A Stone for My Brother

The day is approaching, and I’ve avoided thinking about it.  I’m not in denial, or maybe I am, but I just have so much on my plate right now.  Nothing will change if I spend energy on trying to understand what happened: how did it come to this?  Was there something I could, should, or might have done to prevent it?  The questions are endless, yet not one answer will ever be provided.

It is almost a year since I received a call from the Cuyahoga Sherriff’s Department informing me that my brother was dead.  The questions about his life, since I last saw him in 1984, mounted after I spoke with Barb, his girlfriend of 11 years.  It was as if he was leading a double life… the one that we grew up with and the one he fabricated and told her.

One of my brother’s only friends reached out yesterday to talk, but I said I was busy.  I knew what he wanted, and I didn’t want to deal with it.  When he called tonight I asked lots of questions about his family.  I knew them all from a young age.  I learned all about his kids, his life, and everything else I could think of to fill the time – anything but what I knew the conversation would eventually turn to.  We needed to discuss a stone for the grave site. 

As estranged as I was from Gene – yes, he has a name, not just “my brother” –  why does it hurt so much to say his name when we hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years?  Is it because I miss my brother… the kid I used to dress and take to synagogue on Saturday mornings so we didn’t have to deal with my parents when they woke up?  Is it because we were so close as teenagers, being only 18 months apart?  He tried to protect me as much as I did him.  He wanted to kill the guy I was dating that got me pregnant and later admitted he had a live-in girlfriend. No guy was ever good enough for his big sister. 

It was time. There was nothing else to discuss.  Much to my surprise, three guys in total, two that he grew up with and one he worked for ages ago, in addition to Barb, wanted to help with the stone.  I was told tonight that it was my decision, my choice on how things would be done.  When asked if I wanted to handle it or did I want help, I realized something.  With everything I have walked through – addiction, divorces, cancer, the list goes on and on – I just couldn’t take the lead on arranging the last physical acknowledgement of my brother’s existence.  Gratefully, his friend that called would take care of everything and show me a proof of the wording before the stone was ordered.

Why can’t I do this?  I’ve done so much for others over the years, yet what is seemingly the last act I can do to honor my own brother is beyond my capabilities?  Despite all the unresolved feelings, I truly don’t think it is due to a resentment.  In fact, quite the opposite. 

Perhaps helping with the process of designing and ordering the stone will remove any denial I may still have that he is truly gone.  Even though we were estranged for all those years and he rejected every attempt I made to have a relationship, when he was alive, deep in my heart, I still had a brother.  This final act, designing a stone with his name, birth date and date of death means my baby brother is truly gone.  I’m a visual person…when I see the final proof with the design of the stone, there can be no doubt that he is gone.  There will be no immediate blood family left. 

I am grateful beyond words for the four individuals that cared about Gene enough to want to honor his life and put him to rest in a dignified way, despite his undignified existence for so long.  He wasn’t always the person he turned out to be.  There was a loving, intelligent, and quirky guy deep down who somehow got lost after my parents’ deaths.  The one consolation in all this is knowing that he will be honored in a proper way and was finally at peace as he joined my parents in heaven.

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