I found my brother’s body. And then I wrote his Death Notice for our local newspaper.
I said, in the obliqueness of 2002, he had, with a valiant effort, overcome his “past struggles” and found success. We referred to H. as his decade-long partner and “closest companion.”
The funeral home was overwhelmed with massive displays of flowers, of poster board remembrances compiled by his 14 year-old nieces, with the bereaved gathering from his 35 years of life. Hundreds of co-workers, clients of their Building maintenance business, neighbors, friends of his survivors: his parents and step-parent, his three sisters and two brothers and their children. Grieving.
Not, though, the mysterious person begging for help who left the last voice mail message hours before my brother shot his last plunger full of heroin.
Meticulous to the last, he’d hidden away the works, the smack, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counters and laid down on their bed in his skivvies. I saw the television light through their bedroom window as I pounded on the front door, his unanswered phone ringing in my ear.
My physician husband made me wait in the dining room and I called H. and told him to pull over on route 95. He knew before I could say it, and ran screaming from his car, still hours away on the first weekend away from the twenty-four hour vigilance of partner to a recovering addict.
The cop from his small town stood in the kitchen, his eyes noting the emptied trash, the perfectly parallel placemats on the table, and said he wasn’t alone. He was loved. Though he knew that a 35 year old man does not die of natural causes. Though he saw in my anguish, in my sisters’ anguish, that we were a family who had struggled for nearly twenty years with a brother addicted.
Could I have saved him if…? If I’d not denied the signs the week before? The shivers, the long sleeved jacket in June, the half-day lateness to our meetup? If I’d interrupted my 22nd wedding anniversary to check on him earlier? If and if and if.
Could I have saved another man, boy, girl, family, a lifetime of anguish if I had said, in his 2002 death notice, that a heroin scourge was upon us? That as early as my brother’s senior year of high school in 1985 he was telling us heroin was as easily accessible as alcohol in our Massachusetts upscale town? That “everyone” was trying it?
His recoveries–and there were many–were marked by a restlessness he could never find comfort for. He spoke eloquently and with insight about his love affair with opiates, about his teenaged slide down the drug pyramid, his two near death heart stoppages, the drug trade, the bottom feeding desperation of a Lowell shooting tenement. He found his H., and they found Dr.K. and they both believed and saw what we saw in the miracle of my brother. A remarkable human being.
We went to family day at the rehab, tried family counseling and 24 hour watches, kicked him out, took him back, cut him off, gave him a job. Hid the truth. He went missing for my grandmother’s funeral, stole, cheated, lied and broke my heart, my mother’s heart, my father and step-mother’s heart, my sisters and brothers, and my children and my sibling’s children’s hearts. Again and again.
As much of a fucking nightmare for us, though, it was worse for him. He fought and fought and fought. Fell and got up. Again and again.
His death, finally, was his relief. And we hid the truth.
A close friend has a child. Parents in our former pediatric practice in MA have a child. Six dead in our nearby MA town in less than one year. My brother told me in 1985 heroin is everywhere. In 2016 heroin is everywhere.
There are cries for funding, for decriminalization of addicts, for research and for interdiction in the trade.
I start here.
My brother died of heroin. I am heartbroken. Still.
xxxooo and love to all who struggle,