Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back

What a bizarre year.  For me anyway.  And it's all in your own personal perspective, isn't it?  If you've never been separated before, the first year after one probably seems crazy and traumatic.  If you've been married four times and the recent one is going down the tubes, it probably just seems more of the same (of course, here's a hint:  if you've been married that many times, the institution probably is not for you).  I'm not divorced, so it's just an example, but I am - for lack of a better word - separated, and just spent the first Christmas without Greg sitting at my side since we started dating in 1982 (holy crap!  I am really that old?!).  And, I really have to say, on balance, it was okay.  I mean, as I sit here, the main television in the Sports Cave is not working, having crapped out the day after the Steelers-Green Bay game (I think I have some Packer fan friends who will tell me that is karma coming to call), only to have the oven door come completely off on Christmas day.  Thanks to Marissa's boyfriend, the over door was put back on, but it really doesn't close right now so I'm afraid to use it.  So, I trudged over to Best Buy after a baby shower for our Lovely Philly Friend and buried myself in some more debt.  But, if not for those "little" issues and the fact that Ripley knocked me down the other night, so my knee is a bruised mess, and the fact that I'm waiting on the plumber to fix the new leak in the tub and I think he's forgotten about me, it would have been a delightful Christmas.  And even with all of those calamities, it was a pretty nice one (remember that Christmas took place before the Steelers Nation got screwed right on out of the playoffs).  Marissa and her boyfriend went out of their way to make it that way for me.  Hopefully I was able to return the favor to a degree.  Greg sent gifts for all, including the boyfriend, which I was touched by, so hopefully there was no one in this house on Christmas Day who didn't feel like they belonged to part of a family unit.  And that, I think, in the end analysis, is the best gift I could ask for.

So, as I sit here, pondering this climatic week to such a weird year, I am trying to work out the life lessons I'm supposed to take from everything that has happened.  For one thing, I won my fantasy football league.  That may seem sort of funny to list as a major accomplishment that teaches a life lesson, but bear with me.  It's a league through work, and they invited me to play the year Kelsey died.  I knew at the time it was a pity invitation - the core group of co-workers who gave me a spot knew I loved football, and I think believed it would be a fun distraction for me.  And it was, but I totally sucked at it (I drafted mainly all Steelers that first year because that was all I really knew about).  I've played ever since, but I've always dwelled in the basement.  This year, completely on my own with no input whatsoever from Greg, I won the whole thing!  I drafted the players, moved them around to form the best roster every week, and I nailed it (actually, I came in second during the regular season, but won the playoffs).  The sense of accomplishment I got from that was enormous.  Because the biggest issue I've had since Greg left this summer was trying to make major decisions without him.  Take the whole TV/oven thing.  I was almost paralyzed for a couple of days trying to figure out what to do.  I didn't have my sounding board.  At one point, I had Marissa cornered in my office trying to spell out the options and make her help decide.  She was not having it.  Truthfully, what sometimes happens is I talk to Greg about it and then do what I want anyway, but at least I get to work it out strategically with someone who has a vested interest.  It has been sort of frightening not to have that.  He's still around, of course, it's not like he went to Mars and doesn't get cell phone reception.  But he's busy.  He doesn't have time to fool with me.  No, it's on me to manage this house.  What I've learned is I can do it.  All by myself.  Fantasy football taught me that I've got the ability to pull it off and gave me the confidence to use it.

What I'm still working on is The Lonelies.  I can do without the physical contact really - I'm so tired most nights, that's the last thing on my mind anyway.  But some nights, if there is no hockey on in particular, the house seems sort of - not empty, not quiet, not stale - I'm not even sure what the right word is, but it's off somehow.  I've always got the dogs, the cats, my books, my music and the ability to catch up on all the episodes of Revolution and Mob City I miss when hockey is on, but some nights I just am really aware of being on my own.  Marissa has worked really, really hard to keep those moments minimal.  She's here every weekend and many weeknights.  But she's in her 20's.  The way it's supposed to work is the baby bird leaves the nest, not nurses the mother bird through her anxieties.  I watch the two widows who live next to me (in separate houses) because they are my inspiration - both strong and independent despite their advancing ages.  I can tell, and they will confess, that despite their having built a lifetime of relationships here and being still pretty socially active, they get The Lonelies still too.  I'm thinking then that it never goes away.  Some nights will just be like that.  I think as long as it's not most nights, then it's just the price you pay when you've been with someone for a really long time and then, suddenly, you're not.  I think that's an homage to the relationship.  If you never miss your spouse, he/she probably was a heel.

