B is for Brother

I was visiting my mom and sister in Edmonton, Canada, when I got the news. It was the day after Christmas, and the West Edmonton Mall, where my sister and I were spending the afternoon to distract ourselves, was crowded.

Our brother had been taken to the hospital the day before because he was not well. My mom, sister, and I could see this when we Face Timed him Christmas morning. My sister-in-law brought him to the emergency room in Idaho Falls, and he was admitted immediately. His liver was failing.

The news from Idaho got worse and worse as the hours passed, and my mind was shadowed with what if thoughts. But we didn’t really expect him to die. He was only 40 years old! Sure, he wasn’t in the best physical condition, but he had three young sons and a wife who needed him. Things like this don’t happen to us.

But it did.

The call came as I was considering a purchase in a store that doesn’t exist in the states. My sister was the one to get the news from our sister-in-law. She turned to me and said two simple but life-changing words: He’s gone.

I was in shock at first. Then the white-hot pain of irrecoverable loss seared its way into my core. I was gutted.

We abruptly left the store. Our mom, who lived within walking distance of the mall, needed us. Tears now rushed down my face as I dodged shoppers, strangers who knew nothing about my pain, looking at me as if my secret-to-them tragedy might be contagious. I wanted to fall to the ground and cry out that my brother—my baby brother and one of my best friends—was dead.

I tried to call my husband, but my US-based carrier wouldn’t connect until I was outside in the cold. My sister led the way as I followed far behind, trying to tell my husband what had happened. In my distraction, I almost walked into a man who was crossing in front of me.

Canadians are supposed to be nice, but this man’s look said, “Watch where you’re going, idiot!” I stopped, prepared to challenge him, to stone him with four-letter words. It might have felt good to take some of my anger out on this man, but he kept walking. That was a good thing, for both of us.

My hands grew numb during our walk, which was longer than my sister implied. She carries her grief differently than I. I wear my heart on my sleeve; she keeps it inside. My hands grew numb, and I was glad. I welcomed the pain, the distraction.

By the time we reached my mom’s condo, my southern California body felt nearly frozen. But that didn’t stop the nauseating disbelief and emptiness. It didn’t bring back the breath that was knocked out of me at the news. It didn’t stop the tears.

I was broken. I am broken. My brother meant the world to me. He was good. We shared a bond through our love of nature, a similar sense of humor (he was so much funnier than I am!). We worked together as team teachers at the same school for a while, and I never tired of talking to him.

My brother was loved by countless people—former students, school families, friends, co-workers. Again, he was good. He touched lives every day. His wit, combined with his non-judgemental heart made him easy to talk to.

But he struggled. Underneath his humor and his generosity was a man who was filled with anxiety, depression, and self-doubt. The grace he extended so freely to others, he rarely gave to himself. Not many people knew this side of my brother.

He felt he didn’t have much to offer, that he wasn’t able to impact people in a positive way. This bothered him greatly. He passed on with these doubts. One thing that comforts me is that I know he now knows how much his life mattered to everyone who knew him. He now knows how loved he was.

We had a memorial service planned for my brother. It has been postponed because of the pandemic. As is natural, the loss of my brother has taken a back seat at the moment as Covid-19 slithers its way into countries, cities, communities, and families around the world.

Andrew was a father, husband, son, uncle, brother-in-law, cousin, friend, teacher, counselor, mentor. He was my brother. He will always be my brother, and for that I have been eternally blessed.

Me & Bobby McGee

Remembering my dad who passed away May 9, 2014

In my last post, I shared how some of my favorite memories were of fishing with my dad. Other memories I hold close to my heart involve music. My stepmother was a registered nurse when I was young. Every other weekend, she would work the “swing shift” at the hospital. That meant she would be working from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., but to my brother and me, it meant we would have our dad all to ourselves from the time he got off work until we went to bed.

We looked so forward to those Fridays! He was more lenient than my stepmother, so we got to stay up later, eat dessert, and simply relax more. I don’t remember everything about those evenings with my dad, but what I do remember left its imprint on my soul. In the evening, my brother and I would sit with my dad and listen to his old records. He had a good-sized collection of albums. He had an eclectic taste in music. Classical music, folk, rock. Some of the artists in his collection included Bob Dylan, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Woody Guthrie, Arlo Guthrie, Simon & Garfunkel, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Janis Joplin.

He would tell us about each artist… their backgrounds, where he got to see them perform live, and about the songs they wrote. I especially loved the folk music, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. My very favorite song was Joplin’s version of “Me & Bobby McGee.” My dad had seen Janis Joplin in concert, so I got to hear about that. He explained Kris Kristofferson wrote the song, which was funny to me because I only knew of him as an actor.  To this day, I can’t hear the song “Me & Bobby McGee” without thinking of those precious moments with my dad.

I have no doubt my love for music– all kinds of music– is due to my dad’s influence. I will forever be grateful for this wonderful gift.

Remembering Dad- Fish Tales

This afternoon I sat at my dad’s bedside, crying as I watched him take last breath. I’m broken-hearted right now and feel like writing about the man who meant the world to me. I’ll start here…

I was the epitome of a “daddy’s girl” growing up. In my eyes, Dad could do nothing wrong. I laughed at his silly jokes when nobody else would, I worried about him, I loved to spend time with him… he was my hero. He was the only one in my young life who didn’t walk out on me.

One of my most favorite things to do with my dad was fishing. He showed me how to cast and how to bait the hook.  Well, he did the worms… I couldn’t bring myself to pierce the cute, little worms with a hook. He assured me the worms couldn’t feel it and that they could breathe under water. I believed him, of course. My dad knew everything.

He showed me how to reel a fish in, but always took the hook out of the fish’s mouth for me since I was too squeamish to do it. Some of my fondest memories in life involve sitting with my dad, fishing pole in hand, eating Red Hots (he always got a box for me when we’d go fishing), and waiting for the fish to bite.

One day in second or third grade, I was about to get on the bus after school to go home, when I saw my dad waving at me from across the street of the school. He had gotten off work early and decided to surprise me by taking me fishing. We had a great time. We rented a boat and went out on the lake. I, of course, had my Red Hots and we fished until the sun started to set. To this day, I don’t know why he chose just me to go with him. I have a brother who is only a year and a half older than me. The only thing I can figure is that he was worried about me. In spite of my dad’s love, my early years were filled with a lot of sadness. Maybe he saw something in me that alerted him to the fact that I needed some one-on-one time with him.

There was only one not-so-great part of that day– for some reason, my dad failed to mention to my sisters that he was going to pick me up from school and take me out on the lake. My three older sisters were semi-responsible for my brother and me when we got home from school. When I failed to get off the bus with the rest of the neighborhood kids, they were in a panic. This was before cell phones so they had no way to contact my dad. I think my stepmother was working that day. I don’t know if they tried to call her. My nearly hysterical sisters were a couple minutes shy of calling the police to report me missing, when my dad and I showed up at the house. I was all smiles, but I remember my dad apologizing profusely for not letting my sisters know.

I still get a chuckle when I think of that day. It obviously meant a lot to me because it is such a vivid memory and I hold it dear. My dad– my childhood hero– created that memory. I love him for this gift.