Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The death of Death

My brother, John, died recently. The letters of that sentence sit starkly on this electronic page, making the unreal, real. He was four years older than me, but still too young to take the "D" train. The mind plays tricks, forcing us to remember people in better days, frozen forever in youth and good health. That's how I remember him, as a big brother, taking the brunt of my dad's wrath for the mischievous things we did together as kids.
We shared a rather twisted sense of humor, but our lives were immeasurably different. He was the semi-shy teen, not dating much, but with lots of boyhood friends. My sister-in-law was the second girl he ever went out with. They married and he got a job with a large insurance company, had children and settled into life in Baltimore, Maryland. Except for a few vacations and one trip to Italy, he lived there his entire life, surrounded by family, good friends and modest pleasures.
Like most people, he looked forward to retirement, and he and his wife enjoyed one treasured year of freedom before the pall of illness. He sank slowly over five years or so, sometimes improving briefly and bolstering hope before surrendering to the march of varied complications. As our small family gathered at the hospital those last few weeks, his options grew smaller and (to him) more distasteful until he finally asked his loving wife to find the strength to grant him one last act of let him go. I had no doubt that she would honor him in his most desperate hour.
The onslaught of arrangements after death occupied her briefly, keeping true grief at bay, but now the hardest part has parked itself on her doorstep: to come to terms to life without John. The large circle of family and friends is sharing her struggle, but it pales in comparison. However true the sadness is for a sister, a daughter, other relatives and friends, the relationship of forty-plus years together hovers with constant reminders of laughter, tears and love, making it that much harder to be without those things.
Life rushes by, but only in hindsight.
Returning home from his funeral and wake, I packed a suitcase in preparation for an early flight to Boston the next morning, to attend a baby shower for my youngest daughter. As it turned out, I found myself back in the confines of another hospital room, in another state. The shower was held in that room, filled with her friends who had flown from distant states. But this time, I got to say hello to my newest grandchild, instead of goodbye to my only brother. Thanks, Johnny.