My older brother died last week. He was 65 years old. He just dropped dead of a heart attack while preparing breakfast for a men’s prayer group at his church last Saturday (March 26, 2011).
I commented to the pastor of his church that if you’re going to go, a massive heart attack, at your favorite house of religion and among good friends is about the best way I can imagine to go. That’s certainly a much better description than any bawdy jokes I could make about it. Fact is, other than the timing, I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
What else could you want? A few more years? Certainly. The opportunity to say goodbye to family and friends? Of course. But would he have traded out his way of going for a longer method that allowed him the chance to say goodbye to everyone? I doubt it. We all live our lives on the promise of tomorrow. My brother included.
He loved his kids. That goes without a shred of doubt in anyone’s mind. Family was his first calling, always! And that’s what brings me to this recollection of his life, Family.
For Don, family wasn’t just mom and dad, his brothers, his wives, his kids. To him, family was the people he met last night, last week, last month. The only friend he didn’t have was the one he hadn’t yet met. It was one of his most endearing qualities. It was also one of his most frustrating personality traits! My brother was the kind of guy who if he had only a nickel and a quarter to rub together, would gladly give the quarter to you and ask you if you needed the nickel as well!
As we sat with the pastors, listening to them recount their recollections of brother Don, my younger brother and I, along with his ex-wife and the mother of his children shared several fleeting glances, grins and a lot of eye contact. While the pastors were warmly speaking of his love of people and his willingness to do anything for anyone, at almost any time, we were thinking that those things which endeared him to strangers drove us absolutely nuts! What the pastors saw as unbridled selflessness was to us a dereliction of those things necessary in order to maintain a marriage and a family in modern society.
While they spoke of his willingness to help a friend (to him, there were no strangers, only friends he had yet to meet), they spoke to us of his flightiness. He would drop everything at a moment’s notice to help someone, even if it meant being late for or losing a contracting job. It was more important to him to be of help to those in need than to provide a stable paycheck to his young family.
How do you talk about a man like this without sounding like a scrooge? How does one possibly speak ill of a man so widely loved by those around him because his priorities didn’t line up with your own? You don’t. So pretty much everything that I found to be a shortcoming in him was perceived by others as a strength of character.
In short, my brother was a man who was loved by nearly everyone who knew him. He always had time for a friend. Anyone who had a problem had a piece of him and his time, often without having to ask. He did countless favors for friends. He left a legacy of goodwill and fond memories among those people whose lives he touched and there were many. He was taken advantage of countless times, by those much less scrupulous then he, but he didn’t care. He didn’t have bad experiences, only learning ones. And with each one, he learned it was important to keep giving, because the gratification of the successes always exceeded the frustration of the failures.
So all the things about him that I found to be his failings never really mattered much to him. After all, they weren’t his failings. They were just my expectations of what an older brother should be. The things I found to be important in life were rarely important to him. He died loved by nearly everyone whose life he touched and that number is huge. It’s not a legacy that has ever been important to me. I doubt he ever saw it as a “legacy” but being there for others was always important to him.
He always lived his life on his own terms. Now, by his beliefs he is in heaven with mom and dad and all those friends and family who have gone before him. I’m not enough of a believer to make those assumptions. All I’m left with is the fact that my phone will never again ring with his Caller ID showing up. I’ll never again hear him tell me he’s sitting at the airport, “just watching the planes take off and land.” I’ll never hear him again tell me he just wanted to call me up and make sure everything is OK in my life. He’ll never again tell me of his latest multi-level marketing scheme or the latest “great idea” he has.
I’ll never again worry that he’ll grow old without a roof over his head or a dime to his name. But most of all, I think I’ll think about those people whose lives he would have touched in a very postive way, those people who are down on their luck who will never know this man who would buy them lunch so they won’t be hungry, or fix their bicycle or give them hope for a better tomorrow.
Thank you, my brother. You’re a good man! I will miss you more than I could ever tell you.