On Thanksgiving day 1996, my mother called and asked if I could visit the next day, Black Friday. She wanted me to see my brother, who she feared was depressed and could use a lift. I enjoyed the rest of my day with my children, wife and her family and woke up early the next day so I could finish the 5 hour drive by lunch time. When I arrived at my Mom’s house my brother was there and on the surface all seemed normal. As the day progressed though I noticed that his clothes seemed to be hanging loosely on his frame. He was a little distant and didn’t seem to want to engage much. He had recently lost his job and was stuck as to what to do next. The next day I offered to follow him to his home in Richmond and once there we could go to the library and work on his resume. He just wasn’t interested in anything I was trying to work on with him. After a while it was time for me to drive back to my home. Out in the parking lot I asked “Is there anything else you can tell me, anything I’m just not seeing?”. His was response was “Well, I might have tried crack once or twice.” I didn’t know anything at all about crack and my naïve response was “well don’t do that again.” As you may have guessed my efforts to help were not of much use.
Four weeks later, two days before Christmas, I woke up with this divine message “go get your brother!”. I knew I had to leave as soon as possible. I called my brother to tell him I was coming down that day to help him. I called my Dad who was in Washington DC for a meeting and asked if he could come with me. I didn’t know what to expect or what I was going to do. I picked up Dad a few hours later and headed to Richmond. On the way to get my Dad I listened the recording of “Goals” by Zig Zigler several times. It really inspired me!
On the way to Richmond, Dad asked what my plan was. My brother didn’t know I was bringing Dad. All I could tell Dad was that when we got there, we would know what to do. I did tell Dad everything I knew which wasn’t much. I just went over the conversations that my brother and I had had. When we did arrive, my brother came to the door to greet us and he was of course surprised to see Dad. I didn’t hesitate to speak 1st. I asked my brother “will you let us help you”. He replied yes, he could use our help and we could start by taking him the VA hospital in Richmond. My brother and Dad are both veterans. When we got to the hospital, it was now late afternoon and they informed us that they were at capacity with other veterans. Dad was taking charge of speaking with the receptionist and filling out forms. They were to give My brother some medication that would help him deal with the effects of not having crack. While Dad was doing that I asked My brother what it was we were dealing with. That’s when he told me he was addicted to crack cocaine. That is when it hit me and I knew we would likely have a tough road ahead. I didn’t know everything but I did know that addiction ran in our family and I had witnessed 1st hand what a cross it was to bear. Our mother’s father had lived with us the last years of his life as an alcoholic. My mother kept him clean and sober after going through detox at 76 years old in a hospital. Many hospitals wouldn’t take him because of the advanced stage of alcoholism and his age. One hospital did. They must have seen the same iron gut strong willed Tennessee mountain man and D-Day veteran that I knew. He made it through and my history with him gave me confidence that my brother could do the same thing.
That afternoon one of the worst ice storms in Central Virginia history was bearing down on us. We all loaded in to my car and took my Dad to the bus station to catch a ride back to DC. My brother and I went to his house to gather a few things and head to our Mom’s house in the mountains of Virginia. While at the house getting what he needed and getting his dog, a Rottweiler, set for the night, the phone started to ring. He would answer and explain that he couldn’t talk. Well, the phone kept ringing. More people were calling and it was stalling us. I could feel the cold steel breath of evil in my presence. I told My brother to stop answering and who were these people anyway?. It turns out that his house was the crack house, but I feared no evil. I felt as if God had placed a protective bubble around me! So the next time the phone rang I answered it. I told whoever it was on the other end that the party was over. He and the others would have to find another party house and ruin someone else’s life. My brother informed me that this particular person was his supplier but had a prosthetic leg and I should take it easy. Well, that was it. I told the idiot on the phone that we were leaving and if he came over while we were still there I would rip his fake leg off and beat his brains in with it. Then I ripped the phone cord out of the wall. My brother’s house had no heat. The poor dog would have to tough it out with some blankets until we could get him in the morning.
I took my brother to the closest hotel that I could find and got us a room. There was a Denny’s next door that was getting ready to close due to the storm. I asked if they could please take us in as there was nothing else open and we were starving. I never saw someone eat so much. My brother ate cheeseburgers, French fires, mile shakes – you name it. The cook, server and manager came over to sit with us and watch my emaciated brother eat more than he had probably eaten since Thanksgiving. One thing that I learned about crack is that it will rob you of all sensibility. A crack addict will steal form their own mother to get money to buy crack and they would rather starve and get high than eat.
