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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Passages

I missed the phone call, but when I listened to the voicemail it was obvious that something was wrong. It was my niece, Liz's daughter, obviously crying, telling me that I needed to call back because she didn't want to tell me what she had to say in either a text or a voicemail. I knew then that the call was a serious one. "Someone died," I told Trent. I gathered my fortitude and called back to find out who was gone. It was my brother.

We all know, in the deep recesses of our minds, that some day we will start to suffer the loss of our family members. Most people in my age bracket are watching their parents getting older and more frail, and some of them have experienced the loss of one or more parents. For me, the loss of parents happened very early. I was seven years old when I had to attend my mother's funeral. Liz was thirteen, John was fourteen, and Margit was sixteen. Our father died when I was twenty-two, but none of us knew about it when it happened. Unfortunately, none of us cared much, either. Our father was responsible for our mother's death, and the scattering of our family across the country. I can't speak for my siblings, but as far as I was concerned, I lost both of my parents when I was seven. 

When my father killed my mother, he killed our childhoods and killed our family unit. I was robbed of the experience of growing up with all of my siblings; only Liz and I ended up in Colorado. I still don't understand what happened as far as John was concerned. I only know that Alice decided that she couldn't handle him and Gram couldn't, either. He was sent back East, and I don't know for certain where. Margit was older and I think she spent time living with friends, but again, I really don't know. Suffice it to say that our family was permanently fractured. We became strangers to one another. Things were said by our new family over the course of the years that colored our opinions of our distant relatives. We grew up in different cities, speaking with different accents, having different experiences and traditions, and knowing less and less about one another.

I was taught that my brother was strange and scary. If he was different, it was because he was damaged. We all were. He came through Denver unexpectedly when I was almost twelve years old, so he must have been about nineteen. I was scared, upset, and angry. I was experiencing him through other people's eyes. Yes, he was odd. So was I - we had experienced things children shouldn't, even before our mother's violent death. 

In later years, I was able to see John in a different light. I could see the damage and pain that his life and circumstances had inflicted on him. I could also see that he might not have had the abilities many people have socially. But I came to realize that he was incredibly bright. I've been told that at one point he was quite a trivia expert, earning free drinks from some of the bars where he lived by being their 'ringer' in trivia contests. I have also heard that he was banned from playing trivia in some places because he was too good. When he came through Denver a couple of years after Trent and I were married, John asked Liz and I to take him to a bar near where she lived so that he could play trivia. I am still thrilled to say that I spanked his heinie at trivia that day. I don't fool myself into thinking I'm smart; he probably was distracted. But I still enjoy remembering my victory!

About five years ago, John had a stroke and was moved into a nursing home. This morning he decided to take a nap, and when the staff checked on him ten minutes later, he had died. I am glad that after all of the difficult times in his life, his death was quick and peaceful. He no longer needs to be tortured by the memories and experiences from his childhood, or any other part of his life. His years of poor health are over. He is free. We, his sisters, go on. I don't know if this family will ever be mended. Only time will tell. But this brother and stranger, who has been a part of, and apart from, my life, is gone now. Good night, John, and goodbye. Rest well, my brother.