It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I
knocked my brother down and then we had tea. ~Dylan Thomas
To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know
each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private
family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We
live outside the touch of time. ~Clara Ortega
The day my brother died (really, was it only yesterday?) the phone call woke me up. I had been expecting it for days and days but still it felt like the extension of some strange unhappy dream. Those are the saddest words you’ll ever hear, but if you mix them up with a blessing and a relief they lose some of their edge. He was nothing if not strong, and he fought the good fight. I went to the living room where W was reading the paper and told him. My brother passed away this morning. I’m going to cook some bacon.
Of course those two things don’t have anything at all to do with each other. And even to myself as I said them they sounded like words stating random facts, coming from a person who didn’t care. But there were five kids in my house for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I’d promised them the night before that I’d make them bacon and eggs for breakfast. After all, life does go on. If you don’t think too hard about it, you can get yourself through just about anything.
I talked to my son, and I talked to my daughter. Are you okay? they wanted to know. Of course, don’t worry, I’m fine, I told them. Don’t worry about me, I’m sad but I’ll be fine.
So no crying through breakfast, or the dishes, or the packing up, or the three cups of coffee, the last-minute hair cuts (I also promised Omayja bangs) and not even any tears when they all trooped out of the house and drove away. Then there was just one granddaughter left for a couple more hours, not in any hurry to go home. We did a few things, looked at some old photographs, ate some lunch. I made travel plans, called work, got mad at W for saying something stupid, although now I don’t remember what it was except for my words being the result of all those pushed down feelings bouncing to the surface.
I kept it together until he left to drive Kenzie home, and then the dam burst. This is the totally useless thing I do. It all comes out when I’m alone because I don’t want anybody else to feel bad or feel sorry for me, or for all I know, even suspect that I have any feelings at all.
Finally, finally – when it matters the least, the guilt and the remorse hit hard. I wasn’t there for my brother or his wife and family or my siblings when they could have used my support, and without a tremendous amount of prodding I might not even have sent that last e-mail or made that final phone call before it was too late, because this is also what I do. I go out of my way to avoid the unpleasant things in life. Stuff it all away somewhere, let other people deal with it, turn my back, write a bunch of meaningless shit about it later.
My brother and I weren’t as close as we might have been all these years. We lived far away, we grew apart, there’s a million things we didn’t know about each other. But we still share a long history and a lot of family, and there always was an unconditional sibling love. That never stopped, and it won’t stop now.
He was my brother. I did love him, and I will miss him. I should have told him both those things a lot more times. Maybe he was smart enough to get it after hearing it from me only once or twice. And I somehow think my stupid bacon comment might have given him a laugh.
We’ll be with the family for the next five days to celebrate my brother’s life. Somehow I would like to find the strength to give back to them as much comfort as I know they’ll give to me.