I will never hear your voice again. The YOU that was Dito was gone decades ago, and the hope that THAT Dito would re-emerge is now gone forever. I am left with memories of you – some incredible and some not so much. I am left with putting the pieces of our relationship in the proper places on the puzzle. Some don’t seem to fit; they are either too big, too small, or faded. Most pieces I will put together when I am by the sea.
I want to thank you for your presence in my life, for the times when YOU encouraged ME even when you were suffering in ways that I could never imagine. I am glad I got to say goodbye before you died. I am thankful that I got the chance to tell you I LOVED YOU, despite all of it.
Those were the last words I said to you. And I don’t know why such a wonderful person had to suffer so much.
I’ve decided to remember the beautiful person you were before this tragic disease happened to you. I am choosing to see you surfing, to see you hanging out with friends, to see you smiling from the beauty of what was your transparent heart. I am choosing to think about the ocean more. Every time I am near a body of water, I will think of you as I walk alone. I will see us old and wise, sitting on the sand watching the waves stumble upon the shore where seagulls always fly.
I will always love you, Little Brother. Rest in peace.
“There are always waves on the water. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes they are almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up the waves in our minds.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
To learn more about schizophrenia, visit The National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI. Or, to learn more about how schizophrenia affects families, read my book review, Hidden Valley Road.
If you are grieving, see Healing from Grief at the Park: What Happens When We Lose Someone.
3 replies on “Where Seagulls Always Fly: A Letter to My Late Brother”
My heart breaks for you, dear Vilma. The story of your brother brought tears to me eyes.
I wish there was something I could say to comfort you in your heartbreak.
All I can share is that my older sister, my only sibling, who died in 2014, was an alcoholic, and I felt so helpless to stop her from drinking and committing slow suicide. Her presence in my life became so difficult because she became such a different person, someone who was always spoiling for a fight, anxious to misread things in conversation, ready to be accusing of imaginary insults. I found myself avoiding her phone calls at times, too. The alcohol and other drugs over the years damaged her mind and made her paranoid and angry. But of course, as you know, we still loved them with all our hearts and wished we could help them.
My deepest condolences to you for the pain of losing your beloved brother much too soon and the sorrow of mourning his death years before he physically passed away.
Thank you, Barb, and I’m sorry for your loss, too, and the years of heartache for your sister. It sounds like you understand fully how hard it is from what you experienced. It is hard to watch a loved one deteriorate year after year. We have to cherish life and the people in our lives as much as humanly possible.
This blog was hard for me to write, but I am glad I did because it was free therapy for me. It’s part of the mourning process for me. Thank you for your kind words.
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Peace and blessings to you, Vilma. xx
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