The house is quiet… mostly. Except for the whispers of my boys who are determined not to sleep. Not that I can blame them, there’s a pretty awesome thunderstorm happening right now. I’m sitting in my dark office, watching lightning illuminate the world outside the large picture window. The almost dead, but refusing to die tree in the front yard is rocking rather precariously over my husband’s car. If I close my eyes and listen, I can hear the sophisticated symphony of the storm: wind whooshing, thunder rumbling soft and low in the distance, and rain slapping and tapping and patting the world around me. It’s a lovely lullaby.
And yet, I can’t sleep.
It's ironic that just a week or so after Bruncle was admitted to a residential treatment facility I was approached about publishing this essay about him. It was almost painful to say "Yes, I'd love to have it published" when it seemed to be null and void. It's not. Not completely anyway, but it felt like it at the time.
In early May, Bruncle was hospitalized for depression and suicidal plans. He spent 10 days there. He then spent three weeks in an outpatient daytime program at the same hospital while we fought our insurance company on the matter of admitting him to residential treatment. It was bad, to say the least, right before he left. We'd had to resort to putting up motion sensors in the house to keep everyone, including him, safe. After nearly two months of trying to get him placement, he was finally approved for the program and has been there since June 1st.
Our family sessions with Bruncle are... frustrating and circular and hopeless. I’m finally accepting that this is our life. And I can’t help but wonder, is there anything I could have done differently? Was there any singular moment that, if I’d done things differently, could have turned the tables on the whole thing and produced an alternate outcome?
But I realized something when we went down and saw him two weeks ago: I don't own this. This isn't about me. I didn't create his issues and I can't fix them. It's not my job.
And then I think to myself: what was the point? And why? Why did God ask us to do this when things are ending so terribly wrong? What was it all for? Did I misinterpret the answer to my prayers when I asked if we should take him in? Was it just guilt that prompted me to take this on? Was it the codependent, never-ending need to please my father that drove me to petition for custody? It makes me nauseous to think that that, indeed, played a huge part in this.
A few nights ago, I got a call from Bruncle’s unit manager. “Your brother was involved in an altercation this evening,” he said. “He’s lost his level 2 status and had to move rooms, he’ll also be given extra chores tomorrow…. And he has two black eyes.” I feel like the lowest of evil sisters because I was actually happy to hear it.
He started it, over his roommate breaking a pencil. a pencil that belonged to his roommate. As in, the pencil breaker was also the pencil owner. Why that would cause Bruncle to snap is beyond me. It makes my body buzz with anxiety wondering what incidences happened with my own kids that I was unaware of. You know? I mean, if he can punch a kid for breaking his own pencil, in what ways has he retaliated against my kids for touching, breaking, looking at his stuff?
My chest is heavy from the worry and the guilt. And the anger burns through me. Why did we have to get him when he was already so damaged, broken beyond repair? Why couldn’t God have moved the legal mountains in our way years before, when he was still young enough to be malleable and fixable? Why did our father have to live so long? Why couldn’t he have died five years earlier? That may seem harsh, but he was abusive and the question remains: why? Why? Why?
I just can’t seem to make sense of it. What was the point of it all? My family has been traumatized trying to help this boy overcome his trauma. We have sacrificed so much, lost so much, suffered so much all in the name of helping him and he’s worse off now than he was when he came to live with us?
Maybe that’s not entirely true.
What he has now that he didn’t have before is perspective. He has three and half years worth of good, great even, experiences. Three and a half years of people loving him, rooting for him, mentoring him, teaching him, showing him there is another way to do this thing called life. He’s gained training as a Boy Scout and as a priesthood holder. He’s been submerged in the Gospel through youth activities, conferences and camps, not to mention Seminary. He knows now what it’s like to be a member of a team and, more importantly, a family. He learned that he can do hard things from school to physical fitness to apologies. He has a wealth of tools he didn’t have before.
What do we have? Heartache. Residual stress. Financial strain.
But also, my husband and I now have a clearer idea of how we want to parent and of how to love a porcupine even when, especially when, they are bristling their quills at you. I’ve gained a keen awareness of my codependency and how it plays out in my day-to-day life. I’ve begun to heal childhood trauma that I had pushed so deep I couldn’t even find it anymore. And as I heal, all the tainted tendrils of that trauma are being extracted. I too have learned that I can do hard things, so have my children. We’ve learned that God’s love is incomprehensible in its unending devotion to His children. We’ve witnessed the healing, enabling and strengthening power of the Atonement in action everyday. I know now, without the slightest trace of doubt, that all things are possible through Christ.
So would I do this again? If someone came to me today and said, “I can erase this; do you want me to?” I’d probably be tempted to say yes, but only for a second. Then I’d square my shoulders and confidently answer no. I don't want this chapter of our lives erased.