April 13, 2019

Chapter 20 - Losing Frank

Losing Frank

I lost my brother Frank for the last time on March 18th, 2011, after a long fight with cancer. But that's not the only time I lost Frank. I'd lost him a few times in my life. I lost him while he was alive for the last time two years ago. That's the last time I saw or spoke to him. For reasons known only to Frank he decided that he wanted nothing to do with me or most of his family. During the last year he developed cancer... or something like that. I can't really say what kind or how long because the information I have is pretty much hearsay.

Because Frank had shut me out... again. I fell from his good grace for some imagined offense. We hadn't spoke for years. I have no idea why and it isn't really important. Frank shutting me out wasn't a new experience. Falling out of favor is something I'm pretty good at and with Frank it was kind of easy. I'm not sure who was the last to call who... and I'm not saying I've tried much myself. Frank shut me out so seriously it took 2 days for the news of his death to reach me.

Frank was lost to me for much of his lifetime. When he was still a very young man he was involved in a terrible crime that sent him away to prison in a distant state. He spent 20 or more years away from all of us. He was my brother, but he was also a total stranger when he finally came home. The brother I remembered was a classic James Dean, delinquent teenage terror. A rebel that I had wrapped in a childhood fantasy that revered the outlaw persona he came to represent. The brother that came home, a hard-edged man, shaped and educated by the penal system, was someone I was both wary of and welcoming too.

Frank and I, along with my brothers, Buddy and Dave, had a birthday in the same week in September. I started calling us 'The Birthday Boys' when I was a kid. It was a special bond between us. Frank missed many birthdays over the years. When Frank came home the first time, despite his battles with his demons, for a few special years we were again "The Birthday Boys". We traveled together every year to places like Las Vegas or the Bahamas to celebrate the event. They were the best years we got to share together as brothers.

The best moment I ever shared with my brothers was because of Frank and his love of gambling. Frank was a big gambler. Betting on sports or playing cards was something he did with a lot of skill. On our trip to Vegas he got the urge to take a trip in a helicopter to go see the Grand Canyon. When we found out how much it cost, almost $2,000, he didn't bat an eye. 'Alright' he said, 'Go away and don't bother me.' With that he sat down at a blackjack table and went to work. Later, the phone in our room rang at about 3:30AM. It was Frank. "Book the trip, I'm going to get some rest," was all he said.

Early that morning we climbed into a helicopter for a trip that will remain the most memorable birthday in my entire life. We shared a lunch, a birthday cake and a champagne toast on the rim of the Grand Canyon. It truly was a gift from Frank that will last a lifetime for all of us. But it was a high point that only serves to stand in painful contrast to the low that his life would also reach.

Frank had a lot of problems dealing with life once he came home. He wasn't able to play the role of the working man. He took to a life of crime. He was actually very good at it. He made a lot of money. His success lent a false sense of stability and he felt he was doing well for a long time. But it caught up to him, as it does to most all people. He was arrested and went away again for another stretch of years.

Between those times spent in incarceration he suffered bouts of mental illness that resulted in hospitalization. He was suicidal and at times seemed to lose all touch with the world around him. Throughout all those years he was always distant and unreachable. He was hard to get close to and even harder to deal with. He knew people too well and hid himself from anyone who tried to get close... even his family. He considered himself the family patriarch and tried to assume the role of the wise elder. But his judgments were often fostered from a suspicious and distrustful view of people that permeated all his relationships.

One evening I received a call from my sister Maureen. Frank had called her and wasn't acting right. He was talking crazy and she was scared. She feared he was going to try and kill himself. She begged me to go and check on him. My reaction is a great example of just how much I both loved and feared Frank. I went with every intention of doing what I had to do to save Frank. But I did something that one ordinarily wouldn't do when the goal was to save a life. I took a knife with me. I'm still conflicted when I think of it. Frank was crazy and I was scared. In my mind, saving Frank could get me killed.

When I reached the house and rang the bell Frank came to the door in his robe. He welcomed me and seemed rational enough. I began to think Maureen had been worried for no reason, until I looked at his legs. From his feet up they were covered in blood. When he opened his robe I saw that his body had stab wounds and cuts all over his chest and arms. Behind him the apartment was covered in blood that trailed through every room in the house and stained every wall and flat surface.

My brother Dave arrived shortly after. Together we got him to the hospital in time to keep him alive. Dave and I spent the rest of the night on our hands and knees cleaning up his blood. We didn't talk much. But the memory is always accompanied by the screams in my head that I suppressed that night. I took solace in the fact that, after having lost my best friend and my brother Nick to suicide, at least I was able to prevent Frank from the same fate.

As far as Frank's reaction, it was not quite what I expected. In some ways I sensed he resented the intrusion. It left him with a sense of indebtedness. And Frank didn't like owing people. Frank felt everyone was out for themselves. Everyone had a secret agenda as far as Frank was concerned. While generous, he always expected something in return when he did someone a favor. In his mind we would be expecting the same from him. It was a favor that he always was waiting for me to collect on.

Staying in Franks good graces was always a beneficial thing. He had money and the means to help in a lot of ways. But the price of his grace was pretty high and not negotiable. Saying no was something that Frank didn't like to hear and never forgot. Not agreeing with him was looked on as a sign of disrespect. To that end I'm sure Frank felt I disrespected him a lot. I could give everything except false praise. And Frank could give a lot of things, but trust was never one of them.

I knew Frank was going to die, but I didn't know I would never get the chance to see him again before he did. I had lobbied The Birthday Boys to go and pay him a visit last year during our birthday week. Ultimately, for various reasons, it was deemed to be a bad idea. He wouldn't like it. He'd be mad. We wouldn't be welcome. Frank had made it perfectly clear what HE wanted. Stay out of my life. So I left it at that thinking... maybe next year.

Now that option is forever gone. Maybe I should have argued that what we wanted was just as important... maybe more so. Frank may have decided he didn't want me in his life, but I wanted him to know that I didn't feel that way about him. I didn't want to have another sibling die distant and angry. I did tell Frank I loved him... but not often enough I'm sure that he really believed it. Frank was the best example of something I have believed all my life... people come and people go. I saved his life... and in the end he took it away from me.

Our sense of mortality grows more acute with age. I know that the years ahead will take more of us, maybe me, sooner than I think. I don't want to let any more years pass without reaching out to the family I have left. No matter how different the paths we may have taken, it is important to me that they know, I never meant to leave any of them behind. I am grateful for having had them in my life and for the times we have had. I want to make the best of the time we have remaining. I want them to know that I love them as best as I am able.

Dealing with unfinished business is one of the most painful parts of the grieving process. We focus on things we never got to say or that we regretted saying. “If only” becomes a silent wish for so many people after the loss of a loved one. Whenever I remember Frank, my regret will be "I should have..."

I've promised myself that I will reach out and touch my siblings and let them know I care. So that when life takes me from them I will be able to say, without regret... “I did”

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