“First cry, cry, cry your heart out, it is love, it is the only way…”
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die…
Art was my big brother. We called him Bucky. I don’t know why except he had the same name as my Dad and Dad had a nickname when he was young. So I guess that was the tradition. Doesn’t matter. He was my big brother. He was enough years older than I that he could always do things better than I could. When we would have Saturday night wrestling on Mom and Dad’s bed when they were out (don’t tell!) he would flip me around quite easily and if I ever got the advantage it was because he let me. That didn’t matter to me. He was my big brother. I was just happy he would wrestle. It was the same for every game we played. Wiffle ball he could kill my fastball and never would swing at the curve. Basketball? Forget it. Knee hockey? Not a chance. From my perspective he was larger than life.
And that is why it was no surprise to me when as a junior in high school he started for Minnetonka High School when they won the Minnesota State High School Basketball Championship in 1965. It was such a big deal for our little town (think Hoosiers) and my brother was in the middle of it. There was a sign put on our street sign that read, “the home of Bucky Ives.” The whole world saw that he was a hero, just like I thought. It seemed so natural and right. And of course I had the same thought when he was accepted to go to college at Dartmouth. No one from my little town in Minnesota went to an Ivy League school but Art did. You see he was my big brother.
So, of course, I never understood what happened his senior year at Dartmouth. It was unfathomable what he was doing. All of a sudden he was home without an explanation or none that I heard. He quit school just a few months before he was to graduate. That began the endless cycle of effort and failure like a fly trying to buzz through a window that he doesn’t even know is there. His life after Dartmouth was fits and starts. He would get a job and believe and get all of us to believe that the old Bucky had returned only to lose the energy and then the job. The boy wonder could not recapture what had been lost. It reminded me of Gatsby looking across the bay at the cosmic green light not aware that the pinnacle of his life was already behind him.
Perhaps it was the fact, that in his mind, nothing was enough success. Most everything seemed to him a failure. He could take no solace in small victories or successes. He became addicted to alcohol and ended up in rehab a number of times. Each one was the same cycle. He would work the program earnestly (trying to be the star rehab person) for a while but inevitably it was not good enough and he would slip. And it was a bitter despair he would fall into. It was some time in those cycles that he was diagnosed as suffering from bi polar disorder.
That, of course, should have been the turning point of the story and in a way it was but not happily. Nothing seemed to ruin my brother more than that diagnosis and the medication that went with it. Gone was any initiative so as to not risk the mania of bi polar. The care paradigm for that diagnosis is atrocious and destructive. A lifetime of meds was not what he needed. The problem was no one knew what he needed. Everything we did to help proved futile. The combination of drugs he took left him helpless and taken over many years almost assured an early death. It is what happens. His meds did nothing to address the underlying despair and the cycles continued except now they were far more depressive than manic. He was in and out of programs and hospitals and nothing seemed to help. Then he all but drank himself to death and suffered what was akin to a stroke though it was alcohol driven. From that time on he lived in assisted living down outside of Asheville, North Carolina. He was not far from where my parents retired. I wish I could say that I saw him often. You see, he was my big brother and I knew who he was and he was not the person who lived in a nursing home so far away. It killed me to see him that way, so mostly I didn’t.
My brother’s suffering came to an end on the Saturday before Easter. His death broke my heart. Guilt and helplessness overwhelmed me. Death is a cold darkness and it pulled me under. Even ministers have their dark moments and this was one. I was supposed to take a Midnight Run early Easter morning and then of course Easter. How could I? Or more to the point how couldn’t I? I am fond of saying that our faith either matters in the most desperate times or it doesn’t at all. If Easter was made for anyone it was/is for my brother. As it turned out Easter was a wonderful blessing to me and, I pray, to him. Easter made more sense than ever and somewhere in the midst of it I realized that Art was in far better care now. Somehow that released me too.
The Rev. Dr. Timothy Ives is the pastor at Scarborough Presbyterian Church and a licensed psychoanalyst.