As you know, I often have a moral to the story, so here is this one: you have the inner strength to overcome the things you think will overwhelm you.  You have to believe it and believe in yourself first, but you can do it.  Then have patience with yourself on the days when you don't like the job you're doing.  Life is a lesson.  If you knew all about it already, then what would be the point in showing up to live it?

May we all have a wonderful 2014 that includes, for me anyway, a Stanley Cup.  In the meantime, here are some of my favorite photos from 2013 to cheer you on your way:

One of Greg's last evenings with Ripley
Charlie Batch, great Pittsburgher, great guy and a dog owner!  Wow!

Marissa Pearl graduates college!

Antonio Brown - and trust me, it's the subject, not the photographer that makes this a good photo

Ripley gets photo bombed by a big rubber ducky

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Humbug's Holiday Wish to You

Well, it's almost here.  Christmas.  Again.  You know how I know?  My entire neighborhood looks like a Christian version of the Las Vegas Strip.  People who have had lights up and on for over a month now still continue to add to their displays, believe it or not.  As I walk the dogs around in the evening I'll see that someone added a nativity scene next to Santa's sleigh or added lights to their back or side yard now.  It's like a community full of Clark Griswald's.  Even the hippie-dippy neighbors across the street have crept into the season, first with nice little candles in the window, followed by big old neon things in the windows next to them.  I actually have a few less outdoor decorations up than I have had in the past, but I do have some, so I guess I'm like the small little casino on a side street - I'm there, but much more understated.  And that's all you're getting from me.  I'm content to watch everyone else go nuts and then figure out how they're going to pay the electric bill in a month.

I considered not putting much up in the way of decorations at all actually.  But I did, much like I do in every other year no matter what drama is going on because, for one thing, I figured I needed the routine:  keeping things as much the same as I could in a year when things were anything but normal.  And it wouldn't be fair to take a full Christmas away from Marissa.  And finally, I like the way this little house looks all dressed up for Christmas.  So here I sit in my decorated cottage waiting for the holiday to come and go like it does every year and then sort of wondering what the next year will bring.  About the only thing I know for sure so far is that it will have to bring a new TV since the big one in the Sports Cave crapped out yesterday, so in a week when I'm trying to figure out how I spent so much on the holidays while still worrying that people will be disappointed, that was the most unwelcome holiday surprise I could have gotten.  But for now, I'm trying to shake that off and get in the "season" as they say.  So, here is my holiday wish to all of you:

First of all, thank you to all my friends and family for being so supportive, kind and loving no matter what life or my own actions has hit our friendship with.  I never really know what I've done to deserve such wonderful people in my life, but I have been truly blessed with all of you, even if it is a virtual one with many of you now, trying to shrink the miles through Facebook and email.  So, I wish for all of you not only a happy holiday, but a content one.  And not only for tomorrow, but may that extend well past the New Year on until the end of your days.

I know not to wish us Peace on Earth or anything so impossible like that, so I'll wish that you have an inner peace.  Of course, maybe that's what contentment is.  Being at peace with who you are, where you are and what you are:  no matter what that is.  But I think there's a subtle difference too.  Finding an acceptance gives you peace, learning to be happy with who you are leads to contentment, I would hope.  So, long way to say, I wish both for you.

I am hoping that each of you will have a Cheyenne in your life.  Someone or something who loves you more than he or she loves themselves and whom you can in turn love that way too.  Because that is a powerful and empowering feeling.  And a comforting one on cold nights when the Penguins lose big and you're watching it on a crappy upstairs TV.  May you have someone like Marissa who will keep telling you that it'll all work out when you're nearly in tears because that's just one more crappy thing you don't need in your life right now.

But because I know that all your days will not be rosy, life just does not work that way, may you have the strength to carry on through dark and frightening times.  Many of you were my source of strength in just such times.  May I be that in return for you if need be.  But if it's not me, may you find what you need to act as a talisman to rise above whatever tries to bury you.  And I know you can do it:  one thing I can say about all the friends I have ever known, they are all very strong of character.

