At this hour on a Sunday, that call could only be Dad. Fumble for the phone and grunt something along the lines of a greeting. From the other end: “Paul’s dead.”
Two years ago yesterday I had a brother. Two years ago today I did not. Overnight. Just like that.
It’s one of those things that you hear about on the news. Other people lose their loved ones. Real people—yourself and the people that you know—don’t.
When it happens to you it can be so sudden that it doesn’t even seem real, even two years removed. Of course, part of that is caused by the geographic separation which had existed for the years prior. At that distance, it’s almost easier to pretend that it’s happened to one of those other people. And that approach will even work. For a while.
Until those days when you’re driving down the highway and remember that the song that’s playing is one of the ones that you chose to put on the CDs which you burned to play at his memorial service. Or when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and are struck by how his face resembled your own. The shape. The eyes. Your hands may be your mother’s, but those eyes… Those you shared with him. Not even his daughters got his eyes.
Inevitably these thoughts lead to questions. “Could I have made it better? Could I have helped him? Did I try hard enough? Did he even want my help? The suffering is over now…isn’t it? Was it really an accident?”
From the questions come the regrets. I regret not being there to help more. The ones around him were giving more help than you could have. I regret not talking him into coming out for a visit. You tried. He wouldn’t leave his daughters even for a week. I regret not getting to know him better. But you were working on it.
Yes, well, neither the questions nor the regrets are doing anyone any good. A fruitless effort, they’re better left by the wayside for something more productive. How about, instead of wallowing in the “poor me, I lost my brother” self-indulgent self-pity, you spend some time on this day remembering why he’s worth missing?
Paul was going to be a cook and he was going to be a good one. Though he had a heavy hand with some of the seasonings, he was improving because he loved what he did. The artistic sense he had in school found an outlet in the kitchen, finding intriguing culinary combinations which worked well and the like of which I’d never seen on any San Franciscan menu. Yeah, he had what it takes.
The pain, the suffering, the abuse he went through for his children. His own welfare was nothing if theirs was at risk. He would rather walk barefoot through snakes of fire than leave them. Someday, maybe they’ll even realize it and thank him for what he tried to do.
Job after job, wife after wife, all gave up on Paul. But he never gave up on them. He gave his faith, his loyalty, his all until the choice was always made for him and he was ingraciously tossed aside. He always (eventually) picked himself up and tried again. His fault was that he trusted people too much and thereby made poor judgements which inevitably led to yet more abuse. Still, he always tried.
Yes, Paul is gone. Yes, it is sad and I miss him (far more often than I would have thought). But today of all days all those who knew him should be glad that they did and instead mourn for those who did not.