I have a younger brother. Or at least I did until a couple of days ago. After a nine month battle with lung cancer, he died. Tragically, painfully, at home, like countless other people. My brother was no famous actor or rock star, but he was the world to me. Our age difference was so tiny that we were virtually twins. Mom would tell us that when we were babies, we had a special language that only the two of us understood. We eventually learned words, but that special understanding never went away. He called me his brain. I called him my heart. Together, we could think up all kinds of trouble. He wouldn’t be happy that I’ve been crying. He hated to see me cry. And no one could make me laugh like he could. You see, I got the hair, but he got the personality. It’s a blessing that I had these decades with my best friend.
My brother was kind and generous in a way I can only dream of being. He was a fierce and loyal friend. Woe to the person who dissed one of his friends. He wasn’t a big guy, but he stood like a mountain when it came to standing up for those he called friend, family, or brother. He wasn’t afraid to speak when he perceived injustice and lost as many fights as he won making his points. The odds never worried him.
He was genuinely friendly and nicknamed nearly everyone. There’s Ironhead, Lizard Breath, Lump, Alejandro, Sissy Sal, Suze, Gerg, Web, Badwrench, Indiglo. The list goes on. He never forgot anyone, even at the end when it seemed like he was aware of so little. He still recognized every face that visited him up to that final moment. He was funny that way. He always saw people even when others might overlook them.
In my head, my brother and I were supposed to be twins forever, so I’m not happy about his death. But I didn’t have much say about this and neither did he. He was a proud father and, never, ever, wanted to be anywhere his girls were not. The fact that he’s not holding his girls right now would piss the hell out of him.
About now, my brother would want me to say something funny and send you away with a smile. I’ve had the funny squeezed out of me over the last few months and the times he made me laugh hard now just make me cry…. But there was one time, a long time ago, when my mother’s kids sat next to each other at their grandfather’s funeral. We were never allowed to sit next to each other in church for good and valid reasons, but this day someone screwed up and there we were, trouble-makers sitting in a row. The minister on that occasion had a vision problem and the horrible task of trying to delicately describe my grandfather’s indelicate death from a heart attack in the bathroom stall of the Mall. He stood there nervously swaying like Stevie Wonder, trying to find the right, funeral-appropriate words, and as we took it all in, we made eye contact. Eye contact has been our ruin more than once, and there we were, shoulders shaking as we tried to hold back what we knew would get us in a whole lot of trouble. I mean, we were at a funeral and this was serious stuff! Too serious. We needed to find the funny because life is all of it: Happiness, sadness, anger, love, joy, the whole mix, including funny.
I’m desperately in search of funny. And I do it for my first and best friend, who would be pulling out all the stops to make us laugh. And he’d no doubt get us in trouble with our mothers, which would only make the laughter worse.
Fly high, my dear brother. ‘Til we meet again.