Letter to the Homebound

I have prayed for you to die. No, that’s not exactly true. I don’t dare pray that because every time I start to think it, I’m overwhelmed with guilt. I pray for you to live: to actually try and get better, to listen to the doctors who tell you you could be doing x, y, or z instead of lying to them and saying you’re actually doing it. I pray for you to have less pain so that you can see hope in your life and have the optimism to make change happen.

And yes, I have wanted you to die, because you are not living. You used to be the hardest worker I know. Now it’s too much work for you to leave the room to use the toilet. I used to think you could do anything, and now you prefer to do nothing.

When I was a child, we sat in the shade of beautiful tall trees and you told me you would never live like I see you right now– you would never want to be stuck in a chair. And here you are. I am frustrated by the life you are missing by being imprisoned in your four walls: playing with your grandchildren, supervising home improvements, visiting new restaurants, seeing my new house. Sitting in the shade of beautiful tall trees.

It would be difficult if you died. I love you so deeply and have wonderful memories of you. I would be flooded with guilt, missing all those moments we could have had together. To give you just one more hug. To laugh over a bad pun. To play you just one more song on the piano. To ask your advice about my house. For now, I can still do all those things. Why would I wish you weren’t here?

I might not be so negative if it weren’t for your caregiver. You see, my heart breaks for your spouse, who is similarly hindered from taking on new adventures because you need so much care. Your spouse, who worked beside you all these many years, would love to travel, would love to move to a smaller apartment, perhaps to play weekly games of cards with friends, or just to stay overnight with relatives. But you need someone to get you your food, to change the dressing on your sores, to bathe you, to monitor your medications, and listen to your angry rants. These things take their toll.

So many things would be easier if you died. We would not have to see you this way. You would be free of pain. Your spouse would be free to use the remaining years and enjoy life.

But I can’t say this out loud. The mist of these words hangs unspoken in the air when I talk with my family and friends, and I can only suppose they have had similar thoughts– thoughts none of us dare to put into words. So I will just say I love you. And my wish for you is never to forget that.


Letter to the Abandoned

I saw a friend on the train today. Someone I haven’t seen in eight years. He’s come so far from the little boy I remember growing up with – the cheeky one who used to check out girls’ bottoms through an empty kitchen towel roll and rate them on how ‘delicious’ they looked while wiggling his eyebrows at the other boys. But that was fifteen years ago. He’s in his mid-twenties now and works as a corporate finance solicitor. He looked so handsome in his suit, so smart. It made me think of you.

Every once in a while we see each other, you and I, and, for me at least, things have been awkward when we do. I have so much guilt regarding you; guilt I didn’t realise I had for a long time. When I cut ties with your family, I thought it was just your sister I was leaving behind, but it wasn’t. I was leaving you too. The promise I made to your dad all those years ago wasn’t just about never leaving her, it was about never leaving either of you. I had promised to stay by your side, to always be in your corner, to look out for you no matter what the future entailed. When he died and your sister shut me out, I backed out of that promise – I figured that you can’t be there for someone who doesn’t want you anymore. Now I realise I did so thinking only of your sister.

But it wasn’t just her I grew up with.

It wasn’t just her that mattered.

When we were children, you used to laugh at me being scared of spiders. I remember one incident where you ripped the legs off a rather large one and threw them at me as I tried to get away. I was standing on the bed, screaming, and you were blocking the door so I couldn’t get out. Then there was that Hallowe’en when you deliberately terrified me with the floating pumpkin outside the window, or the time you locked me under the house in the dark. Had that been our relationship in a nutshell, this guilt wouldn’t exist. But we had our good times too. Whether it was playing cops and robbers or baking shortbread biscuits with me, saving me from having to eat any more tofu or even taking me to orientation at university… You were my brother, in every good way and every bad way possible.

But the memory that stands out the most is when you and I were in hospital together the night your dad passed away. I remember standing outside the door and listening to you crying inside, begging him to get up and go home with you. I had never seen you so vulnerable. If I’m being honest, it hadn’t ever occurred to me that you, of all people, who held so much power and sway when we were children, could be so helpless. I couldn’t think of a single word of comfort then and, when it fell to me to say something, all that was running through my head was that you were the man of the house now. You were the one that had to go home and tell your mum and sister he wasn’t ever going to walk through those doors again. You were the one that had to take his place at the head of your family and be the provider, the level head. I saw you at your weakest.

It broke my heart.

And then a few months passed, and you came over. You were a little stronger. Not talking too much, still not laughing or eating more than an apple, but there was still a strength there, brewing just beneath the surface. That’s when I realised it wasn’t just your sister I had left, it was you too. I left you in a house where, often, you were standing opposed by everyone else beneath that roof with no one to back you up. Another few months passed, and another, and another until you were talkative, healthy looking, smart. I couldn’t tell if you were happy or if you were faking it, but I hope with all of my heart it was the former.

I have this dream for you. It’s something that has been in my head ever since the rose coloured glasses came off and I learnt of the atrocities our family was living through. Now, after everything that’s happened, now that neither your dad or I no longer have your back in that house, it’s grown. It was a dream I shared with your dad. With the majority of the family, in fact. We all spoke about it often…

I dream you get out.

I hope and I pray that one day I will see you smiling and know, without a single speck of doubt, that it’s a sincere smile. That behind it is genuine happiness and love.

I wish, so deeply, that you stumble across love – that you find a woman who is strong and beautiful and smart. Someone who will take you out of the house that has suffocated and poisoned so much of our family. Someone who will rid your life of all that negativity, who will show you what love truly is, what family truly is. We haven’t really had that in this family, have we? The negativity, aggression and grief is far too deep rooted.

I pray that you have children one day too. You’ll be a brilliant dad, you know. Yours had so much love to give and he didn’t get the chance. But you’re so much like him. I see all his goodness in you, you just need someone to help you let it out. Someone that pushes you to soar instead of stifling you and caging you.

I’m sorry I had no thought for what would happen when I left. I’m sorry I avoided you and did everything in my power to keep away. I’m sorry for abandoning you. It’s too late to change it now, but there’s one thing I need you to know because it will never change: No matter when we see each other next, whether it’s in another few months, a few years or even a few decades, and no matter what happens in between, know you were, are and always will be, my brother.