Originally posted April 2015
I have loved Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay my whole life. I didn’t know that my brother did as well until I was planning his funeral. This month marks the five year anniversary of my greatest loss. I had been in San Diego the weekend before with my little foursome. We had a great time at the zoo and hanging out on the beach. My other brother Joe, who is not really involved with the family, had reached out to me on Easter and we were trading emails and photos, even while I was in San Diego. I was feeling connected to my family, happy and hopeful. Then one evening after we’d gotten back, one ordinary evening, I was sitting on the couch with my kids when the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the caller I.D., but the area code was the same as my brother Mike’s so I answered it. That was the last moment before I knew. He had been gone for an hour or more before the phone call, but I didn’t know. Some days I wish I could go back to not knowing.
He was 47 when his aorta couldn’t hold on any longer and burst inside of his chest cavity. There was nothing anyone could do to save him. His sister-in-law called me, his wife was too distraught. I was tasked with telling the rest of my family. I am the youngest of four children, he is the second with 7-1/2 years between us, but he was closest with me. It is ironic the bond that we developed over the years. As kids he tortured me. There was constant teasing and criticism, to the point that all I had to do was yell “Mom” and she would respond with “Michael, leave your sister alone”. Despite that, I think I always had a soft spot for him. He was the black sheep of the family, always in trouble, and couldn’t keep up in school. He had speech difficulties as a child and communication was not his strong point; I’m sure that is why he teased me, he didn’t know how else to relate to me. He sought solace in alcohol and drugs. He didn’t make his early years easy on himself or the rest of the us. Despite his struggles, at his core, he was generous, loving and valued family. He wanted more than anything to bring our fractured family back together.
We both ended up living at home the longest and in high school I got a job at the auto shop where he worked. Neither of us knew at the time how those factors would come to strengthen our relationship. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t roses overnight. He was sarcastic, ornery, and sometimes a real pain in my ass. But, he was funny. We have the same demented sense of humor and would crack ourselves up over the stupidest things. And he loved me. He took his role as older brother seriously and was always looking out for me in his way. He eventually moved out of state, met the only woman in the world that could both truly love and put up with him. I am so grateful for my sister-in-law Carrie. With her he really found his way, helped raise her children as his own, got clean and made a good life for them. I didn’t know the depths of his generosity until the day of his memorial service when people were sharing all of the things that he had done for them over the years. It was such a beautiful celebration.
If you had told me five years ago that I would be able write this without a flood of tears, I would have thought you were crazy. There were days when I thought the pain would never go away. Byron Katie, asks us to ask ourselves what is perfect about a situation, even a tragedy. I still struggle with an answer to that. But here is what I know, I think of him everyday, multiple times a day. I don’t believe I did that before. I treasure the memory of our last day together; we went to the dumps. And had a blast. Seriously. Hanging out with him as adults was so much fun, especially when it was just the two of us. My last memory of him is the two of us doing work at my house, trying to drag a wheel barrow full of junk across a muddy lawn with a flat front tire and laughing hysterically, followed by the infamous trip to the dumps.
Maybe that is what is perfect, being able to look back at where we started and where we ended up.