Friday, March 12, 2010

Eleven & Heaven

My youngest brother was the 7th boy and 11th child. He had cerebral palsy and profound autism. When he died at age 11 it tore a hole in my heart. I blamed myself, I blamed my parents, I blamed myself again.

I was 28 years old and pissed off at my parents for their latest round of bad choices; getting their house foreclosed, blowing all of their money on supposed life-changing seminars ("Oh, it's made such a difference in Dad. He's joyous, he's peaceful, I've never seen him so loving...") and buying into yet another natural healing pyramid scheme. I decided that it was time for me to get some distance so I told my mom that I couldn't afford to come home for Christmas that year.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving I got a phone call. "Eleven's dead". No sugar coating, no easing into it. Very blunt, matter of fact. He'd suffered a seizure on the previous day and gone to sleep, then never woken up again. Because he died at home the police were there. My mom was worried that they would find evidence of abuse and neglect. We worried and waited for the next 5 days before his body was finally released by the coroner. I still don't know the official cause of death.

At the funeral my father grieved while my mother rejoiced. She spoke from the pulpit and told the congregation about angels who had come to prevent her from saving his life. She talked about his green aura. She said he had come to visit and comfort her. I sat in shame and wished someone would tell her to stop talking.

I was angry with my parents for a long time. I blamed them for Eleven's death. I hated her for saying those things at his funeral. I hated myself for letting him live in their house and never alerting anyone to how he was treated. His life could have been so much better than it was. I should have spoken up when I saw him being yelled at by my father or slapped by my brother or left alone for hours in his room with the TV for a babysitter. I wanted my parents to suffer for all of it. I hoped they would be arrested for child abuse.

Within 2 weeks of his death my parents left the state. They said the kids couldn't stand being in the house where he died, didn't like walking past his empty room, couldn't handle the daily reminder. So they sold everything they didn't need and ran away. To me it was an admission of guilt. I was angry to see them escape justice. But once again I said nothing and did nothing.

What is it about family that inspires such loyalty? Why in all the years of beatings and insults and manipulation didn't I try harder to get help? Why did I stand idly by as my parents flitted around ignoring the child who needed them most? Grief is a difficult thing. I suppose I'm over the anger now but I still blame myself for Eleven's death. If there is a Heaven then I hope he's there. I hope he's happy. I hope he forgives me.