I would be happy to share a story. I just told one for Storytellers New Haven.
I am also very well versed in ACEs and the impact on young children and learning as part of my training and work.
When I was five I lived in an apartment building in Brooklyn, New York. For some reason I was alone for a few minutes in the apartment. I heard something in the hallway and looked through the peep hole in the apartment door. An older neighbor, in her mid-sixties, was clutching her chest and gasping for air and collapsed on the floor. After a minute or two someone came out to help her into her apartment. She died shortly thereafter.
For whatever reason, I felt like I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to see. Did I do something wrong? Maybe I should have yelled for help and someone might have helped her sooner and she wouldn’t have died. I was thankful that whatever GOT her, did not get me.
And so I never told anyone, until recently. I am now in my sixties. That is a long time to keep a memory that had been forgotten or buried. I think that the fear I felt, a feeling that either I had something to do with her dying, or that something was in the air that killed her, some evil something that sent shivers and shakes through my body and stuck somewhere in my gut, that feeling has been with me all my life. It surfaced a few more times when I was young.
A cousin died of Hodgins lymphoma. She was thirteen. A friend died suddenly of some kind of infection. She was ten. My dad died in his sleep when I was twelve. He was forty-three. And, it was a Friday, the thirteenth of May, 1966.
I heard his wind-up alarm run down, and then heard my mom trying to wake him. I thought someone or more accurately, SOMETHING, had come into the house during the night, and just the way IT had gotten all the other people I knew who had died, IT got him too. I thought IT might still be in the house and was scared IT might get me too.
I never was able to talk about what any of this was like and developed all sorts of avoidance behaviors when I was younger. I finally had the help of a caring therapist in my mid-twenties and again in my late thirties, but I had never really touched the heart of all this until recently when my wife died, a little over a year ago. Therapy is never finished.
I never knew why things in life that scared me evoked avoidance behavior in me. I learned that as a young child, I had unknowingly made an unconscious connection between fear and death.
I carried this buried unconscious fear for a long time. It pervaded many things in my life. If someone had asked when I was young if there was anything that really frightened me but which I had a hard time talking about, things might have been different.
Childhood traumas and adverse experiences come in many forms. This was mine. Certainly, there are many more horrific stories than mine, but nevertheless, this had a profound impact on me.
My brother Ed was homeless for 25 years. I had intermittent contact with him during that time, and then lost all connection with him for nine years. The last time I saw him was in February of 2006 in Boston. He was still nomadic. During the nine years without contact, I prayed for him. I often thought I was going to get a phone call and need to write his obituary.
I did get a phone call in January of 2015. Our dad was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer and was dying fast. I sent countless emails and texts and made calls in an attempt to find Ed, to put him and dad on the phone together before dad died.
Two days after dad’s funeral, on February 16th, I received a text from my step-brother:
“Ed is on the New Milford green in a brown coat.”
The next day I drove from Branford to New Milford to look for my brother. I arrived on the New Milford green and saw one person standing next to a garbage can in a brown coat. It was seven degrees out. I slowly pulled my car up and saw my brother in dirty clothes, with a big belly and beard, and weathered face. He immediately recognized me and smiled. I got out of the car, we hugged, and I wept. I told him our dad had died, and gave him a copy of the eulogy I had given. We spoke for less than 10 minutes as Ed had work to do “taking care of the trees.”
I called my step-daughter who’s a social worker in New Hampshire. She told me about NAMI and as we spoke she typed. “There’s a Family–to-Family class starting in March. Take it!” she said. I signed up, and Vicky was one of the instructors.
From that freezing February day forward, I drove to New Milford when I could – usually every other week. I brought a brown bag lunch and placed a note inside: You Are Loved. Most days I would find my brother and we would talk for a few minutes. During one of the visits, he told me he was staying in the shelter at St. John’s Episcopal Church on the New Milford green. I emailed the church, introduced myself and was connected to an entire caring, compassionate community of people who were feeding and clothing my brother. One of the people I was connected to was Peg Molina in social services. She and I met and she told me about Angel Salinas, the owner of Johana’s Restaurant. Angel had emigrated from Ecuador nine years earlier, opened his restaurant and met my brother. He fed my brother every day, for nine years.
Peg also told me of the Community Care Team she was a part of. The Community Care Team consists of a group of professionals who identify the community’s most vulnerable and create strategies to help. The team included people from social services, law enforcement, Catholic Charities homeless outreach, soup kitchen and shelter coordinators, doctors from Danbury and New Milford hospitals, and housing representatives.
Peg told me that the Community Care Team was concerned about Ed, and more so because he had an infected gash on his ankle. She said they were meeting about when the right time was, to send out a mobile intervention unit. She told me the team agreed Ed would not survive another New England winter outside.
The missing piece of the Community Care Team was family. That was my role. I brought love, compassion, history, memories and zero expectations.
Eight months after Ed and I were reconnected, the mobile intervention unit approached Ed. Ed said ‘yes’ to help, and was taken to Danbury Hospital ER to have the gash on his leg cleaned up. After physically cleaning him up, they suggested a psychiatric evaluation, and he agreed. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and prescribed Risperdal. While at Danbury Hospital, his doctors determined he could not take care of himself by himself, and a probate judge was contacted. Ed was assigned two conservators. I am Ed's older sister and co-conservator. He stayed in Danbury Hospital until a bed opened up at Connecticut Valley Hospital. For three-and-a-half months, he lived inside in Danbury Hospital. In January of 2016, he was relocated to Merritt Hall at CVH. And there I witnessed miracle after miracle.
Ed said ‘yes’ to everything: yes to yoga classes, yes to meditation, yes to swimming, yes to on-campus walks, yes to movie night, and yes to frequent day passes with me.
My brother has always loved nature and especially trees. He believes he has created all the trees, so getting him outside into nature was important. During our day passes from CVH, I would drive us to Wadsworth State Falls and we would hike into the woods. He would hug trees and take in big gulps of air. Those walks in the woods with my brother were among the most spiritual events of my life. I was witnessing his healing. And my own.
He was thriving at CVH and at one treatment plan meeting; he was told that he was ‘too healthy to stay.’ It was a good problem to have, but I was nervous about where he would live. I knew having him live with me would not be good for me, my son or Ed. Fortunately, a representative from DMHAS attended a meeting and had a housing solution. Ed’s life goals were the focal point of the meetings and he was clear about wanting to live in Danbury. When he was asked what he wanted in life, his answer was “Freedom.”
The DMHAS rep found him transitional housing in Danbury which required a photo ID. After three trips to the DMV, my brother got a photo ID and said, “I feel like a person again.”
Less than four months after being admitted to CVH, we moved Ed into his transitional home, a group home with 19 other residents and 24/7 case manager care. He acclimated to community living, cooking his own meals, and bought himself a bicycle. He has spent a lot of time with me and my son. The family connection has helped speed his recovery and healing.
This past summer, his housing was de-funded, and a new transitional home was found. We got Ed his first passport, and in September he and I drove to Montreal, to visit his nephew, my son, at McGill University.
In October, Ed sent me a text: I am thinking about going for a job, what do you think?
I replied: Go for it!!
He called me later that night to tell me he got a job dishwashing and bussing at Sesame Seed Restaurant in Danbury!!!!
My Brother Ed is a Miracle.
WE ASKED PEOPLE, "WHAT LIFE EXPERIENCES HAVE MADE YOU RESILIENT?"