Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Memories of My Brother

Three years ago on Good Friday, he said goodbye.

I had just been out to visit him.  My big brother had moved in with Dad some months ago.  The doctors told him he was in remission last fall, he said, for how long, we did not know. But he had no job to return to with Defense cuts and couldn't afford to keep his home.  It was a good move though, for Dad, relieving us of the expense of a full-time home health provider, as Dad couldn't live on his own, even as he still refused to live with the family that would welcome him.  Even today, as he's outlived two children and two wives, he said he would only leave his home when he ceases to breathe, and I arrange for the full-time nurse in-home so he can do so.

Back when my brother was with us, I visited as often as I could, using both vacation and sick time, there to provide for their care. There was always lots to do, meals to prepare and freeze, cleaning, flower beds and gutters and the stocking of supplies. We made no trips but for short drives, his planning such overnight outings with the whole family for when I was away, but it was OK, those dinners with just he and my brother and I. My brother and I could do things that needed to be done around the house, and he seemed to like just having the time with just the two of us, sharing the memories of that home when Mom was still there. Between us we got Dad's bills paid, the budget drawn up, taxes completed, even if we ended up doing it over the phone.

But had I been able to talk to him one last time, I wouldn't have asked where the insurance info is or what Dad did with the phone and cable bills or where the spare keys are.  I would have simply told him I loved him, and how much he meant to me, one more time.  But we never knew our last words would be just that. Our last words are often not said, our lives always coming up short for those measured statements which through all of our brief utterances were our lone and enduring hope. There is never enough time for those last words, of love, of faith, of fear, or regret.
The words not said hung in the air the days after he left us, without warning. They were days that seemed like a lifetime, and yet seemed like only moments, perhaps because I don't know if I every really slept in that time, or if, for a moment, time itself shifted, holding me down in the moment, as G-forces did long ago in a steep banked turn.  Time held still for me, but for my brother, it had overtaken him and moved ahead. All of his things, placed into Dad's house, now to be moved again, to charity, to our homes, to our hearts, medals and coins, and books and I probably don't want to know why he had a loaded flare gun hidden alongside his concealed carry piece. There were laughter and tears, there in so many pictures, of early days, and the freckled face of fatigue, memories of a strong, reliable man, the simple kind of man that was the cornerstone of great reputation, even if the world at large would not observe his passing with tears or trumpets.

There was such much to do, to organize, to communicate. So many people stopping at the house or church, to pay their respects.  There were church friends, My brother's best friend, who came to the service even though he lost his own mother the day prior, high school friends and Don and several of the guys from Electric Boat. Then, before I knew it, a service, a eulogy I remember writing, but could not utter, the minister reading it instead with his own message, there as the Easter Lilies on the alter leaned towards him, as if listening.  There were words, of Easter, of remembrance, works that will give us a sense of what meaning can be gained from pain and suffering, death and eternal life. Things some of us ignored for years, then, in moments self-awareness, truly hit home.
It hit home for me when I looked out the window of the little memorial structure where he would receive his military honors before internment and saw the uniforms outside, just prior to raising their guns to the skies.  I heard the guns before they were ever fired, not as sound, but as a tremor that passed over my body the way you will see a flag unfurl, before even the wind that moves it is felt.

We often go through life with our eyes half shut, brain functioning well at idle, senses dormant, getting through our days on autopilot.  For many, this sort of life is comforting, welcoming.  Then for some, not the incalculable majority, but many of us, there is a moment, a flash, when in a moment we truly know all that we've had, held there in the moment of its loss.

All that week long it had rained, never really ceasing, only diminishing to a gentle mist now and again.  Yet as we arrived at that place, where guns would be raised, and taps would be played, the clouds moved aside as if paying their own respects.  The rain stopped as we pulled into the gates, and when we gathered, the sun came out.  As the officers stood at salute, all was silent, no rain, no wind, only stillness, the sunlight on the pooled water, now sleeping,

The guns fired their salute, taps were played, and the Lord's Prayer was uttered.  Then one by one, hands were placed on a stone urn, one final goodbye that we could not bear to end, a moment of immobility that accentuated the utter isolation of this hilltop in which valor is laid to rest.
The moment I drew away, warm hand from cold stone, walking outside, the skies opened up again with heavy rain.  It was as if the heavens themselves wept, the rain enfolding us all the way home, mingling with our own tears. My hands clutched the three empty rounds that had been placed there, holding them so tight my nails dug into my flesh, not wanting to ever let them go.

Since that day, I have returned many times to that hill, to the comfort of his ground where the final stone is placed, to remember, the memorial being but the echo to his sound.

All around, I see the dead; in the small memorial at the spot where two trains once collided,  in a sign erected in the memory of a local killed in a long ago war. There's the little cross by the side of the road where another young soul left us. On the dresser, there is a paw print in plaster residing next to a box where a loving heart resides until I see him again. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on, life flowing on, sustained by love and faith.Such is the lesson

How thankful we are for these memorials, for the spirits smoke that stays with us after the candle has been blown out.  As I heard the taps I realized that they signified distance, heard there in that first echo. The dead were not sleeping, they were gone. When the final taps were played, I no longer heard the echo, but I will always remember it, for the memory helps us hold on. After a while, an echo is enough.

His was a death that arrived on Good Friday, and it was a life celebrated there and remembered here now, on Easter Sunday.  For that is what Easter was, and is,  to our family.  It's  remembrance. It's the remembrance of a death that brings us life. Of sacrifice, of knowing that we will not be forgotten. Of the hope that after darkness there is light, inky comfort in the unknown.
 - L.B. Johnson

9 comments:

  1. Words are hard to find, but know that your words spoke volumes of the love you have for your dear brother. Hugs.

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  2. What lovely words of remembrance of a tough time.

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  3. So beautifully written. It is so easy to see how you two were very connected by the hearts.

    Your Pals,

    Murphy & Stanley

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  4. You honor his memory with your touching story,
    with the words written and reading between the lines.
    There are memories that will last a lifetime, bringing a
    smile and tears but most of all the love of your brother.
    Peace be with you.
    Linda and Astro

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  5. This is BEAUTIFUL. Between the lines filled with Sadness and Remembrance... I read LOVE.. and the knowledge that there WILL be a REUNION.
    Your brother was a lucky man... to be so Treasured by his sister.

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  6. We are terribly sorry for your loss. Sometimes writing about it can ease your pain. You have paid your brother a great tribute with this beautiful post.

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  7. So poignant. Your brother was loved. I came to thank you. Your words of support at this time of the loss of Nellie has meant a great deal to me. I really thank you for your kindness and offer you my most sincere gratitude and love.
    I send you strength.
    Love Barb (Nellie's Mom)

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  8. Powerful, powerful words of love and memories! Thank you!

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Welcome to The Book of Barkley. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab,who we adopted in 2014.

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