I had a brother. Or, I have a brother that is no longer living. I never really know how to refer to my brother Jeff in conversation, whether it is in the past or the present tense. I mean, he is still my brother, but he died over twenty years ago.
My brother Jeff came to my mind today. And, I have to say, it was the first time in weeks, maybe even months, that I have thought of him. On some days, it feels almost as if I could forget that I had an older brother. That feels a bit weird to me. I don’t ever forget my younger brother, even though we don’t get together very often. I never forget my younger sister, who I speak to pretty faithfully each week. I don’t even forget my older sister, who I speak to, maybe once a year, and we have trouble understanding one another at times.
It feels really weird.
When my older brother, Jeff, was alive, I felt pretty close to him for many years. As I became a teenager, and started making my plans to go out into the world, he moved away, first to Boston, and then to the West coast, San Francisco was his city. He loved it there. He taught me a lot, about music, and life, and food and what it was like to be out and living. He was smart, he was funny, and he was very charismatic.
And, he had a lot of problems. BIG ones. Still, during the adult years of his life, and while I was away at college, and then creating my own independence, I kept in touch with him. I wrote him letters, talked on the phone, tried to help him in the ways that he seemed unable to help himself. I desensitized myself at times when he wanted to justify his actions, or make excuses why it was okay for him to do what he did.
He was in jail for many of those years, and even in a psychiatric facility for a long time. Even though the world, and the law, defined his actions as illegal, immoral, and highly problematic, he didn’t see it that way. It made it really strange to interact with him.
My brother came to mind today because I was thinking a lot about the fact that death has not touched my life, in an up close way, in many years. I have not lost someone close to me for awhile. I was thinking about what that will be like for me, when it does happen. How I will be different than I have been before.
With my brother, my grief and loss was heavy. I felt the loss of him, as well as the loss of the idea that he might be better able to live in the world one day. I made him a martyr after his death; hero worshipped him like he wasn’t human. The beauty of it all is, that he was human. Just like me. His flaws, and failures and stumbles were the same as mine, just different. I wander off the path too, but my wandering is no more noble or admirable than his was. We all wander. We all stumble. We all fall.
So, I want to remember to remember him more often. I always remember to list him among my siblings, when I am shouting out the list to a new person in my life. Yet, I want a bit more from myself than that. To remember his love of the Boston Red Sox. That he was the first person I knew that introduced me to the band U2. That he made a mean guacamole, even before I knew I liked it.
And he loved me. And, I loved him.
I have a big brother. I remember.