May your sports teams always be winners (unless you're in Boston or a Flyers fan, then you can go suck it), but if they are not, may you have the grace to know that there is always next year and that's why they call it a "game".

Finally, may each of you find your own Pittsburgh.  And whether that is a place or a state of mind, I can't really say.  But you will know when you get there.  And may you never be lost wherever it ends up being.

And if I've never ever met you and vice versa, and you just stumbled across this post, I still wish the same for you too.  As the Irish would say, "May you be as contented as Christmas finds you, all the year round."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mean Coping Skills

As you know if you've been reading for a while, our family therapist who is active in the ED community with a particular passion for working with male eating disorders, coined the term "Mean Season" in referencing the holidays.  That resonated with me.  Because, as I've said before, for someone struggling with an eating disorder in particular, it's a nightmare time of the year.  There are so many occasions which are centered around food, and not just food but really threatening stuff for someone with eating issues:  cookies, cakes, egg nog, rich casserole dishes smothered in cheese or whatever, gravy, breads, and so on.  Then there are the family members you don't see everyday who don't have a clue about what you're going through who come up to you with the best of intentions and inadvertently say the very worst of things!  And that's when they are sober.  Alcohol flows freely through all of this in many households. It can be a veritable nightmare.   For everyone.   I struggled to balance what my daughters needed with what their grandmothers needed and wanted, and the two very often were not compatible.  That meant life was pretty miserable for all of us.  And the societal pressure we feel to make nice and be happy on a particular day of the year just made it that much harder, I think.  As a result, I wrote a piece I was pretty passionate about a couple of years ago right before Thanksgiving that is probably worth dusting back off and looking at again:  Welcome to the Mean Season.  I was thinking about it yesterday because I was reading the posts by some of the moms in my support group.  I made a couple of suggestions here and there, but finally I had to just navigate away because it was just breaking my heart too much.  A lot of it was just all too familiar.  In a way there is a comfort in that because I can now tell you I'm not the only one who deals with this stuff.  Or, in my case, dealt with it.  But I just ache for all those mothers and their sons and daughters who struggle through this time of the year.

It's not easy for others out there either.  My daughter's boyfriend, for example, struggles with the holidays because his dad died around Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  He hasn't even bounced back yet when he got more bad news this year, so the holidays are a poison for him.   I get that to an extent.  I miss my dad the most during the holidays.  I think I've told you before, for a seasoned war veteran, he had this child-like love of Christmas - any holiday really - and that was a pretty grand thing to grow up with, so I miss that around this time of the year.  But, on the other hand, I know that our parents don't want us wasting our lives mourning for us, because they would know that this is the natural order of things - we all hope our children outlive us, and we want their happiness above all else.  That's the way it's supposed to go.  So, I always hope for him he'll realize that life is too short to be this unhappy and let his grief relax more into fond memories.  But, for now, it hasn't.  Therefore, we'll all be together on Christmas potentially more or less feeling way sorry for ourselves.  I think I'd like to break the pattern for my family anyway.  And I've really worked to do that this year, with some mixed success, so I thought I'd share my top five coping skills.  They have absolutely no scientific basis, and I am not a professional (although I certainly have paid enough of them over the years), so take it for what it is worth, but if any of them help you even a little, then it will be my holiday gift to you:

5)  Cry a little when you need to.  I had a rough moment yesterday when I got a piece of junk mail addressed to Kelsey.  It's happened a couple of times in the last few months.  I can't figure out how companies - Pittsburgh based companies at that - get her name, but it's the height of insensitivity and really drives home the hole in our household.  That gets worse at the holidays.  Society tells us to celebrate the season.  Well, sometimes we're just not in sync with that.  And that's okay - don't make it worse by feeling guilty over it.

4)  Don't try and be perfect; prioritize and then accept the rest.  Always the biggest stressor for me long before the girls got sick was that normal life keeps going and the holidays just pile it on.  Shopping, wrapping, shipping all of that, addressing cards, functions to attend, great movies coming out because it's awards season.  If you try to be Super Mom you'll end up being super stressed.  And that's exactly what always happened to me.  And I'd end up having a little meltdown - okay, okay, a big meltdown - at some point.  Now I'm trying to tell myself if the house doesn't get cleaned to the max because I'm wrapping stuff, we'll all survive.  If cookies I always bake don't get baked, it's like Marissa told me on Sunday:  we'll bake them for another holiday.

