AKA: We’re All in It Together
After my brothers, Jim and Dan, died, I went through an identity crisis, which caused me to question why I lived in Virginia when the rest of my family was in Massachusetts. One factor that complicated my distress was that, besides my husband and sons, no one in my close-knit community knew my brothers. While I had 6 other siblings, five of them back in Massachusetts, grieving along with me, here in Floyd I was, for the most part, grieving alone. But I wanted everyone to know my brothers and to know how much their lives mattered. It was a desire that became the impetus that led to my writing a book about them.
We buried my older brother, Jim, who died suddenly at the age of fifty-four, in July 2001. My younger brother, Dan, died a month later at the age of forty-nine. Since their deaths, life has had a sharper focus. There are things I can see that I couldn’t see before. If I can describe what I see from inside this hole, will it help others when they are down in one? What place is this? How will I survive it? How deep does it go? I want to know. I’ve never been here before. Can I make something constructive out of the powerless feeling of loss? Am I digging my way out, word by word? I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because after living this story no other seems worth telling, because what else can I do down here, because there’s no where else to go. I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because I’m proud of their story. I want to shout from the rooftop how irreplaceable they are. ~ excerpt from “Down in the Hole” from the introduction to The Jim and Dan Stories.
After the book came out and many people in my community read it, the sense of alienation I felt changed, as people approached me with feedback and comments about my brothers. My brother Jim especially made an impression with readers, probably because he was such a paradox. Jim, was opinionated, pessimistic, capable, constructive, and (regardless of how much he complained) passionately engaged in life. He was also an avid weather enthusiast who published weather photos, worked at The Blue Hill Weather Observatory as a volunteer, and was well known and respected throughout his local weather community.
The Blue Hill Observatory, where Jim volunteered, is planning a dedication ceremony to honor him. They’re raising money to erect a flag with a tribute to Jim inscribed on a plaque set in its base…All this for a guy who didn’t think he accomplished much in life, a guy who, when I asked him, “Jim do you think you’d try for a liver transplant if you need it (for Hep C)?” answered, “No, give it to someone who enjoys life!” A guy who, when asked by Kathy with a video camera, “Who are you?” answered with a laugh, “A loser.” A guy whose key chain read, “Not a happy camper.” ~ From The Jim and Dan Stories
I reached a turning point in my solitary grief and knew that writing the book made a difference when, while at a community gathering just after Hurricane Isabel, a friend approached me and said, “Wouldn’t your brother Jim just love all this weather?”
More recently, another Floydian asked, “Did you get those photos I emailed you?”
“No.” I answered. “My computer was probably in the shop. What were they of?”
“A photo of my baby girl…and some weather photos. I was thinking of your brother Jim when I shot them.” he said.
Missing Jim and Dan and grieving their deaths is something I’m still involved in. I know that because I’m crying as I type this. But the sadness is mixed now with a sense of gratitude that I’ve been able to share a small part of who they were with others who wouldn’t have known them otherwise.
Photo: On the back of the above photo that Jim took, he wrote: Virga at Sunset over Boston. I looked up the word and learned that “virga” is “any form of precipitation that doesn’t reach the ground.”
January 31, 2006