“Corey’s a good kid.”
It was hard to sum up my brother. Often, especially later in life, this seemed the best way to do it. Almost everyone in our family had to concede this at some point. Oh, he had his problems. He was dealt a rough hand in the form of a number of health problems that plagued him throughout his life: epilepsy, autism, diabetes, spinal and stomach concerns. A combination of these concerns—coupled with the fact that he’d stopped taking his medications about a week ago without telling anyone—finally caught up with him. He passed away this past Sunday night, peacefully in his sleep. My husband and I had seen him just twenty-four hours before when we left to come back to the Cities from my hometown, Wisconsin Rapids, where we’d spent Christmas.
I start by saying he was a good kid because he really was, even at age 38. Despite the raging temper and the occasionally completely irrational behavior, you got the sense that he was someone who always wanted to do right (even when the temper and irrational behavior overruled that desire.) Long after my sister and I had moved from our hometown, Corey remained and helped take care of my parents and later just my father. (Although, his independent streak meant he insisted on living in his own apartment across town.) He would help Dad clean, get groceries, take garbage to the dump, shovel snow, and probably more things than I even know about. Dad paid him but I truly believe Corey would have done it just to be helpful.
He had trouble processing emotions. He basically had two modes: happy and angry. But there was still nuance. A couple months ago, he called me, very upset. He couldn’t find Dad. He’d called Dad’s landline and cell and Dad wasn’t answering either. I told Corey that maybe Dad had made a quick run to the store and to try calling again in half an hour. If he still couldn’t get in touch, he was to call me back. Corey called me ten minutes later. He’d driven out to Dad’s house and still couldn’t find him. Which put him in even more of a frenzy. “I worry about him,” he said to me over and over. This kind of emotion was always rare with him but very, very genuine when it emerged. (Long story short: we found Dad, he was well, and Corey chewed him out for worrying him.)
Corey and I shared a bedroom with bunk beds growing up. I’ll be the first to say I probably wasn’t the best brother. There were seven years between us and I’d never really had autism explained to me (also, his diagnosis came fairly late). I always thought he was a belligerent kid. I didn’t understand that there was so much of his behavior that he couldn’t regulate. We grew closer as adults. When I got older and came to comprehend the battles he faced on a daily basis (not just from his various medical conditions but from people who sought to take advantage of him and people who bullied him), I worried about how he’d find his way in the world. I knew, at some point, the work my parents had started—guiding and helping him—would fall to me. I always hoped I’d do as good a job as they did.
This past summer, he did something that really made me proud. Corey was obsessed with trains. When he learned that the Twin Cities had a light rail that he could ride all day, he became determined to come visit us and do just that. With Dad’s help, he got on a Greyhound and came to the Cities. He spent the weekend riding the light rail across the Twin Cities and back—no real destination; the trip was the thing—and then boarded the Amtrak to take him back home. Corey was never big on travel, especially if he was in any way responsible for driving. (He drove around town just find but long distance did not agree with him.) For him to come here and back on mass transit was huge. It was something I never imagined he would go through with. But he did and even though I worried about him every step of the way, he pulled it off without a hitch. He had planned to come again next summer. He would have been welcome.
Corey’s behavior—those fits of rage were something to behold—sometimes got him in trouble with the law. Nothing too major but enough to give him a reputation with local police. I always hated that. Because I kept seeing this good kid. This goofy kid. This kid who struck up conversations with strangers in the Amtrak depot, just to tell them how excited he was to take the train home. This kid I pulled aside after Mom died five years ago and told him I needed him to keep a close eye on Dad and, man, did that kid step up to the plate.
Fact is, Corey was a great kid.