Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Death, Life and Heaven

My brother died late last week. He was only 62 years old. I loved my brother, but I know he had a very rough life. His life didn’t start out that way though. He was born the fourth son and the sixth child in our 10 children family home. We all started out the same. We were hard working migrant laborers. We had a father and mother that loved us. They focused on building within each of us a work ethic that would help us become successful in America. Every summer we worked in the fruit/vegetable fields harvesting crops. Every Fall through Spring we attended school to complete our education so we could achieve the American Dream.

We all faced challenges. We were minorities in a majority white Michigan. From the beginning, we were the one “Mexican” family on the block. Teasing, chasing, bullying were the norm vs the anomaly. My brother faced it worse than most. He had an added factor. He was also overweight. This brought additional teasing.

Nevertheless, he was a very smart person and always did his best. I think he had his heart broken a few times, though he never dwelt on any negative experiences.

After he graduated from school and found his first job, he met a girl and married her. They had a beautiful daughter. The marriage only lasted only a few years. They mutually decided to divorce.

He came into his own after his divorce. He started advancing at his job and he lost weight. He became very handsome and dapper. Everyone said he looked like Freddie Prinze. It was the late seventies. Chico and the Man was a popular TV show and my brother was getting a lot of attention. Being the seventies, he started to dabble in pot and other miscellaneous feel good drugs. I knew a few people who did the same, but my boyfriend (now husband) and I were not into that kind of stuff so we drifted away from my brother and his crowd. By that time, my husband and I were married and I started advancing in my own career. We moved away from our hometown. After that, I only saw my brother once in a while when we came home for visits.

My brother married again and had two more children, a boy and a girl. After a few years, his partying went a little out of control. His marriage broke up. His new ex-wife moved to another state. He paid child support but rarely saw his kids. A few years later he lost his job. He didn’t give up his partying. Soon, he was drifting from job to job, usually in construction or as a handyman. He lost his house and later moved in with my parents.

None of my brothers and sisters were happy about this at first. However as my parents grew older, it was helpful to have him there. He became a very good caretaker of our parents. After our Dad died in 93, he became our mother’s sole caretaker and companion. In the last few years of her life, we were grateful to him especially the last six months when she was totally disabled and suffered from dementia.

Our mother died in January 2008. He became very depressed. I think he felt lost without mom. He had previously stopped his partying ways and now with mom gone, he just stayed home and seemed to give up. His health started to falter. He had diabetes and always seemed tired. He was only 62 when he died last Friday of natural causes. I suspect the actual cause was a broken heart. His two youngest children came to the funeral. They had been estranged from their dad for years, but they were so heartbroken by his death. It was just gut wrenching to see their tears.

My oldest brother (69) is in very poor health. He has ALS and is losing most of his muscle control. He doesn’t have much longer to live. He is in Michigan and was not able to travel due to his health so he did not attend the funeral.

The rosary/wake and the funeral Mass were all emotions. Afterwards, the immediate family gathered together just to talk. Then everyone began going home. My sister and I drove our oldest sister (68) to the airport. In years past, we would just drop her at the terminal entrance, but this time, we parked. I carried her luggage and guided her to the counter then to airport security.

My sister fell last year and this impacted her ability to walk on her own. She now walks with a cane. She moves so slowly. I remembered when we were young and we would run and laugh together. Now, she was not only fragile, she was elderly. I wondered how much longer we would have her with us.

I think I needed the five hour drive back home just so I could think about what happened over the previous few days. I didn’t cry much. I’m afraid to cry for fear I will break down. The few times I almost cried was during the wake and when his children cried.

I thought about my brother and his short life. My parents and another brother were dead too. My oldest brother and sister may soon follow. I remember putting together easel boards with so many pictures of my brother with our family. I know my brother did not achieve his dreams.

When I came home, I hugged my youngest son. I held my husband’s hand for a long, time. It felt good to just hang on to them for a little while. I love my husband and children so much. My husband and I talked for a little while about the week but I didn’t go into too much detail, just that it was sad and I was worried about my oldest sister.

My husband is bowling tonight and I started to look at my email and my blog. I decided to let my blog wait one more day before I jump back into it. Instead, I decided to put my thoughts and feelings down on paper. Life is just so damn short. It isn’t fair. What happened to hopes and dreams and plans for the future? Death is always there. That is a guarantee. If not death, then there is always debilitating disease, especially when you get older. How unfair.

I am a little mad at myself. Maybe I could have been a better sister. Maybe I could have been a little more understanding. Maybe I could have visited more. It is too late for that now.
Then I think he lived his own life the way he wanted to live it. Maybe he is happier now. Maybe he did get what he wanted. He did believe in Heaven.

9 comments:

Sabrina Vourvoulias said...

