Happy birthday, little brother.

My youngest brother would have been forty-four today, but he died when he was forty. I wish I could say I remember with fondness all the happy times we had together, but there weren’t very many of those to remember. My brother suffered from a low IQ, only a few points above the official beginning of mental retardation, and later, from paranoid schizophrenia. On an episode of Criminal Minds, the experts said that it’s rare for people to suffer from both things at the same time. I’m sure the writers of Criminal Minds routinely simplify the complex workings of the mind so that laypeople can understand what’s going on and so that the episode will fit neatly into an hour with commercial breaks. If that snippet is true, then my brother was the unlucky rare person who did have both afflictions. Most of my memories of him aren’t happy or positive. Now that he’s gone, I can’t ever try to make things better and be a good big sister. He’s just gone, and all I have left of him are conflicting emotions of great happiness and great sadness.

I’m happy that he’s in heaven now. Despite his problems, he did pray the sinner’s prayer. Now he knows no pain, and (I believe) he’s no longer unintelligent. My grandparents, who tried so valiantly at the end of their lives to make a way for him, are there and can see that everything turned out all right in the end. But I’m also filled with a sadness that three and a half years hasn’t ameliorated in the least. I’m sad that his life was so hard. I’m sad that I was such a failure at being his sister. I’m sad that my mother and my grandparents had to deal with my being such a failure at being his sister. I’m sad that my children saw me being a failure at being his sister.

Oh, being his sister was very hard–I’m not full of blind self-blame in that area. The truth is, when he was an adult, he frightened me, and I had my own children to protect from his fits of rage. The truth is, I was working in excess of sixty hours a week, and driving across town to spend time with someone who frightened me seemed like too much. The truth is, he was the poster child for the abortion people who say that a life full of pain and hardship shouldn’t even happen. He contributed nothing to society and was supported by the federal government and frightened the people who should have loved him the most. But he was my brother and I loved him, and I will always wish I had done better.

I’ll have the rest of my life to deal with those emotions. My regrets for the myriad ways I didn’t come through for my brother still hide just below the surface of my graced-up self. I know better than to nurture regrets. Regardless of what they are, all our failures are under the blood of Jesus and forgiven. To hold onto guilt is to negate the work that Jesus did on the cross. Either the blood is sufficient, or it’s not. And if it’s not, then we are, as Paul said, “most to be pitied.” I’ve forgiven myself for just about all my other failures, but I haven’t even begun to chip away at the iceberg of brother-regret. All those emotions are still a dark, ungraced, ugly mess.

Years ago, Pastor John Hollar said in a sermon that true humility is to believe about ourselves what God says about us in His Word. The Word says that I am righteous because of what Jesus did for me, not because of anything I do myself. Therefore, despite my spectacular failures as a sister to my handicapped brother, I am righteous, and I was righteous when I was doing the failing. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to say that and feel it. For now, I say it in faith.

Happy birthday, little brother. Hug Granny and Granddaddy for me. I’m so very glad that you’re happy in heaven, and when I get there, we’ll have lots of good times together.

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