3) Plan in advance.  It comes every year.  We all know it's coming, so it's always puzzled me a bit when people are scrambling at the last minute for Christmas gifts (and by people, I generally mean men).  I start shopping for Christmas in the spring and squirrel away things all year long.  So I was able to wrap the presents I needed to ship, which was almost everything, right after Thanksgiving and we made a run to the post office that took three of us to pull off two weeks ago.  People got their stuff absurdly early, but I'm done with the "heavy lifting", if you will, of the holidays and can concentrate a little more on Tip No. 2.  Plus I spread the expense out.

2)  Take the time to enjoy life a little.  I struggled how to list Tips 2 and 1 - they are almost neck and neck in importance for me.  So, maybe really this is Tip 1.5 because I am serious about this one.  At some point, I had to give myself permission to actually savor some of the things that do happen around the holidays.  And I said it that way very purposefully.  If you have suffered a loss, it's easy sometimes to feel like you are guilty of something because you're still alive.  As a parent in particular.  So, you feel unworthy of anything enjoyable in life.  Please don't.  I believe truly that there is a reason we remain.  So while we figure out what our purpose is, don't let the life you have pass you by.  Take a moment or two every day to relax.  For me, I take a few moments in the morning to read a few pages of my book.  Today I took a couple of minutes after I shoveled the snow to slide down the hill in our backyard.  Childish maybe, but the dogs and I had a lot of fun before we buckled down to work for the day.  But I've also taken in some events around town instead of addressing holiday cards or baking those cookies like part of me worries I should.  This is an amazing city.  Missing out on the wonders it presents doesn't bring Kelsey back to us.

1) Accept help.  None of these coping tips would have mattered, and I would be in a rubber room right now if Marissa had not helped as much as she has this year.  She's wrapped gifts, gone to the store for me, baked a couple batches of those cookies I keep fretting over, cleaned the house repeatedly, done my laundry for me, cooked for and fed me, and kept me company above all else.  I think the tendency is for people (and in this case I mean women) to think they have to do it all themselves to truly pull off a good holiday for their family.  I'm trying to accept that it's just not the case.  And as a matter of fact, your family members may enjoy helping.  I hope that's true for Marissa.  But, either way, she's the greatest Christmas gift of all.

I can't tell you this is the best holiday we'll ever have.  We're scattered across the country. Money was tight, so the gifts are modest.  But it's not going to be the worst.  And sometimes, after a year like this one, that's plenty good enough for me!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Alternative Holiday Letter

What Santa does on his off time
Every year I write a holiday letter to stick in with the Christmas cards.  I even managed to pull one together the year Kelsey died.  I'm not sure how, but I wanted to talk about her upcoming art exhibit, so I made myself do it.  And because of it, my friend Betty knew to come and that was the last time I really got to spend time with her, so...

But anyway, it occurred to me this year that there is a certain narcissism inherent in writing holiday letters in a social media world.  Most of the people you know well enough to exchange cards or gifts with also connect with you on Facebook and can catch up with you online, via text or phone or even video chat.  Therefore, do the ones who don't know you well enough to do any of that even really care what you've been up to over the past year?

And then they have to have a certain tone to them, because they are, after all, holiday letters, so I always felt like I had to keep them light.  And they don't allow for a lot of room to delve into issues too deeply anyway, so they can only skim the surface of an individual's complex life in the course of a year.  Once the Beast entered our home, our lives were anything but light or simple, particularly during the holidays - the Mean Season.  But, I've always persisted in crafting something, no matter how much it didn't really represent what was truly happening to us, because we have friends and family who, believe it or not, aren't really on social media, and care enough to hear from us at least.  And so I did this year.  If you end up getting one from me, it's all true.  Just like all the others were.  But there's a lot I didn't say.  So, here's my alternative version where I get to say a little bit more:

"Dear Friends and Family,

So, here we are again.  It's the holidays.  Some of you love them, some of you hate them.  I want to love them, but I in fact tend to loathe them.  You probably think that's because of Kelsey.  And you'd be right, but I'm not a fan for other reasons too, which I'll explain.