Dee,

Mi sentido pesame.

Though I don't know you except through following your blog, I was moved by this post to write to you. The feelings of wondering if you could have done more/been a "better" sister/etc. are heart-wrenching but natural. I wanted to let you know, though, that even if you had shared your brother's life on a daily basis, lived in the same house, seen him through his decline, you would still feel like you should/could have done more. (I felt that when my father died even though I had moved my family in to live with him and had been his caretaker during the last few months of his life.) But assured of this -- just as you know your brother loved you regardless of his and your circumstances, he knew you loved him.
Few people (I think) have the life they imagined when they were young. Many of us have put dreams and aspirations on hold -- sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not so good ones. In my experience, the love of family supersedes the distance, the obstacles, the flawed communications, the failed dreams. The knowledge that our family loves us, notwithstanding our circumstance, is often what gets us through the day. Likely it was so with your brother -- that the knowledge of loving siblings was what kept him going through the difficulties or down periods he may have experienced.
I, like your brother, believe in heaven -- and though my imagining of it is probably a surprisingly childish one -- it comforts me to think that one day we will be joined there with those we love best and what remained unsaid here (or was communicated less than we would wish) will need no words.
I will ask some of my priest friends at the Archdiocese to add your brother to their daily prayers.

Tamale Chica said...

Dee,

I am so sorry to learn of your loss.

Death of a loved one always brings up so many issues, whether we have lost contact or whether we devote our lives to helping their last days on earth to be more joyful and fulfilling. Either way, some unresolved issue will come up to help us grow and find peace.

Vicente Duque said...

Dear Dee :

Sorry for the death of your brother.

This passage of your note is very moving :

"He became a very good caretaker of our parents. After our Dad died in 93, he became our mother’s sole caretaker and companion. In the last few years of her life, we were grateful to him especially the last six months when she was totally disabled and suffered from dementia."

So your brother had a mission, to be the final companion of your nice parents.

Your family and your kind seem to me very strong people, suffered or harassed but very strong.

I admire your family and I feel some love at a distance for that beautiful family, that for me is archetypal for humanity, mankind and humane love to our relatives and kind.

My mother has been losing and losing for the past 20 years but she has a perfect brain, she is arriving soon at the stage where a wheelchair is necessary. I have to travel like one hour and a half to visit her. Fortunately she lives with a my very smart sister.

Your brother was a Jewel for your parents old age.

And knowing about your family then it is easy to understand your fight for Kind and Noble purposes. And your dislike for cruelty, violence, sadism and brutality.

Vicente Duque

Anonymous said...

Dee,

My deepest sympathies are with you. I wondered and became concerned why you were not blogging. I am sorry for your loss.

Death is part of life, the final stage. But just like the birth of a baby brings great joy and hope, a death brings deep sorrow and regrets. The regret that we could have done this or that better is a natural reaction to death.

Death is also a reminder of how temporary life is here on earth. It is a reminder for those who remain, to hold close those who are dear to us, to tell those who we appreciate that we love them, and to show thanks for the many blessings we have in life.

Thank you for sharing your life and the life of your brother with us.

Welcome back, we missed you.

p.s. my father picked fruit for a few years as a migrant worker in Michigan in the 40's before moving to Chicago where he met my mother. Small world.

Dee said...

Sabrina, Vicente, Chica, Anon,

Thank you for your kind words. This has been a sad week for our family. Today, rather than blog, I built a myspace for my brother. It was too hard to mail the pictures to all the family via broadcast emails. It was just easier to post them on myspace. I just wanted to avoid the uploading and downloading of pictures. The myspace came our very nice.

I am still thinking all of these thoughts on mortality and why do people get so angry and cruel and violent when all of our times are so short. I still do not understand the ANTIs or anyone who doesn't understand Humanity and the fact we should be nice to one another and treat others as we want to be treated. Maybe I never will understand them.

I agree. My brother was a jewel when it came to caring for our parents in their times of need. I think he is happy in Heaven now with them.

Eric Clapton's song "Tears in Heaven" which I posted on my blog homepage still resonates on my mind.

yave said...

I am sorry for your loss. From my limited interactions with you, I think you must be a blessing for your family.

Maegan la Mala said...

Ay Dee, my sincere sympathies to you and your family.

Analisa said...

That was a moving tribute, Dee. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Every human life has dignity, and your brother sounds like a special man in spite of his difficulties. He was very fortunate to have a sister as wonderful as you are.
Well, just wanted to send you a smile and a hug at this difficult time.

Abrazos,
Analisa

Dee said...

Analisa, Maegan, Yave,

Thank you so much for your kind words. Family is so close to our hearts. I have been thinking about him each day and his strengths and the many good things he accomplished. I do miss him as do my sisters especially.

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