Someone I’ve supported or helped:
Hah! They should change that to someone you think you supported or helped. My brother, whom I’ll call Nick. Oh, my gosh, when I think of the effort I made with him since childhood, the money I spent, the trips I made, the tears I cried. And for what?
Nick and I were close growing up, although Nick had his moods where he could freeze me out and want nothing to do with me. He was different as a child. He loved to garden, he loved animals and he loved to read. When I was 19, Nick came out to me. He was gay. I’m not sure at the time I had a clear idea of what that meant, but it explained his earlier years of depression, therapy and pharmaceutical intervention. It explained my parents’ confusing silence and the dark cloud that seemed to hover over our house when I was in high school.
Nick moved to L.A., in the early 80’s where as I recall, he thought his “lifestyle” would be more accepted. Within a couple of years he contracted HIV. A couple of years after that he developed AIDS and became permanently disabled, living below the poverty line on government subsidies and the goodwill of his long-time companion.
I can’t count the number of hospitalizations, the prognoses of near death over the years, the countless phone calls where I was certain Nick was going to die. Nor can I count the number of times Nick promised to make that cross country trip to visit me or my parents and then cancelled at the last minute. But he always seemed able to travel with his companion to numerous exotic locales.
Still, I traveled to L.A. several times to visit Nick. I sent him cards and letters and gifts and money. I played the role of the loving, supportive sister for years and years and years, never realizing how one-sided our relationship was until Nick came to live with me a couple of years ago. That experience made me see Nick for what he was. After a few months he left. By then he’d taken all I had left to give. Words were spoken between us that all the apologies in the world can’t erase. I had my goodwill thrown back in my face by someone perfectly content to wallow in his own misery. I learned my lesson and developed my new favorite motto. “I’m done.”
What Nick taught me is that a one-sided relationship is really no relationship. In a healthy relationship of any sort there’s give and take, and you are constantly “refueled” so to speak by the other person giving back to you. But when all you do is give and the other individual either can’t or won’t give back, eventually you’re drawing on an empty tank. You’ve got nothing left to give. That’s where I ended up.
My wise father used to quote, “The road to hell, having been paved with good intentions is now ready for travel.” I never realized how true those words were. My good intentions, “helping” my brother, destroyed the illusion of a relationship I once thought existed. Maybe that’s a good thing. I was pouring myself into something until I’d drained the last drop of goodwill I had toward Nick. I have nothing left to give him except civility.
You may think you’re helping someone, even a member of your own family, but often what you’re doing is teaching them not to be responsible for themselves. Nick never seemed able to take up the reins of his own life. That isn’t helpful to him. I wish I’d realized that sooner.