Joe paddled his kayak back to the house to get sunscreen. I was alone in the middle of the canal, drifting for a moment in my kayak when the realization hit me: It was 5 years ago on the same day that my brother Jimmy died. Like a wound scarred over is tough, I resisted the urge to soften, to dwell on his death and missing him because I’ve done so much of that in the past. It’s painful and doesn’t lead anywhere.
“Look at me now in a kayak, Jim,” I said to myself. Because he was an avid weather and nature enthusiast, I knew Jim would be as excited as a kid about the Osprey nest I was drifting near. As a single parent who never had any money for vacations, there was so much that he didn’t get to see.
But my wound is not impenetrable. The opening created by my thoughts about Jim grew wider over the next couple of days, especially on the drive home from our beach vacation when I was alone in my car, following Joe in the truck. I can never think about Jim without also thinking about my brother Dan, who died a month after Jim.
Dan was sicker than anyone knew. He planned a road trip to spend time with Jim, thinking in the back of his mind that it might be his last chance to pull something like that off. When Jim died unexpectedly in a machine shop accident two weeks after returning home their road trip, the first thing Dan said was, “It supposed to be me, not Jim.”
I can only imagine what it was like for Dan to experience his brother’s funeral and burial knowing in his heart that he was watching what his own would be like. I remember giving Jim’s eulogy from the pulpit at St. Ann’s chruch and looking out at all my sibling’s faces, especially Dan’s. It was drawn and discolored from the liver illness he was battling. He looked like he was straining to understand how Jim could have died and was hoping I would say something to explain.
I listened to Jack Johnson on the drive home, a musician that my son Josh introduced me to, after I had complained to him repeatedly that I needed some new musical inspiration and didn’t know where to begin. “Wouldn’t Danny love Jack Johnson,” I thought, and with that thought, the way opened for a flood of others that caused my best defenses to crumble.
I was so proud to have turned Danny on to The Dave Matthews Band, because it was usually him introducing me to new great music. One of the last and most vivid memories I have of Dan comes from our last family Labor Day cookout at my sister Kathy’s house. Dan wanted to share his new John Mellencamp CD, so some of us went up to the living room to listen. Kathy and I were dancing to “Your LIfe is Now,” and Dan just got soulful … See the moon roll across the stars …See the seasons turn like a heart … Your father's days are lost to you … This is your time here to do what you will do … Your life is now … Dan walked around snapping his fingers, swayed a little, and then stood still with his eyes closed and let the song sink in … Would you teach your children to tell the truth … Would you take the high road if you could choose … Your life is now.
After wiping away my tears, I looked up and saw the most magnificent cloud formation, dark and silver lined by the angle of the sun, hopeful.
“Wouldn’t Jim just love this cloud!” I thought.
Post Note: To learn more about Jim and Dan, go HERE. The above was originally posted on Loose Leaf Notes on July 28, 2006.