Saturday, September 11, 2010

Grieving Long Distance

My brother Bill died on Friday, July 23rd. It was unexpected. He went in for surgery early Monday morning, July 19th, and then Friday morning he died. He had been diagnosed with cancer in the spring, and I had really just gotten used to that reality. We thought he had a fighting chance to beat that monster. We were wrong.

Bill lived in southern Ohio for the past couple of decades, so I didn’t get to see him that often. But he was always large in my mind. One of two big brothers, he was one of my heroes. Somewhat quiet and quirky, it was hard to tell sometimes when he was joking, or when he was serious. He was the master of deadpan.

He never pushed advice, but he gave great counsel when asked. He encouraged me in my writing, and was always happy to hear of any success, like when I landed a great writing gig, or even when my kids did something great. Many years ago, he gave me Earl Nightingale’s series, Lead the Field, and here is some of what he wrote on the note that he tucked inside the package. It helps me to remember that this is not a practice life. It’s the real thing – we have only one life to live. We can be swept along and react to whatever life brings, or we can shape it into something better. Go for it!
I miss him.

I got the call that Friday morning when I was on my way to work. I stayed at work for 15 minutes, long enough to give instructions during my absence, and then I went home. Became numb. Didn’t know what to do or how to feel. And so I went to his Facebook page. I read the funny comments that he made just weeks earlier. Looked at his pictures. I wanted to be there, but I couldn’t – it all happened so fast.

The night before his surgery, I had an intense and awful dream about him dying, with me trying to drive down to see him just once more, but arriving too late. That dream came true less than a week later.

And so we made the long trip to southern Ohio for his memorial. Per his wishes, he was cremated, and so there was no body there to help make it real for me. There were just pictures of him, and the people he loved gathered about. He loved a lot of people. And we loved him.

The church overflowed. The eulogies were bittersweet – achingly beautiful, and laugh-out-loud funny. Do you know what your body does when you laugh and cry at the same time? It snorts. At least mine did, much to the chagrin of my quite proper, Catholic-educated, ten-year-old daughter. “Mom, you were laughing the loudest. And then….And then you…snorted!” she half-whispered, mortified. Yes I did. And it was good.

The night after his memorial, I had another dream. It was more of a vivid impression, really, because nothing happened, but instead I heard Bill’s quiet, lighthearted laugh that he had when something amused him. This time, I woke up comforted, and I smiled. I hope that he was glad that his family and friends were all together, celebrating his life well lived.

It will be okay. Love reaches beyond the grave, and I’ll hold him in my heart until we meet again. Until that time, I hope I can live my life the way he lived his -- with excellence, love, and humor.


Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) said...

So sorry for loss Pat. You are the word crafter-- Your brother knew that and you will find a way through to the other side of your grief, as he would wish you to do. I'm so glad to see a new essay from you and I hope you will continue writing. You have so much to share!

Soopergirl said...

I know what you mean about having no body at the memorial to make it seem real. I feel like he's still secretly alive somewhere...

Pat Washington said...

Diane -- thanks so much for your comfort and encouragement.

Soopergirl -- in fact, I believe he is. ;-)

karen said...

Very nice... I see you had a productive night. I laughed out loud (but I did not snort!)

MaryLou said...

How very lovely. And yes, Bill did come to you to give you peace.