Hey, Brother

We went home to southern Ohio for a visit Valentine’s weekend. David’s elderly parents live there still. It’s where we both grew up, and we have strong ties there, although not as many as in years past. My parents died long ago, and as we get older, both families dwindle. The only close family I have left there are my brother, his six children, and their extended families; my niece (my oldest sister’s [now deceased] oldest daughter) with whom I have a very close relationship, and her family; and assorted cousins.

My brother Everett, called Buddy by the whole family, is 81. He’s almost 20 years older than I am. My sister Judy and I have been concerned about his health. She calls him pretty regularly (I’m not as good at that as she is), and he seems to be declining, physically and mentally. We were so used to seeing him strong and healthy, and hearing his big, booming laugh, telling his corny jokes, and lovingly teasing both of his “little” sisters. His family is very close-mouthed about things they consider “family business”, and that includes health issues. Judy and I have been suspecting for some time that Buddy may be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, but hoping that we were wrong.

This summer at our annual Hart (mom’s family) reunion, always held at Buddy’s house, because it is the Hart homeplace, Buddy was very unresponsive to what was going on around him. He just sat and listened with kind of a slack-jawed expression on his face. Still, none of his kids shared any information with us.

Finally, a few weeks ago, after a phone call where Buddy was so confused that it was impossible to carry on a conversation with him, Judy decided to contact his oldest son’s wife Brenda. Brenda confirmed what we had suspected, although she said that her mother-in-law was in denial, and forbids anyone to talk of it. She’s a very devout Christian, and I suppose she thinks that if she prays hard enough, all will be well. She is also in denial about her own health. She has been frail for the last two decades, and has what she calls “sinking spells.” (She’s also very old-fashioned.) Brenda told Judy that Gloria has epilepsy (Brenda’s husband [Buddy and Gloria’s son] also has it…since he was 18), but she refuses to call it what it is. This is one stubborn woman to be as quiet and reserved as she is.

Before visiting on Saturday morning, I called Buddy’s house to ask if it was a good time. My niece Melissa (Missy) answered the phone, and said she would ask if it was okay. I was a little taken aback, because usually I get a hearty go-ahead. I knew that on  Saturday mornings some, or all, of the “boys” come to cook breakfast for their mom and dad. Missy said that Paul (third oldest) was there. She consulted with her mother, and I was given the okay.

When we got there, husband and toddler in tow, and after our hellos, Missy took the toddler and me into the living room, ostensibly to settle Joshie with his toys. She apologized for having to ask permission for my visit, but explained that her dad has good days, bad days, and some very bad days, and her mom is very protective, and doesn’t want anyone to see Buddy at his worst. She filled me in on some of the details. How they don’t ask him questions anymore, because it tends to confuse him. For example, instead of asking him how he’s doing, they make a statement like, you’re looking good today, Daddy. She also said that when any of them call and Buddy answers the phone, they don’t make him guess who is calling, and explain right away who it is.

They’ve taken away the car keys. Buddy had an incident a few weeks ago where he drove to town and forgot where he was and how to get back home. Luckily, it’s a small town and everyone knows him, so they called one of the kids and they came to his rescue. An even scarier incident happened in the middle of the night. Gloria called their daughter, Edie, who lives a half-mile down the road from them, and said Buddy was trying to make her leave with him, and was pulling her out the door in the freezing weather. Edie and her husband were there within minutes and stayed with them the rest of the night. But, what if Gloria wasn’t able to reach the phone? It must have taken all of her strength to keep Buddy from pulling her outside, until Edie and Mike got there.

That is now the dilemma that all of them face. Missy said they didn’t know what they were going to do. The kids and grandkids all check on them several times each day, but it’s only a matter of time until they need someone to be with them full-time. Someone will either have to move in with them, or Buddy and Gloria will have to move in with one of their kids, or they will have to move into an assisted living facility. I can’t really see the latter happening. The family all worships them, and they will probably fight over who is going to take them into their home.

It’s so sad to see my vibrant, wonderful big brother’s existence fading. I don’t know what to do, other than try to be a better sister by calling more often, and visiting regularly. I hope he doesn’t forget me too soon. I want to hear him call me “young-un” for a long time.