Filing into a pew reserved for family members, I looked for my siblings: Carolyn, who became an athlete under her older brother’s supervision; Bob, his shadow who knew him best; Barbara, so young she thought he was the school principal when he came home on leave; Blaine and JL, toddlers who responded to the happiness his return visits brought to our home. I included myself, the middle child who idolized him. When I realized I had counted only six, I thought, “But that’s wrong. We’ve always been seven.”
It would take time to learn to live with Lawrence’s absence.
Waiting for his funeral to begin, I revisited the wave of grief that jolted me from myself when Bob called with news of our older brother’s heart attack and death. An overwhelming sense of profound loss overcame my usual constraints, and I mourned, my emotions raw and unrestrained.
When young, I knew my parents would probably die before I did, but assumed my siblings and I would move through life together, dying en masse when very, very, very old. More recently, I understood Lawrence’s problematic heart would one day fail him, but didn’t know that when it did so, it would break mine as well.
In the days following the news of his death, I called my siblings; they called me; we called each other again as we tried to process our loss, to make it believable, to acknowledge that death had entered our ranks and now walked among us. If our steadfast older brother had died, so could we. We were now the generation that would slip away — a few at a time at first and then with increasing frequency — as the world went about its business.
A year has passed, but I still feel moments of loneliness for my brother, Lawrence. I sense the hand that steadied my bicycle, the voice that made Mom laugh, the teasing that never became mean, the gleeful cackle that punctuated our lives. I see the long, slender, adolescent body stretched high in a cottonwood tree hanging a swing and then pushing me in it if I asked politely.
I remember the marine sergeant who answered my letters at length and danced — so poorly it hurt to watch — at his wedding. I see the proud young father who posed for pictures holding his first child cradled against him with one hand and his college diploma in the other. I hear the voice of the middle-aged man who wept when he called to tell me his beloved daughter, the same child he held after his graduation, had died at sixteen.
Helen Keller said, “Those you have loved deeply remain part of you forever.”
I take comfort in the truth of her statement; but my heart still misses a beat when I realize that now we are six.
Adapted from an earlier column published in the Craig Daily Press. My apologies to my Craig readers for the repetition of content, but I wanted to acquaint my blog friends with my oldest brother and what losing him has meant to me.