He is the oldest of four children. The pecking order in our family placed me second in line, but in an interesting way I never felt like the middle child. I was too enchanted with my older brother and the relaxed way in which he basked in the well deserved spotlight. Winning to him was second nature. Yes, he had earned it and watching him work and play in a way was enough for me. It was almost as though he performed on behalf of all of us; we could just sit back and take it all in. Not only was he captain of the rugby team, but as a track and field star they crowned him many times over as the victor ludorum athlete in our school. I walked comfortably in his shadow, so very proud to call him my brother. In later years he became a brilliant physician.
But today he is sixty years old and a very young victim of aggressive degenerative Alzheimer’s. This debilitating affliction has imprisoned his once vivid and agile mind in a dense fog that only lifts from time to time. The thought of him robbed of his mental prowess is almost too much to bear. In his lucid moments, ironically, in a twisted fate of the disease itself, his recall of all matters medical still seem to be dead accurate.
My sister visited him recently and shared her observations with me. Her descriptions left me speechless, powerless and heartbroken. It is impossible to imagine him so aged by the disease, so completely out of touch with his own world. We wept for our once splendid brother now so mercilessly delivered to the consequences of a disease so cruel.
He now lives in a protected environment with others who have suffered a similar fate. The doctors don’t understand the rapid deterioration. Clarity for him comes and goes in unpredictable waves but his loved ones have learned to roll with how his recall stops and starts. His grasp on reality is frail and inconsistent as his mind wonders along pathways others simply cannot comprehend.
Yet, it is what he shares with his family that is truly awe inspiring: There is unconditional love and acceptance. There is boundless support and understanding. They take their cues from him and remember with him – when he does. When his mind wonders off, they develop instant amnesia too. They know it makes no difference to him and the only thing that matters is that he doesn’t feel stress or discomfort. They are there for him and that is enough for me.
I live half way around the world from my big brother, and although he has entered a strange nebulous world undefined in so many ways, I will cherish him always and remember his bright smile. I choose to remember the young boy whose chest always broke the ribbon first, I see the rugby captain holding up the league trophy and marvel at the brilliant doctor doing his rounds at the hospital.
This morning I sat beside Lake Ontario and saluted my big brother. I watched the new ducklings of this season drift by in the early morning sun and then I said a little prayer for him. I don’t know how long he will still be with us, and even though I live very far away, I wanted him to feel that I am really very close. Maybe he will find me somewhere along those unknown paths he wanders and he will know that I care deeply.
I love you Peet.