My Big Brother

This photo was taken just a couple of months ago. We were going out to lunch, and we had a blast. A really great memory!

The phone call came in the middle of the night – my brother passed away. He had been in a nursing home for a very long time – close to two years I think – with deteriorating health leading to congestive heart failure at the end.

He was eighty years old, so this is not a tragic loss, but he is my only brother. I can say that I’m ready to deal with this, that it’s been a long road for him, and us, through this illness, but in all honesty I’m not sure that anyone is ever really ready.

Memories rush forward in my mind, in a slide show of sorts, playing out the years.  Funny things, sad things, crazy things, all in a jumble. Perhaps I’ll be able to make sense of it as I go through the next few days. Iggy (I have no idea where that nickname came from) was a lot older than me; he had already graduated from high school when I was born, so we weren’t growing-up-together-siblings in the traditional sense of the word, but he did live with us off and on over the years, and when he wasn’t living with us he was still close by.

I think I was about eight years old in this picture — my big brother was really BIG!

I have no regrets, and that’s one of the best things. In July 2010, he had to have part of one leg amputated and I drove often to see him in the hospital. A day or two after the surgery he asked me not to leave him, and I was able to stay all night. The hospital staff was great – they brought me one of those recliners that all hospitals have, and I dozed off and on while the Three Stooges Marathon roared in the background. He also dozed, and we talked off and on. He told me secrets and talked about his dreams and regrets about his life; that night was the closest we had ever been. Our conversation was what I imagine siblings sometimes share, however rare it might be, and I will ever be thankful for that. The funniest postscript is that afterwards he didn’t remember that I was there! I’m OK with it, though – I remember.

I was in high school when he performed this prank. You can’t tell, but he drove across the lawn onto a narrow walkway between the patio and in-ground swimming pool. He was probably three feet away from the edge, although no one even blinked.

I wrote this poem last January, after a visit with him. Somehow it says more than I can manage right now:

On Visiting My Brother

He had just graduated high school
when I was born –
starting out to have his own life,
as I was, too.

He belonged to an older generation,
not really brotherly
as I was growing up,
but I adored him, and
he did offer to beat up
any boys who bothered me.

As the eldest sibling, his job
was to look after me,
but he was the one always in trouble.

He had a Harley, rode fast
with the Hell’s Angels —
I still can’t believe
our mother didn’t know.

So it seems only fitting, now
that he’s in hospice care
that I should look after him.
I, too, have a Harley.

Somehow, though, it’s not the same.

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That’s What Friends Are For

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

Albert Einstein - Image via Wikipedia

A week ago I learned that a former student of mine died; he was only 23, and it was unexpected, one of those tragedies that force people to step back for a minute and think about how precious life is. This student’s mother had been a paraprofessional in my classroom for a number of years, so I reached out to see what I could do to help. Turns out, there was a lot that she needed help with.

Fortunately, I was able to get a few other people to help, too, and sharing the load makes a huge difference.  It made me remember why I have always loved living in this small town. When the important stuff happens, people are willing and glad to come forward to help. And it’s good, because people will say, “I can’t do more than this, but I can do this,” so everyone knows where the boundaries are. There were enough people pitching in this week to truly ease the burden on the family, and I’m glad we were able to do it.

For a small town, though, we seem to have had more than our share of death among our young people. For years, I’ve kept a hidden list, and written several poems about the losses. Illnesses and accidents, some of the deaths were even violent – far too many tragedies in a town with a population of fewer than 5,000 residents. With this week’s loss, I’ve decided to stop counting. It’s just too sad, and I think adding someone’s name to a list demeans the significance of that person’s life.

At the memorial service, which was held in the largest funeral home in the area, it was standing room only and of course many attendees were this young man’s friends – all too young to have to say good-bye this way. At the end of the service anyone who wanted to share a story or memory was invited to do so, and several friends and relatives came forward.

Most of them spoke about all that they had learned from him, and it really got me thinking. This young man was not a star student in school, although he did enough good work to pass. I found it intriguing that his friends and family spoke with great emphasis about how much wisdom he possessed, and how smart he was.  We never can know what goes on inside a person’s mind, and he was paying attention to his own curriculum, which did not necessarily include writing research papers and citing sources.

I save lists of topics that students choose for certain projects, and it’s in my records that he chose to do his hero project on Albert Einstein. It fits with all the remarks made at the funeral.  I am truly glad that his friends and family paid attention to his wisdom.

I think that when a person is born, there is a ripple effect in the universe, like the ripple in still waters, and all the people who know that person are affected and influenced by that person. It changes history, even if it’s just a little bit. The ripple this young man made in the universe while he was with us will make a difference, and his legacy will live on in the good things his friends and family will hold in their hearts.

Life is good.