Twenty-five years ago, I made a promise to my father (he was dying of cancer). As Robert Service wrote in The Cremation of Sam McGee, “a promise made is a debt unpaid.” I made a substantial payment on that promise/debt these last two months (the reason why I have been absent).
My promise was to look after my brother. This entails more than the older sibling (me) keeping an eye out for the younger one. My brother has some brain damage acquired at birth (he was a breech baby). The obvious effect is a serious speech impediment. What is not obvious (until you get to know him) is that he seems oblivious to so much. It’s not a matter of being lazy – give him a task and he will attack it with gusto and humour. It seems he just can’t see what needs to be done or, if he does see it, he doesn’t know what to do about it so does nothing. Otherwise, he is a friendly, outgoing, chatty guy with several friends in town.
The “promise made” became urgent this past year. My brother was unable, financially and physically, to maintain the large house and yard that he and Mom had bought 23 years ago in a town just outside of Regina (Mom died 6-1/2 years ago). As a seasonally employed farm labourer, his income is variable and his meager savings are slowly dwindling. It was time to sell the house and find him an apartment and, given the lack (so I thought) of apartments in town, it seemed he would have to move to Regina.
My brother resisted, and understandably so. He did not want to abandon 23 years of memories accumulated in the house. He did not want to leave a place he knew for a place he did not. He did not want to leave his friends and work.
With the help of his employer, we found an apartment in town so he did not have to move to Regina. His friends all encouraged him: “Smartest thing you could do.” “You should have moved years ago.” And my brother, grudgingly, admitted that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t a spring chicken any more, perhaps it was time to move into an apartment where he wouldn’t have to worry about shingling the roof or mowing the huge lawn or cultivating the garden.
He had no idea how to prepare for a move. It fell to me to make all the arrangements – power, natural gas, telephone, TV, town office, insurance agents, the movers, the lawyers, the investment counselor. It fell to me to pack and sort – what to move, what to go into the garage sale, what to throw out. It fell to me to sell the house. It fell to me to assure my brother that all would work out, although there were times when I wondered if it would.
Like Robert Service’s narrator, there were times when I “cursed the load.” The move did not always go smoothly. My brother and I had words several times – he wanted to take everything; I said there wasn’t enough room. Neither did selling the house, although in the end it did sell at a loss due to its condition.
He’s mostly settled in and starting to feel at home. I drove back to Airdrie, exhausted.
The debt is only partially paid. How I will make future payments remains uncertain. Eventually, I will not be able to make the 8-1/2 hour drive to see him. Eventually, he will have to move to an assisted living situation. And what if he outlives me? Who will help him then? Who will take on the promise?
What the future will bring, I do not know. I know only the promise remains, a promise I will try to fulfill as long as I am able, not only out of duty (to my father as much as to my brother) but also out of love.
#Promises #SiblingLove #MovingResidence #BreechBaby #MargaretGHanna