My Brother Is Homeless

And I don't know how to save him.
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My Brother Is Homeless

And I don’t know how to save him.

-Dara Pettinelli

 A man drinking alcohol outdoors

I’ve written about my oldest brother before, but in sum: His name is Donnie and he’s an alcoholic. And a drug addict. And homeless.

A few weeks ago, my mom was driving to the grocery store in New Jersey when she noticed someone familiar walking along the highway. He was wearing red shorts, no top, and was carrying a black bag. As she got closer she realized it was my brother, her eldest stepson. Unable to pull over and unsure of his mental state, she called my dad to let him know. Everyone assumed Donnie was either on his way to our shore house or to his brother David’s house (less than a mile apart). But everyone was wrong. After days of not seeing him, David learned that Donnie had been sleeping on the beach.

It’s kinda weird to hear a story like this about a family member. A man walking along the highway, barely clothed, sleeping on the beach. Almost every day I walk past a homeless person on the streets of New York and think, “How did they get there? Where’s their family?” And now I wonder how many people saw my brother and thought the same thing.

Read How to Help a Friend Who’s Depressed

It’s very simple for me to close off any feelings for Donnie. He’s over 20 years older than me (my dad started “playing house” pretty early) and he’s always been in and out of the picture. In when he needs something. Out when he’s flying high. The stereotypical rambling man, or prodigal son. I owe him nothing and he owes me nothing. We simply share half a bloodline.

Hell, I remember the time when he showed up to one of my high school basketball games. He walked into the swankiest prep school in Philadelphia covered in tattoos and beer gut in full force, just to embarrass me (at least that’s what I thought at the time). I swear one of my teammates actually asked what the homeless dude was doing there. Just the way Peter denied Christ, I wanted to deny my brother more than three times. And just last summer, I made fun of the fact that he was selling french fries on the boardwalk. A grown man working a minimum-wage job that high school kids do for the summer? O-M-G. Soo em-barr-ass-ing. We are so not related.

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10 thoughts on “My Brother Is Homeless

  1. As bizarre as this sounds, there are some people who actually want to be homeless. However, this is just heart-breaking, especially as there is nothing you can do to help him.

  2. Really honest story. We’re always supposed to want to help relatives like this, but sometimes we just don’t. It’s not going to do them any good, and it will probably do us some harm.

  3. My ex husband is in a similar position. I had to leave him because he could not/would not? do anything to help himself. When he did something that threatened my life, I left. I carry the guilt I feel about this every day like a backpack I never get to take off.

  4. funny, when people have a disease that’s mental we turn our backs because it’s hard to deal with them, but when it’s physical, like cancer, we do everything we can for them.

  5. As hard as it is the one thing you have to remember is that until he decides to help himself you nor can anyone else give him anything that he will need to make a difference. The one thing you can not allow to happen is that you loose sight of what is really important. Yes he is your brother and yes he has made his choice. You and your family also have a choice. Love is not always an easy thing to have for someone but it is necessary for not only the person you are most perplexed, angered, or hurt by. It is necessary for you in you being able to forgive not only him for his choices but yourself for the anger, hurt, and resentment you may feel. Until you can learn to love him and not feel the negative emotions stirring up in you it will always cause issues in your life. You have to choose to forgive, accept, and love him from afar if necessary. You can not make his choices for him. Mentally ill or not we all have the right to make our own mistakes. No one else is responsible for our choices and no one else should feel guilty if our choices are less than what society or others deem as normal. Love your brother, forgive him, accept him and live your life knowing you love him and if he should decide to make a change to improve upon his life that is the moment you can finally be of great benefit to your brother and hopefully show him that you love him and do not resent, hate, or are hurt by his choices. It is hard I know. I have family members who have made similar choices in their lives. I love them and wait for the moment I can be there for them when they are ready. I pray that you and your family will be able to find the same peace, understanding and greater strength that love and forgiveness can afford.

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