The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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I can't deal with the death of my violent brother whom I loved and hated.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Right now I want to turn to the phones and we’ll welcome Lillian to the show. Welcome to the show Lillian.


Lillian:             Hi.


Dr. Kenner:      Hi. Tell me, what is your question?


Lillian:             My question is, how can I deal with anxiety and terrible depression over the death of my brother, without medication?


Dr. Kenner:      Your brother recently died? What happened?


Lillian:             Well, my brother was in prison for 45 years for various things. At first he ran away from home and then he got into the system that way and then he got into heroine in prison, the juvenile places, and he just turned 60 and got out of prison. He was doing really well at a job and he was getting married, but he had heart failure.


Dr. Kenner:      Okay, so it was a sudden death?


Lillian:             I went over to take care of him, and we didn’t get along and I loved him so much and he died.


Dr. Kenner:      What did you love about him?   


Lillian:             I know it sounds ridiculous, but even in prison I keep getting letters of how he changed people’s lives and he gave a speech once, when he got out for a short time, and the Dean at the University of Washington wanted to give him, pay him to go and lecture around how the penal system doesn’t work. He was very charismatic and I loved him and he took care of us when our parents were abandoned us. We were on the streets for months before.


Dr. Kenner:      How old were you then?


Lillian:             So we had a special bond and I loved him so much and he’s dead now and every time I think about it I feel like I’m going to go mad, but there’s nothing you can do.


Dr. Kenner:      How long ago did he die?


Lillian:             July 12.


Dr. Kenner:      So several months ago.


Lillian:             Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      What has helped, in that interim?


Lillian:             For two weeks, I didn’t care. I was just engulfed in grief and there was nothing that could pull me out of it. Then all the sudden I snapped out of it and I can’t exactly tell you what snapped me out. Whether it was a Gershwin tune – I used to be in Broadway musicals – and I think music helped me. And I’m a real estate agent as well. But then I keep getting waves of the reality of him being dead and his ashes were in my trunk. He hated the cold and I had to run out there and bring them in.


Dr. Kenner:      You had to run in and bring what?


Lillian:             I’m lighting candles and I’m not religious.


Dr. Kenner:      You had to run out and bring what in?


Lillian:             His ashes. Because he hates the cold.


Dr. Kenner:      Yes.


Lillian:             I feel like I’m going [inaudible 00:02:59].


Dr. Kenner:      So here’s what I’m hearing, that you, even though he was in prison, you’re saying that you owe him so much from the beginning of life.


Lillian:             Exactly.


Dr. Kenner:      And that you are so appreciative of that and you didn’t get along at the end, so it wasn’t a good end for both of you?


Lillian:             No.


Dr. Kenner:      You didn’t get any closure there. But know that it’s within you. Your capacity to love and appreciate is within you. That’s a trait of your own. That’s a character trait that you’ve developed over the years. Another person would have said, “You know what? I hated him. I hated his guts.” There are things about your brother that you probably didn’t like, because he was in prison right?


Lillian:             Well, he’d always escape and he’d rob our family and even robbed places that I worked at, when I was a concierge at a hotel, and he robbed it.


Dr. Kenner:      So he violated individual rights all the time?


Lillian:             All the time. He was not perfect and he did a lot of horrible things. He wasn’t in prison for –


Dr. Kenner:      What’s the most horrible thing he did?               


Lillian:             Armed robbery.


Dr. Kenner:      So it could have been me or you at the point of a gun, right? At his gun. So when you judge a person, you want to make sure to keep the full picture. The full context. That’s what I was talking about at the beginning, when I said it could be worse, it could be raining. But you want to hold the full context. This man, on the whole, was not a loveable person. He is someone who could turn on you. He was someone who was using drugs, did you say heroine?


Lillian:             Yes.


Dr. Kenner:      He was someone who screwed up his life at the very beginning. He had a really hard start. Granted that. But there are a lot –


Lillian:             But I had the same one.


Dr. Kenner:      Exactly. So you ran an experiment in your family and you notice that you made much better choices. And I just finished a tape on Frederick Douglas, who was a slave, and you know what? He was brought up being beaten, really badly beaten, and he became a phenomenal individual. You don’t to know the history, but I would say that on the whole, you can say that you have the capacity to value what your brother did heroically at the outset of your life. But then he made a series of very bad choices that got worse over time. He destroyed what could have been your loving brother. So when you met him at the end of his life – you didn’t know it was the end of his life – but when you met him at the end of his life, you were probably holding out some hopes that the university, the Dean or something, you were probably holding out some hopes that he would be a much better person. But my guess is, given the whole long history, 60 years, that you didn’t get along with him at the end there. So something was –


Lillian:             I was taking care of him and he was acting like an ass.


Dr. Kenner:      So he’s not a good person. I think your brain needs to be able to integrate that over time. And it doesn’t sound so much, I know that you’re feeling like you have a lot of depression and anxiety, but that’s normal. Anxiety is uncertainty and you don’t know how to place your brother in your own mind. Was he a good person or a bad person? Could you have done more or should you have just dumped him at one point? You need to go through grief. You need active grieving. Grieving is allowing yourself to ball your eyes out, because you need to be able to have the thoughts. You can connect them clearly. Just like you’re doing on radio right now with me. You want to acknowledge the death, understand his death, understand your own pain that you’re feeling. Reconnect to his memory. It’s not him. But just, if I were you, I would try to preserve what you loved about him without denying that he did armed robbery. This is not a good person.


Lillian:             It wasn’t for his own wealth. It was because heroine is illegal.


Dr. Kenner:      I understand he was addicted and I understand people do really bad things on that, but people also work to get off of it too. As you said, you did much better. I wish we could continue this. I know we’re at the end of time. Thank you so much and I encourage you to get grief therapy.



Movie clip       

Male 1:             What a filthy job.

Male 2:             Could be worse.

Male 1:             How?

Male 2:             Could be raining.


Dr. Kenner:      And that’s a classic line from Young Frankenstein. There are times when my husband and I are just frustrated with something and we’ll look at one another and say, “It could be worse. It could be raining.” That’s actually a very good therapy skill, to be able to keep a sense of proportion. Even today, today I went out and had to return some bedding that I bought. The sheets didn’t fit. So I went to return it and I couldn’t find the sales slip anywhere and I was really stressing out about this. Now, think about the things you can stress out about in your life. Losing a sales slip is minor, and one of the therapy skills is to keep a sense of proportion. To be able to say, “It could be worse. You could have lost a lot more than just a receipt for bedding.”