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.

God’s Other Name

God’s Other Name

The God I believe in has another name. The name is both simple and profound. Everybody knows what it means, because like the air we breathe, it is everywhere. God’s other name is love.

God is love. He is the energy that gives life to our world, the spirit that warms us, and the fire that stirs our hearts. God is the magic of springtime, the miracle of birth, the power of the wind and waves.

God is the old man who comes to the nursing home every day without fail to visit his ailing wife, the kid who carries his little brother on his back, the cop who puts his own life at risk to save a person he does not even know.

God is the God of small things, too.

I dropped my foster grandson off at school today and said to him “Have a good one, sweetheart.” Whoops! I caught myself. Did I really just call my strapping 18 year old kid…SWEETHEART?” Hurriedly, I opened the window and yelled after him, “Hey, sorry I called you sweetheart. He just smiled back at me. “It’s okay. It’s all good.” And it was. That God, whose other name is love, makes you do sappy things and they turn out okay.

But love can go deep, too.

I heard a story recently about a young dad whose wife was killed in an auto accident. The man went into a deep depression. He wondered how he could possibly carry on being both dad and mom to his seven-year-old little boy. In despair, he locked himself in the bathroom and was holding a gun to his head when he heard his son’s voice. “Hey dad, where are you? I need help with my homework.”

Call it God or call it God’s other name. Something, Someone penetrated the young dad’s soul. He put the gun away. “No way, I can do this to my boy.” He said, “I’ll be right there, son.” And he was. That’s the kind of stuff we do when we love. Love is just another name for God.

I am I and you are you and we both are one another

“ I am I, and you are you
and we’re each other, too.”

From the Cowboy and the Cossack

The words in the title are taken from an excellent book by Clair Huffaker,called the Cowboy and the Cossack. Set in the period of history when the Tsar ruled Russia with an iron fist, the story is about a cattle-trading outfit from Montana who sold a herd of 500 long horn cattle to a group of anti-Tsarist rebels in Russia.

The deal called for a small group of Montana cowboys, boarding a ship with the long horns in the hold and, upon disembarking at Vladivostok, driving them across 1,000 miles of Siberia tundra to where the rebels would receive them.

Accompanying them on their journey was a small band of Cossacks whose job was to keep the cowboys and the cattle safe in their long trek. Both the Cossacks and the cowboys were independent-minded, ornery kind of hombres and well, they didn’t hit it off very well. In fact, they irritated the hell out of one another.

A cowboy by the name of Keith and a Cossack named Krug were among those down right hostile to each other during the first part of the long journey. But as the weeks wore on, despite the fact that neither man spoke a word of the other’s language, a friendship grew between them.

When an accident took Kruk’s life, Keith was devastated. He insisted on digging the grave for his friend and appending to the grave marker the short poem he himself wrote; the poem reads, “I am I and you are you and we’re each other, too.”

To me, the poem cuts deep. It reminds me that with all our cultural and ethnic and religious differences, we are very much the same. “We’re each other.”

Racially we are a rainbow of colors but we all bleed red. Religiously, we worship in different temples and churches but reverence the same higher power. When a baby cries, we pay attention, whether the infant is born in Brooklyn or Guatemala. We know what it is to lose a loved one. Our hearts are touched at weddings or graduations.

The most important thing in the world for us is to see our children succeed in life. We yearn to live in peace with our brothers and sisters. In the deepest recesses of our hearts we long to love and be loved.

“ I am I, and you are you and we are both each other.”