Losing a Brother

Losing a Brother

I lost one of my older brothers a few months back. I thought I was coping pretty well with his loss. You know the drill. Time is a great healer. He’s in a better place. It was a good death. Yea,yea yea.
Then September 20th. dawned, Dan’s birthday. For the first time, I would not be calling him on the phone or dropping him a card in the mail to wish him many happy returns. Sometimes Dan and I would put a single dollar bill in the card, a throwback to when we were kids and a dollar bill was always included as one of our presents.
But now, a birthday without my brother? No! From deep within me came the rumblings of a grief I did not expect, a sucker punch that made me look for a chair to rest in. Dan is gone.
Dan is gone. My big brother, my role model, my confidante. He was the one who told me the facts of life when I was only five-years old, taught me the art of tossing a perfect one hand push shot on the basketball court, and a curve ball on the baseball diamond. Dan was my partner when he and I would play Pa and my brother Dick on our golfing vacations. We played stick ball together. I was proud to caddy for him when, as a fourteen-year-old kid, he won the junior golf championship in Buffalo.
It is said that the greatest loss in life is to lose a parent or a spouse or, God forbid, your own child. I have no quarrel with that thinking but the loss of a sibling deserves honorable mention among the panoply of losses.
A brother or a sister is part of you. You grow up together, sleep in the same room, and wear one another’s clothes. Once you reach a certain age you don’t snitch on one another. You scheme to fool your parents and keep one another’s secrets. There is competition between siblings. That goes without saying. But there is sibling loyalty, too. You honor that. There are certain things mom and dad need not know; things you share that you share with on one else.
My brother and I grew up at a time and place when people, especially brothers, were not physically demonstrative. No hugging for us. You’ve got to be kidding. A hand shake or pat on the back was about as close as we got to showing our affection for one another. No. “I love you man” stuff for us.
But, at the end of Dan’s life, we both realized that saying “I love you” to a brother was not only acceptable, it felt right and good. Because, the truth is we did love one another. The inhibitions finally melted away and we spoke heart to heart, soul to soul.
We still do. On my imaginary birthday card, with the traditional dollar bill tucked inside, I wrote “I love you, Dan. I always did and I always will.”

Companions on the Journey

Companions On The Journey

When I call to mind the good companions who once shared my journey, the pain of their loss returns. I feel like crying. Yet, in a strange way, they seem to help me move along my way and we walk together.”

                                                       Rabbi Chaim Stern

      My wife Kathleen passed almost eight years ago, but she is with me still. I don’t think of her all the time but at certain times, I feel her presence and know that she is still with me on my journey.

I have shared my experience with others who have lost a spouse or child or parent and there is instant recognition in their eyes. “I know exactly what you mean,” a woman friend told me. “It’s not that I obsess over my late sweetheart. I have mourned his loss but I am fully engaged now in living my life.” She paused before contining. “It’s just that, I feel him with me sometimes. It’s kind of eerie but also comforting. “

When we lose a loved one, we can’t help wondering. Is she still alive somehow? Does her soul rise from the ashes of death to live another life? Is she or he “up there and looking down on us?”

My own Christian religion has no doubt about an after life. Resurrection from the dead is one of the basic dogmas of our belief system.  Yet, I believe that even without the reassurance of religion, I would hold on to a conviction that the spirit in us remains alive.

The cynics will say, “Nonsense, when you are dead, you’re dead. End of story. I don’t agree. We may bury the bodies of our loved ones but their spirit remains. It’s the soul within us that puts a sparkle in our eyes and a spring in our step. It’s the spirit within that reveals who we are.

That same human soul that can dream dreams, and yearn for peace and compose songs and poems that can move the world, that soul capable of giving his life for another person or for a nation, is that soul dead? I don’t think so. The human spirit is as eternal as love and faith and beauty.

I know my wife is present on my journey because, as the Rabbi says, and I know, we walk together. She is with me just as surely as your parents or spouse or children are with you.

Musings From an Old Rose

Wise Musings From an Old Rose

I paused to look at one of the last roses of the season the other day. The old girl was at the end of her journey. Her once brilliant red had faded to pink; most of her proud petals were strewn on the earth from which she had sprung. She looked sort of lost and abandoned. I thought of O’Henry’s poignant story of the “Last Leaf.” I wanted to ask this forlorn rose what she was thinking. Was she sad to be bidding adieu to her life on earth? I wanted to engage her in conversation. After all, we were two living beings, both of a certain age, sharing the same earth. Ah, if only we could talk.

Of course, the truth is that roses and all living things have been “talking” to us for eons. Plants and flowers do communicate with us non-verbally. Roses communicate most obviously through sight and smell. Their vibrant colors are a feast to our eyes, and their delicate scent has enriched our environment. What one of us has not sometime in the course of his life bent down to smell a rose? What poet or songwriter can resist putting words to pen trying his best to describe the beauty, the wonder of a rose?

Sometimes I envy the single-mindedness of the rose. Rising from mother earth, she is sure of what is expected of her. She will bud into a gorgeous creation, seducing the bees and butterflies with her sweet nectar so that they will go out and increase and multiply the species. And as she goes about fulfilling her destiny, she creates beauty and fills the air with her aroma. Then she dies, leaving behind as a parting gift, tasty rose hips to nourish the plants and animals who have shared her life.

There is a part of me that envies the sure path of my sister, the rose. Would that I could be as certain of my path through life and as content with my life. Instead, I worry about stuff, and make mistakes and wish I could have better health and that I were more open to change. I wish that I had spent more time telling my kids that I love them and that I had saved more money for my old age. Blah! Blah! Blah!

But as I wrestle with the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” of my life, I swear that I hear the old rose mocking me. “Hey, you’re old enough to know better. Don’t you get it yet that none of us created beings are perfect? Roses, humans, locusts, we are all flawed in some way. Just be glad you’re alive. None of your anxieties amount to anything compared to the awesome beauty of life itself. Be grateful for life, for friends for family for the wonder of creation.

I thought I was crazy standing there listening to a flower lecture me. But I had to admit, she was making sense. I continued walking down the street with a little more spring in my step. Then I heard a far off voice coming from where I had seen the rose saying “Hey, old buddy. You’re okay. Just don’t forget to smell the roses.”

Song of Our Lives

The Song of Our Lives
Today, Tomorrow and Forever

TODAY

I cry for humanity
For little children dying in the streets
For old people who no longer hope
For babies who will never be born
For inmates languishing in their cells
For soldiers who no longer know why they kill

I cry for those who die alone
For the poor of Calcutta
For the wealthy who live without meaning
For woman who have no voice
For the greedy who never have enough
For parents who abuse their kids

TOMORROW

I sing a joyful song
I sing for the wonder in a child’s eyes
For early morning coffee and family dinners
For the passion for justice that lives in young people
For the kiss of the sun on your back
For the daffodils in spring, and laughter and dancing

I sing with joy for the hope that lives in our souls
For that universal, unquenchable yearning for peace
For the hero who lays down his life for a friend
For the cry of compassion that never dies
For the overwhelming beauty of our universe
For kindness and gentleness that will not be quenched

FOREVER

And the tears and the laughter are the sinews of our lives
The weddings and the funerals
The births and the deaths
The bliss and the loneliness
And the loving God who made us
“Saw that it was good”