This story is by Aletta Bee and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
December 15, 2019
I’m worried about Gerard.
He was acting strange when he came home for his annual Christmas visit. Friends and family from all over France came to the farm to visit him, as they have every year. For decades.
As we sat around our huge dinner table, Gerard shot up from his seat. “I need to call my cat-sitter.” Everyone at the table stared, wide-eyed, at each other.
When he came back to the dinner table, he announced he was flying back to the states the next morning. He wouldn’t say why. He wouldn’t even stay just a few more days to see all the people who had travelled to see him.
That pissed me off. But he’s a grown man and can make up his own mind. I can’t force him to do anything. And I wouldn’t want to.
March 15, 2021
Benjamin called me to say he was concerned about Gerard’s mental health. His clothes—the two pairs of corduroy slacks and three short-sleeved tee shirts—were torn. His studio apartment reeked of dead food stuck to stacked dishes.
I’m scared for him. Gerard never had much of an aesthetic sense, and his cheapskate style was a family running joke. But this—my sweet older brother deteriorating—this was horrible to imagine.
I made Benjamin his power of attorney for health, since he is there, and I am here. And I couldn’t speak English with his doctors there, anyway. I don’t know what I would do without Benjamin’s help.
March 20, 2021
It’s serious. We need to find a facility for him.
Benjamin called to tell me about Gerard’s gerontologist appointment. The doc asked Gerard, “What is your address?” Gerard bit his lip and shook his head, not able to remember where he had lived for fifteen years.
The doctor wrote on Gerard’s chart cognitive decline. He turned to Benjamin. “Your friend will need to go into a senior facility.” He added, “I used those particular words, rather than dementia, so that Gerard would not have to be locked up in a facility.
Oh my God. I’m losing my darling big brother. The thought of him locked up punched me in the stomach. He is an outdoor boy—a volunteer at the L.A. Zoo, a bird watcher, a Forest Ranger. He walks hours every day. Gerard couldn’t bear that, and I can’t bear losing him.
July 15, 2021
Benjamin and I talk every day now. Thank God for him.
Benjamin took Gerard to look at facilities. Gerard said, “Absolutely not,” to every facility he saw. “I want to go home to France,” he said. That’s what I want too. I miss him so much.
Today, I looked for a placement for him here, but every facility within twenty kilometers was filled. I found one that could put him on a waitlist. With good luck, they could place him in three years. Three years!
I need help now.
July 20, 2021
I found a place. When I called a politician who owed me a favor, he miraculously found a place for Gerard near me. Please, oh, please come home, big brother.
Excited, I called Gerard to tell him about the home I found for him. His response? “I’m not sick. I feel fine. I walk for hours, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m staying here.”
Makes me crazy. He, in his doctor’s words, “cannot make a logical decision.”
July 30, 2021
Finally, some good news. Benjamin found a place a few blocks from Gerard’s apartment. It’s beautiful, and affordable.
July 31, 2021
Benjamin took Gerard to see the home he found. Gerard’s first response, when he saw the friendly, dedicated staff, the pleasant decor, social activities in several rooms, and dining room with tantalizing food on the menu, was, “This is too fancy for me.” He’d have freaked out if he knew that it costs five thousand dollars a month, though he could easily pay that amount. So, Benjamin hid that.
I’m feeling so helpless. The whole push-pull decision turns me inside out and upside down. Do I respect his stated wishes to stay in his apartment or insist he follow his doctor’s orders? I want to respect his personal rights. So, I can’t force him to go to a home. He might even get violent if coerced. Nor can I just let him float around unattended. He’s my brother.
Today, I pulled more hair out of my head than I ever have in my life. Losing both hair and Gerard. It’s too much.
August 23, 2021
Medication management breakthrough. Gerard told me he was having trouble remembering if he took his meds.
Benjamin went to help him figure out how to track his pill-taking. The weekly pill dispensers didn’t work because he can no longer tell what day of the week it is. He took Gerard’s big monthly calendar and put each day’s pills in a clear plastic zip bag. Then he taped one bag in each square to take on that date. He calls Gerard every morning to tell him the date.
That was clever. I’m so thankful for Benjamin’s help.
August 24, 2021
Maybe a turn around? Benjamin called me to say Gerard had phoned saying, “I have no more pills.” Gerard swallowed pills from one bag, forgot he had taken the pills and swallowed the contents of the next bag. He swallowed an entire month’s worth in one day.
We all panicked and researched his meds, but Gerard seemed to have no physical effects.
The good news: it scared him enough to admit he needed help, and he said he would come home. Yay!
August 28, 2021
Everything is getting worse! I’ve been looking for days, and now I can’t find him a place anywhere in France.
And today his doctor added dementia of the Alzheimer’s variety. That means Gerard stays in the states, and he’ll have to be locked in, trapped in concrete.
Breaks my heart…I’m going to have to learn how to live with losing him.
October 2, 2021
It hurts, but I made the big decision—to let Benjamin bully him into the facility if necessary. Benjamin ended up announcing, “I’m taking you there now.”
Gerard blew his nose. “What about my cat?”
“They will let you bring her with you.” At that, Gerard just got in the car with Benjamin.
November 10, 2021
Benjamin told me today the cat peed on the facility carpet, and the stench crept out into the hallway. Everybody was afraid that taking the cat away would devastate Gerard—so they worked out a lie. Benjamin would take the cat to have her toenails clipped and never bring her back.
Both Benjamin and I get calls at all hours from a panicky Gerard, convinced the staff is stealing his property. He sometimes pushes them, and they say they are scared of him.
December 15, 2021
Oh god. Benjamin called with bad news. Gerard couldn’t walk right, leaned over to one side. They took him to the hospital. Imaging said it wasn’t a stroke and sent him back to the facility.
December 17, 2021
Gerard’s in the hospital again for stroke-like issues.
December 18, 2021
He had another stroke-like incident while he was still in the hospital. His doctor suggested putting him in hospice since his quality of life would never return.
December 23, 2021
I’ve lost him. The hospital called Benjamin, inviting him to say goodbye to Gerard.
Goodbye my brother, the sweet boy who played in the cornfields with me.
I’m too wrecked to journal.
February 7, 2022
It’s been six weeks and his body’s still not here!
I need to get him home to be with our family forever in our mausoleum.
That darn French Consulate. There are rules about how bodies are sent to France. I have no problem with that. But when the American mortuary company called the consulate twenty times to clarify French requirements, the consulate never answered.
I called the French Embassy in Washington, DC, told them to call the Los Angeles French Consulate and say, “Answer the freaking phone.” I was beside myself. Finally, they responded.
The Consulate sent the instructions—in French—to the English-speaking mortuary. Benjamin had to go through hell to get a proper translation with all the required info.
February 12, 2022
More delay. He can’t fly straight home. The mortuary has to take his casket to the L.A. French Consulate, so they can open it, look at his face and check it against his passport photo.
February 16, 2022
Gerard is finally here. His casket is an inch larger than the standard French caskets and almost didn’t fit into our family mausoleum.
March 10, 2022
I’ve discovered something amazing. Many days I read, leaning against his place in our mausoleum, and I can feel, literally feel, my brother’s sweetness enveloping me.
Released from his body, my darling Gerard has eternal happiness. And my love for him… endures.