Relationships

This Is What Family Does

My brother took in my son when he was at his worst, and it was the best thing that ever happened to both of them

My older brother, James, was never fond of kids. To prove this point, he had a vasectomy when he was 21. Now 70, he's never regretted his decision.

My two sons, both in their 30s, have fond childhood memories of their Uncle Jamie. He's attended all the obligatory holiday functions, and given his share of piggyback rides and algebra tutoring, as well as confidential counseling during those awkward teenage years.

His life hasn't been what some would consider exemplary. He rode with a motorcycle gang, was a hardcore drinker and was often under the influence of one drug or another. For a time, it was heroin. He lost everything important in his life to it. At 41, he woke from a 6-day coma after a brutal beating by gang members with a newfound will to live. With the support of AA, he's happy and 29 years sober.

Ten years ago, my youngest son began his struggle with addiction. He was diagnosed with Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, and prescribed a variety of strong opioids, including Dilaudid and Opana.

While his girlfriend worked, I'd take him to his doctors' appointments and care for him when his joint flare-ups left him unable to care for himself. As the years passed, he became lost in the crushing depression that often accompanies living with chronic pain and addiction. His relationship with his girlfriend crumbled and, without her love and financial support, he quickly spiraled further downward.

His health insurance was canceled, leaving him no access to doctors or—worse—his pain meds. Desperate to relieve his tortuous withdrawal symptoms and unbearable pain, he joined millions of others facing similar circumstances and began snorting heroin.

And—like my brother—he lost everything to it.

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Just around that time, as if sensing my despair, I received a call from my brother whom I hadn't spoken to in several months. His hello was answered with a flood of tears until I calmed down enough to tell him of Dylan's plight. We decided to meet for lunch the next day.

He greeted me at the table with a much-needed big-brother hug and, before I could even get my coat off, said, "Jane and I want Dylan to come live with us. He's family. You're my sister. This is what family does."

I was relieved beyond belief and completely taken off guard. While my brother had always been there for me and had always been kind-hearted to my children, I never suspected he would consider taking my son into his home, especially with the myriad problems accompanying him.

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Arriving at my brother's home, Dylan was despondent and suicidal. He hadn't showered, eaten or spoken in days and didn't acknowledge Jamie or his girlfriend, Jane. And yet, I knew if anyone could understand my son, it was Jamie. He put his hand on Dylan's shoulder and while ushering him into their spare bedroom, looked back at me and mouthed the words "Just go." Jane hugged me and assured me they'd be in touch.

Dylan's 32nd birthday marked 6 months of sobriety. His disability claim was reevaluated and approved, and his health insurance was reinstated. A pain management team now oversees his non-opioid medications and mandatory meetings, and his crippling flare-ups have abated thanks to changes in meds and nutrition.

Still in my brother's care, he's working hard to implement the coping strategies his therapist has taught him. He's learning to take things one day at a time and realizing that even the smallest accomplishments are huge milestones. Jamie's tender but tough love continues to restore so many engaging qualities in my son, once buried under the weight of addiction.

I believe that fate stepped in, knowing these two would complete each other. For my brother, it's the feeling of being needed. For my son, it's the relief in knowing that it's OK to ask for help, especially from his uncle, who now refers to him as his stepson.

While my son's journey is far from over, I carry in my heart the most precious gift of all: my brother's love—not only for me, but for my son.

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