First of all, who decided that the holidays should also be when you're expected to give to charities?  I know, I know, it's the end of the year, sliding in of the tax deductible contribution thing, plus the need is greater.  But, my theory is that kids who are hungry at Christmas are hungry in June too.  Let's give to them all year long, not just at the holidays.  As I write, I have a stack of mail on my kitchen counter from charities I've supported in the past:  Red Cross, Safeplace, Habitat for Humanity, The Carnegie Museums, the Pittsburgh Symphony (who keep telling me I pledged $100 and I keep telling them there's no way I would do that over the phone), and the Mario Lemieux Foundation.  That's just the last couple of days.  My email inbox is much worse.  I hate looking at them.  They're all deserving in their own ways (which is why I've supported them at some point in the past), but I can't possibly support them all now.  I HATE the guilt and the pressure.  I'm just trying to pay my bills here people.  Please, please leave me alone.

Then there's the whole gift giving thing.  I love buying presents for people.  I put a LOT of time and effort into it.  It doesn't always work out quite as well as I would hope.  And that hurts me more than you know.  Because I do want you to love what I get you, but if we've known one another for a long time, odds are that at some point, I'll misfire on the choice I make.  For example, last year I thought I just slayed it with the gift I got one family in particular.  The father didn't like his part and had his daughter ask me how he could return it.  Don't tell me that!  Just go exchange it for something you like.   Or at least thank me for the effort first.  I was crushed.  You know, my mom got me stuff often that I didn't care for because it was her tastes, not mine, but I always knew a lot of love and effort went into it, so I appreciated all of that useless crap for that reason.  I still have some of it because I look at it and it reminds me that someone loved me enough to do something for me (some of it I dumped like a hot potato as soon as I could, but the point is:  she never knew).  That's not to say you have to keep something I gave you that you don't want, but understand that the lack of appreciation for the effort cuts like a knife.  Think about that as you respond to your loved one's gifts this year.

And that's the other thing:  when did gift giving become such an obligation?  There are people who plan to send us gifts this year who really can't afford it, but feel like they have to.  No, you don't.  I have so much stuff already.  You can just tell me you can't do it.  Or pick one of those charities I listed and send them $10 in my name.  Lifting that weight of guilt off my shoulders would do more than you know.  If I send you something, then accept that it's because I want to and don't feel like there is a quid pro quo.  But please also know that I had my own challenges this year.  My gifts are not as elaborate as they have been in the past.  Please, please, don't be offended by that or feel slighted.  Honestly, I think we've all lost the whole point of the season in our material world.  And I include myself in that.  But, you know what I really, really want?  Just your friendship.  It's been a hard year.  I feel lonely sometimes and a little afraid about what my future will hold.  Sometimes I could use a shoulder - even if it's just virtual.  That doesn't cost you much.  Just be there for me when I need it.  That's the greatest gift of all.

For the first time in over 30 years, I will face the holidays without Greg by my side.  That's a little depressing.  I'll confess that I began this holiday season in a rotten, rotten mood as a result.  It's been hard to figure out what to write to you and give you any sense of holiday cheer.  But, I've been contemplating the life and death of Nelson Mandela since I heard the news and pondering how a white woman on another continent can best honor the great man's memory.  I've decided it's by trying to embody the lessons his life taught us.  There are many to choose from.  But for me, now, at this moment, it's not to give up on hope and give in to despair.  Therefore, I plan on squaring my shoulders, holding my head up high and being thankful for the things I do have:  my beautiful daughter Marissa, healthy now and sober, my pets, the roof over my head and the food in my pantry (tiny as it may be).  I am grateful that I am fortunate enough to have come to Pittsburgh and found the place where I truly belong.  I thank all of you for what you have been to me and my family over the years.  I am blessed in my friends.  And while I don't see them much, I am ever so grateful for my mom's family, who accept me as one of their own.  I will rejoice in Sidney Crosby's 3 assists and Marc Andre Fleury's 44 saves against one of the best teams in hockey and choose not to despair a football season in shambles.  I hope much the same for all of you.  Hug the family around you tight and realize that they are your real gift, not that material stuff under the tree.

Much love, Cheryl"

Tum Tum posed the question, "What?  You mean these aren't all mine?"

