Tragic Loser

29 Apr

Dear LetterBalm: I’m angry and fed-up. My 32-year-old brother showed up at my door a month ago, having been kicked out by yet another exasperated roommate. I installed him in an apartment I own. He took my car without permission, totaled it and wound up in the hospital. As I was going to take the sergeant’s exam (I’m a cop), the hospital called to say my brother was unconscious. Turned out it was minor bruises, but I have to postpone the test for another six months and figure out how to afford another car because he was uninsured. This is the latest screw-up. My brother is smart but never sticks with anything. He quit college after a year. He’s worked at a succession of jobs, but he pisses off his bosses and gets fired. He has talent as a gardener and worked at a friend’s nursery, but he slacked off and lost interest. My brother was raised by loving, patient, supportive parents. (My mother says she loves him because he’s her son, but he’s impossible.) He’s never been abused or molested, and he doesn’t abuse alcohol or use drugs. When he came out as gay in high school, he was accepted by his family and a wide circle of friends. He’s had career counseling, guidance counseling, medical tests, therapy – two shrinks threw up their hands trying to advise him – and all kinds of cognitive and emotional testing. Everything is normal, including his recognition of goals and consequences. He’s the proverbial “nice guy” who infuriates you with his lack of drive and his whining about how it’s not his fault and how things are unfair. I just don’t know what to say anymore.

–Stumped and Steaming

One can ask, in one’s best therapist voice:  “So, how do you really feel?” Your brother’s psyche has been a pincushion for every therapy probe under the sun. How do you think he feels? Not to diminish your very real litany of concerns, but in everyone’s zeal to ascertain what’s wrong, your sibling may well have been conditioned to believe he’s a failure. It may be too late for him to change the trajectory of his life, even if he somehow develops the strength and insight to do so. Ms. L.B. advises continued patience, fairness and firmness in dealing with your brother – and, don’t be guilt-tripped by his whining. But she thinks you should have a serious talk with your mom about making provisions for her son after her death. It’s clear he’s going to need help throughout his life because, tragically, his ineptitude and hopelessness probably will dog him all his days. Talk to your mom thusly (and your brother shouldn’t know about this):

Mom, I fully understand if you don’t want another discussion about Wally. We’re all talked out except for one thing, which is uncomfortable to deal with. We have to face facts. Wally can live rent-free in the apartment indefinitely, and he’ll work a bunch of low-level jobs to support his needs. But it’s clear to me that he’ll need some kind of financial assistance for the rest of his life after you’re gone. I think you should privately make provisions for him in your will – perhaps monthly income that can be managed for Wally so he doesn’t blow through the money. If you think this is a good idea, you might make an appointment with your lawyer and estate planner ASAP. Giving Wally solid help will put your mind at ease.


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