My brother is 49, mildly retarded, and overweight.
After his release from the hospital for congestive heart failure three years ago, I’d hoped he’d heed the wake-up call to eat more healthfully and lose weight. One-eighty would be a nice target. During his recovery he ate food provided by Meals on Wheels. His weight dropped to 199.
After he returned to work and resumed preparing or buying his own food, the weight crept up and up. Seeing his shirt stretched over his big belly broke my heart. I’d tried everything I could think of to help my brother lose weight. I had only one more tactic, a tough love/cruelty hybrid I didn’t want to deploy.
Thanksgiving 2012. Plates heaped with hors d’oeuvre and snacks and drinks and candy populated every surface in the kitchen, the dining room, and the living room. My brother was eating, eating, eating.
I said, a bit sarcastically, “You do know that dinner will be served soon, right?”
I sat beside him at the big table so I could monitor his intake. (I hated the food police role. I bet he did too.)
He started to get up to load his plate with a second helping.
“You’ve had enough,” I said in his ear.
When we dropped him off at his house, I went inside for a moment. I said, “We’re going to have to separate for a while. It breaks my heart to see your weight so out of control. When you eat healthfully and lose weight, we’ll get together again and do fun stuff.”
While he was at work, I’d stop in at his house, change the bed sheets, clean the floors, stock his freezer with homemade meals. My other brother asked me why I didn’t cut our overweight brother off altogether. “Because I want him to know I love him.”
His weight continued to creep up. He was tested for thyroid problems. No issue there. Every now and then, I’d learn that he was eating donuts the boss provided when they worked overtime on Saturdays, and that he was eating breakfast at a greasy spoon… regularly . . .
This “separation” felt all wrong. Then I came across this in Chris Webb’s book The Fire of the Word: “Above all, pay attention to Jesus. How does he relate to broken people he encounters? Does he seek evidence of change in them before he offers his love, or is change a result of their experiencing love?”
Even an atheist knows the answer to that question. I felt ashamed and relieved.
I called my brother and asked if he wanted to go to church with me. He didn’t go to one at the time, but is an avid reader of daily devotionals.
After church he said, “I’d like to go to church with you every other Sunday, if you’re into it.”
“Sure, we can do that.”
2 Corinthians 5: 19 and 20 (Not counting men’s sins against them. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors) was further proof that separation is not the way to show love.
Two weeks ago my brother’s weight hit 242. His doctor told him he is “obese.”
When we spoke last night, my brother said, “Here’s the deal, if I lose weight, you’ll take me to Roots. (A giant market he likes.)”
A slimy, bubble seethed in my gut. Using weight loss as a quid pro quo lever in our relationship didn’t sit right with me. “I don’t like how this feels,” I told him.
“Now you know how I feel.”
(Touché.) “Yeah, you’re right.”
It’s out of my hands. I can help my bro, but I can’t control him.