After my brother ate everything but the kitchen sink we walked back to the hotel and checked into our room. My brother proceeded to lie down on the bed closest to the window. I settled in and decided to follow up with Dad to make sure he got home and reach out to Mom, two of our Aunts and our one surviving grandmother, all of whom were put on watch this day. The last call was to Grandmom. Ten years earlier when I told my Dad I was engaged to get married he instructed me to call my grandparents as they had something for me that would help. They asked me to drive down to South Carolina to meet with them in person and so I did. Even though we were about 11 hours away I made the drive with some regularity to visit with them. My best childhood memories were of visiting my grandparents, uncle and aunts and cousins! We would always go to my Great Uncle Bill’s farm to fish, swim, shoot, chase and run from cows and just plain horse around. Well, when I arrived at Grandmom and Granddad’s house there was note on the back porch screen door to go to the farm and meet them there. I wasn’t prepared for what I was to about to see.
My Uncle Bill had taken his own life. He called my grandparents to have them go the pharmacy to pick up his medication and bring it to him on the farm. When they arrived his lifeless body was lying beside the screened in porch. He had them do this so that his body wouldn’t lay there for days before being discovered. As I drove around the back of the old log house to find my grandparents, they both turned to look at me. My grandfather pointed at me and said “Promise me you’ll never turn your back on your brother!”. I promised him I would do as he said. Fast forward, back to the hotel room, I told my Grandmom that I got my brother and her oldest grandson out of harm’s way. He was with me and he was safe now. And nothing was going to take him from us. When I hung up the phone I could see my brother was fast asleep. I looked out the window and could see the ring round the moon while listening to the tinkle of the ice hitting the window. It was the 1st time My brother and I had shared a room since we were little boys. All was peaceful now and I started to pray and thank God for looking after us that day. It was then that I made a promise that I would never turn my back on another human being who needed help. I would spend the rest of my life with this as my mission.
The next day the roads were clear, the sky was blue and the air was a crisp winter cold on Christmas Eve. We went to get My brother’s dog China and headed west into the mountains to meet our Mom at a kennel who could take China. Mom asked if I could have lunch with them but all I could think of was getting back to my children before sundown and enjoy Christmas Eve with them. We had a harrowing two days and God had delivered to us the greatest Christmas gift of all – our brother and son.
My brother was broke in more ways than any man could be broke. He would lose his family, his job, his house, his car and even his dog. He went on to heal as completely as a person could at our Mom’s house. I started calling it the Healing House. As time would pass I would come to see not only my grandfather and brother heal there but be part of the last years of my grandfather, My Great Aunt Ruth and my Step Dad Bruce’s lives. They all passed from this life to heaven in the most loving place on earth, my Mom’s house, a true living healing house.
I learned a lot of lessons through all of this. I learned that when you come across someone who needs help, God is placing you in their path for a reason. Act on it. Have faith and courage. God will take care of you. When the work of evil is at play fighting to take the life of a loved one, fight back. The devil doesn’t fight fair and neither should you – especially when it comes to the life of a loved one. Love your brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, or friend but fight the devil with everything you’ve got. God will give you the opportunity and all the resources you need to succeed. All you need to do is fight for your loved one. You will succeed. Goodness will defeat evil every time when you approach life’s challenges this way. My vision for the Healing House Foundation came to me through this experience. Now, twenty five years later the dream has come true. My brother went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, one of the best schools in the country, and then work in the Clinical Psychology Department at the University of Virginia hospital! He and I also did an intervention together saving one of my tenants and reuniting him with his family!
My hope and wish and prayer is that this real life story will inspire you to give greatly, love deeply and act with courage. Use The Healing House Foundation as a resource in your journey to help a loved one who needs housing. Whether they be a single mom with children leaving an unhealthy relationship, a homeless person, a wounded veteran, a handicapped person, an abused child or a recovering addict, they likely need a temporary home filled with love – a healing house! Use The Healing House Foundation to help those in need of a warm bed today by donating whatever your heart calls you to. God bless you and your family.
Gary P. Wilson
Founder of the Healing House Foundation