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Almost Home for the Holidays

I'll keep this brief.  For one thing, I've got a lot to do and only one more day in the long weekend to do it.  The holidays, as I've complained many times before, are relentless.  This, apparently, does not change even when you find yourself by yourself.  But, for most of the holiday weekend, the family was back together, so I know many readers have been waiting to hear how Greg is, so I knew I owed everyone an update on my husband's brief trip back up to Pittsburgh for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The short response is that everything went fine.  But of course, whenever there is a situation like this  - a long separation punctuated by brief visits here and there - the emotions surrounding the visit will be more complicated.  Or so I imagine it is in all cases, and so it was here.  First there was the preparation. Do you prepare the house as you would for a house guest?  Clean, polish and shine everything from top to bottom, lay out clean towels, put on clean sheets, and so on?  Or do you treat it like someone who was just away on a long business trip and is merely coming home now?  I chose a hybrid approach.  Cleaned everything, but let him get his own towels out of the closet.

And of course there is the worry that you'll look older, or things will have sagged a bit more in noticeable places.  Or that your spouse will just look at you with fresh eyes after a period of time and say to him or herself, "Really?  I am not attracted to that person at all anymore and not sure how I ever was."

Finally, for me, the creature of severe habit, there is the nagging sense that you'll find you've grown much too comfortable in the new routine - as much as a way to cope with the sudden change than anything else - to accommodate vestiges of the old one again.  That one didn't get a true test since the holidays are anti-routine by their very nature, and Greg's time here was pretty brief, but I think we did all see the same things about one another we find perplexing and realize we're still perplexed by them.  In short, we haven't changed as people in our months apart.  If I drove too timidly to suit Greg before and he drove WAY too aggressively to suit me, that's all still true.

But, for the most part, I think I'm safe in saying what we found is that we're still all a family.  We fell back into a comfort level of being together quickly.  There was a slight worry, I'll confess it now, that we'd find ourselves almost awkward strangers.  Which was a strange fret to have because I didn't stress over that when I came up here by myself for several months.  But the circumstances were different then, I guess.  And of course I was the one who had struck out on the journey, not the other way around.  I think that puts a little different spin on it.  But, it was a needless concern.  We've been together a long time and so it'll take a lot longer than four and a half months to make us all strangers.  Maybe ironically we went to see 12 Years a Slave on Friday. When Solomon is reunited with his family after more than a decade, to naturally find his children grown and even one of them married with a child, I reminded myself now that is what coming home to find yourself a virtual stranger must look like!  We're no where near that!

Greg looks fine.  Much the same.  I also worried the cares and responsibilities he has taken on would tax him.  And maybe, with more time, they will indeed.  But not seemingly so just yet.  I'll have to press him to write the guest post he agreed to in order to really get his thoughts and feelings, but I think it was bizarre being here for him - and by here, I mean the city as a whole - because it felt both familiar and a little strange.  Home in a way, yet not where he lives.  Maybe we all get that when we go back to visit our parents if we've moved away.  I did a bit when I would go back to Bozeman.  But I spent my formative years there, so there is a bond with the town that won't break.  Greg was here only relatively briefly.  I think that all messed with his head a bit.

And then there is Ripley, currently laying quietly at my feet.  Everyone noticed how she brought Greg through his grief.  My neighbor even commented on it one day not too long ago!  Yet here Ripley stays without him.  He commented that he had been away from her a quarter of her life.  I think he found saying goodbye to her the hardest.  And I get it if that's true.  I'm also fine with it.  I'm a dog person after all.  But the things dogs do for you are hard to match over Skype.  You need their wet doggy kisses, the warmth of their fur as they snuggle against you on the couch.  You need their need for you sometimes to remind yourself why you have to get up in the morning.

For my part, I was initially stoic about his leaving again because I have, maybe not by blood, but by familiarity, my mother's Pennsylvania steel heart.  Yet when I got back home yesterday from dropping my husband at the airport so he could fly back to Texas and found things he had left lying around - a half consumed bottle of water, his Cowboys pajama bottoms in the laundry pile, his windbreaker casually draped across a chair - all as if he were coming home in just a few hours, I had some bad moments.  Later in the day when I was putting up Christmas decorations and came across his stocking on top of Kelsey's, I sat on the floor and sobbed.

I know he's where he has to be.  The job of caring for his brother is too taxing for just one person.  And I know that's not really anyone's fault.  Life simply isn't fair or easy much of the time.  And there I will leave it for now, since I've already violated my promise to keep it brief.