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“All the Love I Felt I Didn’t Deserve”

I was an impulsive, temperamental, aggressive child. I got in trouble a lot. And over time, I convinced myself that no one — not even my own brother — could possibly love me. I was wrong, and I almost found that out too late.

My brother, Ron, died in the wee hours of April 23, 2015, after a two-year struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Death, however, did not wipe away the tears of grief and loss — or regret.

A roadside hotel was the final stop on our journey to Ron’s funeral. After checking into our room, I was left alone while my wife Deanna went back to our car to retrieve a forgotten item. In this momentary solitude I became overwhelmed with grief, weeping bitterly. I couldn’t explain at the time why my grief was so burdensome. I realize now that my grief was more complicated because self-stigma cost me many years of relationship with Ron.

I’m told that, as toddlers, Ron and I were inseparable. As the youngest child, I was doted on by my siblings, yet I seldom felt belonging or security in my family. I’ve lived all my life with attention deficit disorder, and because of this, my childhood was defined by conflict. When I entered kindergarten in 1949, few doctors, mental health professionals, teachers, or parents were familiar with ADHD. Students were either “good” kids or “bad” kids — there was not yet a medical explanation for my behaviors. My ADHD manifested in several forms. I was overly attentive to stimuli, struggled with impulsivity control, and I had a volatile temper.

You’d be correct to assume that I wasn’t treated well by other kids. Either excluded or provoked by classmates, I was frequently involved in fights. If there was a black eye on campus, I was usually wearing it — or had inflicted it! With few exceptions, I was also disliked by my teachers. Overall, I felt rejected by peers, teachers, and my family.

I came to believe that Ron, especially, disliked me. Through the lens of my negative self-stigma, I witnessed constant “signs” that reinforced these (false) beliefs, which persisted into adulthood. In time, I chose to avoid contact with Ron. While traveling on business and passing within two miles of Ron’s house (some two hours away from home), I made a point not to “disturb” him. Being estranged from Ron hurt, but I reasoned that Ron preferred it this way. I spent years avoiding my brother.

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Wouldn’t you know it? Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my perceptions began to break down. My ugly scribbles of rejection became drawn into a new and more beautiful picture.

The new picture began to take shape after deciding to attend my high school’s 100-year anniversary celebration. Given our past, I avoided asking Ron if he was also making the trip back home for the event. Upon arrival, I learned from others that he was indeed present.

I was conflicted! Ron was in the same building, and I really didn’t know what to do! Should I find him and speak with him? Should I avoid him? Should I leave unnoticed? What was Ron thinking? 

I was wrestling with all of this when Ron emerged from the crowd and wrapped me a huge, warm, and loving embrace! My inner response was shock. What?! Ron? I didn’t know you cared! (I still can’t reflect on this moment without crying.)

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The love I experienced in that embrace challenged my self-stigma and long-held perceptions. Ron did care about me, love me, and consider me a brother. I realized I’d been craving this relationship for a long time. With these new understandings, I started making intentional efforts to spend time with him. I hoped that, in time and without fanfare, I would be able to reconcile our relationship and the pain from our past.

We were in the early stages of rebuilding our sibling relationship when Ron became ill.

A couple of weeks before Ron died, I spoke on the phone with Glen, a best friend of Ron’s, and someone whom all of us siblings consider a part of our own family. Glen told me of a conversation he’d had with Ron when they were eighth graders.

“Jack, you may not know this, but when Ron and I were becoming friends he knew you were treated badly at school. He made a point to tell me, ‘We’re going to be friends, Glen, but you need to know that Jack is a part of the package, and it will stay that way’.” Glen told me he’d witnessed Ron confronting my tormentors and compelling them to stop their harassment on many occasions. He finished, “You may not know it, Jack, but Ron was always looking out for you.”

I hadn’t known this part of my history, but it is some of the most beautiful scribbling in my canvas of life.

Deanna and I were planning a stop at Ron’s home two weeks after that phone call. I was looking for a way to express my gratitude for his love and protection all those years ago. Sadly, Ron passed away before this visit, and I will never again have a chance to say, “Thank you.”

[Read This Next: You Are Not the Villain: ADHD, Emotions & Self-Blame]


2 Comments & Reviews

  1. That was a tear jerker! And I can certainly understand your feelings; I would be thinking the same things. Still, you need to realize that most families (if not all) have issues. Being a child is complicated no matter what, and as humans, we are good at assuming we know what the other person thinks, especially when it comes to what they think about us!. ADHD and ADD run in my family. We were horrible communicators, so when we were upset, we didn’t know how to deal with it. Childhood was kind of typical in that there was a lot of yelling and chasing. But as we got older, it turned into the “silent treatment.”

    I’m the oldest of three, and I have two brothers. There have been times when we barely communicated, and it was painful. After going through not talking to both of my brothers over separate issues, for an extended period of time, I finally decided that was not ever happening again. I made an effort to reach out to both of my brothers, and I started inviting them and their families to our home. My parents are gone now, and I felt as though someone needed to step up and make sure we remained a “family.”

    We’re very fortunate that we’ve all become much closer. For my part, I’m aware of what I say and how easily things can be misinterpreted. I try to find things we can all enjoy and focus on when we get together. We are respectful towards one another, and we express our love. My parents (mom in particular) were not very demonstrative, although we knew they loved us, so we now hug and say “I love you.” It was a bit awkward at first, but now it’s what we do and it feels good!

    However, you have to remember that you and your brother ended up having a good relationship. If I were to put myself in his place, I think I’d be happy to have you back in my life, even if it was for a relatively short time. He obviously loved you and that means he would want you to be at peace. It’s okay to feel your emotions and miss the things that could have been. But, also realize that someone you loved also loved you, so that makes you very worthwhile and lovable. I think he gave you a wonderful gift, and I hope that eventually you’ll be able to see that above all else.

  2. There are tears in my eyes as I read this. Raising an 11 yo grandson who has acute ADHD and ODD. He got in trouble at school already -1st week of school- I want to tell him how much I love ❤️ him in spit of his challenges. Thank you

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