I can’t start an entry without reporting the most serious news since I last blogged: my older brother has died. I say it is serious news not sad news, because in a way some might understand – and to use that old, even hackneyed phrase – he’s gone to a better place. He and I were both brought up as practising Roman Catholics, and although I have since gone my separate way, he returned to that faith and in RC terms he is now in a happier place: all the shit in this world has now been and gone for him.
For almost all his life he suffered increasingly from poor to bad mental health, and the medication he was prescribed to help him cope also caused him eventually to suffer from dyspraxia (or so I think it’s called – I’ve just looked it up and it doesn’t seem to be the right name). This embarrassed him a great deal.
Most recently he was hospitalised twice for malnutrition and that was the last time I saw him when I went to visit him.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have the funds to eat, it was just that he had simply stopped eating. When I asked him why, he just replied ‘why should I’.
On the first visit he also insisted that our German-born mother who had grown up in Osnabrück was in fact Dutch-born and had grown up in Holland. I told him this was nonsense but he was adamant (‘I know where my mother was born!’) and I then decided he had perhaps lost something.
He certainly wasn’t at all happy these past few years and I could have done something, perhaps, to make him happier. I was close to him throughout most of his illness, which last more or less 40 years, but then something happened which decided me to withdraw a little.
He often stopped taking his medication – usually he simply forgot – and his mental state always deteriorated fast from then on. I could always tell when he was in that state: he was like a different person – arrogant, feeling superior intellectually to everyone else, mocking, and there was also a distinct feeling – increasingly – that he could become violent. I stress that this was in his later years when whatever illness he suffered – no doctor ever put a name to it – grew worse and worse.
One day I got arrived home (in Cornwall) to find he had left three extremely unpleasant answerphone messages. In all three he promised to get a butcher’s knife and ‘stab, stab, stab’ me to death.
He had before travelled all the way from London to Cornwall, about 250 miles, and arrived unexpectedly and as my children were still around ten and 12, I decided to cut him off. I now wish I hadn’t, although at the time it seemed the wisest thing to day. (Incidentally, I had previously had a meal with him and noticed he was obviously not taking his medication and alerted his consultant psychiatrist. But he simply pooh-poohed it all.
A month later he left those messages, obviously by then in a far worse state, and was, for the umpteenth time, sectioned.
When he was well, he could be witty and quite good company. I say quite good, because we were different characters. He – this might well be a small part of his illness – seemed to be time-warped in the 1960s when we were both still young, and there was in some ways a distinct childlike quality about him. He was also intellectually far more gifted than I am, and could turn his hand to anything if he wanted. The trouble was all too often he didn’t want to.
My brother and sister and I often discussed what was his essential character and what was his illness, and I eventually came to the conclusion that both were the same. Pour milk into a cup of tea and stir it: what is the milk and what is the tea? It’s not a conclusion I like because with illness we all cling to the illusion that ‘there is a cure’. In my brother’s case there doesn’t seem to have been. He and I were born only 21 months apart and in many ways brought up a pair.
Our sister was eight years younger than him and our younger brother ten years. Neither has particularly happy memories of him when they were children. But there again I must ask the same question: was that early bullying already part of the illness from which he later increasingly suffered? What’s the milk and what’s the tea? Who knows?
Since he was last hospitalised he has had carers calling in four times a day to ensure he was eating. Sadly, they couldn’t persuade him to keep himself a little cleaner and a neighbour I talked to this week told me he would often join her on the bus to town stinking of urine.
At 9pm on December 21 a carer called in and found him watching television. She called in again an hour and a half later and he was no longer breathing. A post mortem was held and the cause of death was natural, broncopneumonia and chronic pulmonary respiratory something-of-other.
His current psychiatrist rang me and told me he had been trying to persuade my brother to give up smoking, but Ian simply refused point blank. When I went to see him in hospital he persuaded me to buy him some more cigarettes. I half-heartedly tried to get him to ‘give them up’ but it would have been futile.
RIP my brother Ian.