I have a brother, his name is John, he is two and a half years older than me, and he has some form of dementia, grouped under the heading Alzheimer's. I can no longer communicate with him, aside from sending him a monthly picture letter that probably helps me more than it helps him. He lives two hundred miles away and I see him once every six weeks or so. I'm not sure he recognises me now, but I think he feels some sort of connection. It's a deep sadness for me and today I decided to write down the thoughts that swirl around in my head - they've taken the form of a letter....
When I think of you, I see you as a child of 9 or 10, full of mischief, or with a puzzled look, as though you're not quite sure what is happening.
You're my big brother. When we were children I'd do anything you told me to do, then you'd tell mum & dad and I'd be chastised, firstly for doing whatever it was and secondly for doing it because you'd told me to.
Nothing seemed to bother you, but I took everything to heart, especially when I was wrongly accused. I'd be upset for days and you'd skip off and have forgotten all about it in a twinkling.
I've never really known you. You tolerated me when we were children, thumped me whenever you could, avoided me when we were adolescents and distanced yourself when you went off to work.
I don't know what you think. I know you've never had much to say - at least not to me. I can't recall you ever starting a conversation, beyond asking me "Are you alright?". I don't know your likes and dislikes. I know you like birdwatching, you were never keen on tomato cores, you'd rather not eat fish, and that's about it.
I know there have been times of crisis in your life that have affected you deeply. I offered support to try and help. I knew you were upset, but I never really knew how you felt or what you thought.
Looking back, it seems as though you've been carefully locking away the pain of all those treacherous times. And little by little, you've finally locked yourself away and none of us can find the key. We can't help you, we can't reach you. We don't know where you are.
I suppose I imagined that as we grew older, we'd somehow grow closer, we'd have more things in common, there would be more time to get to know each other.
Instead I'm writing this letter for both of us ......
I love you.