Don’t follow your heart; lead it in the right direction
After I published last week’s blog post, a colleague came to my office and asked:
“How did you reconcile with your brother?”
Honestly, I reconciled because God was gracious and provided me the opportunity. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have bothered, which looks awful as I type it. Scott and I didn’t have an antagonistic relationship. We just had a nonexistent one. But I wanted to be the “bigger” person and do the right thing, even if it backfired.
In a way, it did. Because I fell in love with my brother — no, not in a creepy way — and then felt the pain of his death. But maybe I would have felt more pain if he’d died without our reconciliation?
Five years ago, when my brother was hospitalized for a broken neck, my niece contacted me to let me know. My sister Trish was handling my mother’s health care and housing, and I took on Scott. I gave a speech at my Toastmasters club and an online Storytelling for Change course that reveals how my decision to do the right thing led to reconciliation. Here’s the speech:
My sister has “Mom duty.” I have “brother duty.” (My mom has Alzheimer’s. My brother has problems.) In this way we divvy up the task of doing the right thing.
My older brother and I have nothing in common but childhood and blood. We long ago established an “out of sight, out of mind” relationship. I was good with that.
Until this beautiful, spring day. I pace the stretch of road in front of my house as I call Scott.
I swing my arm, making sure my Fitbit calculates every step, every second. This dutiful phone call might as well count for something.
I see the hospital number repeated almost daily on my phone log. I start the call. I listen impatiently to the hospital’s too-familiar, too-long menu. Brring, bbrring, bbrriing. He does not answer. (Sigh.)
I’ll give him one more chance. This time I dial his cell phone number.
I pace as I do. My Fitbit continues to count. I hear Scott answer but he doesn’t talk. I hear him breathe; I hear his phone bump against his cage. He tries to get the phone as close to his head as possible before he speaks.
Scott wears a halo. It is ironic because devil’s horns are more appropriate. He is a Rebel without a Cause. He runs with a rough crowd – druggies and drinkers. The result? Broken family relationships and a broken neck. He does not remember how he broke it. He hadn’t known he had broken it when he walked into the doctor’s office, his useless hands like claws at his sides. The doctor says he risked paralysis with every step.
I am Miss Goody Two Shoes, certainly more worthy of a halo. But I don’t want this halo. It is screwed into my brother’s shaved head. It holds Scott’s neck stable so he can heal after his fourth neck surgery.
One word from him and I can tell he is drugged today. He slurs his speech.
I ask the litany of perfunctory questions: How are you feeling? What’s new? How much are you walking?
“I fell sho now they are maketing me shtay in bedt.”
“You fell? Are you OK?”
“They wantt me to leave bukt the VA won’t lett me inkto the rehab unit…”
I try to make out what he says. He is clearly snowed with whatever drugs the hospital gives him. I question. I listen intently. Finally, I understand.
The private hospital wants him to leave – most likely because the Veterans Affairs’ money is running out. The VA won’t take Scott back until he can handle four hours of rehab per day.
I get angry.
My brother falls – likely because he is drugged. Yet the hospital still gives him more drugs? Drugs instead of physical therapy? The rehab unit refuses to take him until he can handle hours of therapy. But he gets drugs, not therapy, from a hospital that wants him gone and nowhere to go. I realize my brother is in a vicious circle with one way out.
“Scott, you have to wean yourself off the …”
I hear the nurse come into the room.
“What is your pain level now, Mr. S?”
That he says clearly enough. She issues him pain killers and Xanax, for anxiety.
He returns to the phone call.
“Scott,” I try again, “you have to wean yourself off the pain meds so you can get therapy. Otherwise, the VA won’t take you…”
He basically ignores me. We chat a little longer. Well, I chat; he slurs. I cannot really understand what he says. I give up.
“I love you, Scott. I’m praying for you.”
“Call me thomorrow?”
I disconnect the call. I fear that my brother will never get better. This man who loved, who lived the Great Outdoors, will finish his days confined to a hospital bed. I begin to cry.
The tears, the anger surprise me. I cry for my brother? Caring is not part of my sisterly duty. My obligation. I was merely going through the actions. I merely did the right thing. I found that my heart followed. My Fitbit recorded every step and even my heart rate. But it didn’t matter anymore. The phone call – my brother – count enough.
My brother, by the way, is now living on his own, using a walker and has most use of his hands. He is doing a lot better and I still call often – because I want to. Sometimes when you do the right thing, your heart will follow. Try it.
Of course, that was the ending at the time I wrote the speech. I wish it were true today. Last year, when Scott suffered a downturn in his health, he ended up in the hospital a mile from where I work. (That story here.) I was able to visit daily (and text and call) for a glorious month and a half before he returned home. (And then to his heavenly home.)
I was glad to be his ally here in town. (His lovely, competent daughter was his ally everywhere.) While it was my duty to care for him, I also wanted to care for him. The burden felt light. The heart that had followed my call of duty four years previously never left the place of love.
If you’re struggling with a broken relationship such as I had with my brother, choose to do the right thing. Something small. That might look like a phone call (or a post on social media) or a hospital visit. It might look like a plate of caramel brownies or humorous card.
When our hearts hurt, when peace seems distant, when we don’t trust the person to reach back in love or appreciation, it’s hard to put love into the equation. I didn’t. Initially. I just did what I thought was right. Brother duty. Daily phone calls. Something small (that had a big impact). You may have noticed he asked me to call the next day.
If the “right thing” isn’t dropped into your lap as it was mine, then pray for the opportunity to do the right thing — in God’s strength. Don’t expect anything in return, but hope for a restored relationship.
It’s not always best to follow your heart, I’ve found. Sometimes you need to lead it in the right direction. I’m so glad I did.
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