Thursday, October 28, 2021

An Unexpected Bridge

I’ve gotten my booster in anticipation of an upcoming flight to Reno. It will be the first time I’ve been on a plane in two years and not for something I had ever envisioned, a memorial service for my brother who passed away last month. Needless to say the loss of a sibling is not something I ever wrapped my brain around in any serious way, figuring there was much time before I would have to cross that bridge.

I was sandwiched in the middle between a younger sister and older brother, only a year and a half younger than my brother. As a child, I had a rather competitive nature and was quite frustrated  that I could never catch-up to my brother in age. Just when I arrived he moved forward another year. It became our joke when I would call him to wish him a happy birthday. 

"You still haven’t caught up," he teased. 

“That’s OK,”I assured him.  “It’s not a good thing if I do.” 

I reflect now on the fact that unless similarly ill-fated, I will catch up.  It is a wake up call to my own mortality. I wasn’t ready for the suddenness of death after a short illness, nor in quite this familial proximity.

My siblings spread out in different geographic and life directions. We found different paths through life, different careers and family configurations. Our parents remained at the core as we each checked in frequently and they had strong relationships with each of us tailored to who we were.

When they passed away, I reflected on how that might change my sibling relationships. We no longer had the core that joined us. Would we just spin into our separate orbits? My sister and I had strengthened our bond as we supported our parents in their later years. While very different, we share many values and worked well together as a team. That had deepened our respect for each other’s talents and our trust in each other.

My brother and I were not close which in some ways makes a loss more challenging. We had many divides and politics was a significant one in recent years. He worked in radio, conservative talk radio. When we spoke we inevitably veered into our very divergent political views. There was little room for common ground and we often tripped over that proverbial, dare I say, elephant, in the middle of the room. “La,la,la,la, I’m not having this conversation,” I would sing out, fingers in my ears, when we’d stray into that danger zone. In one of my last emails to him, I told him that we could talk about family, pets and the weather, but not politics. A string of emails on his dog followed. 

As I went through old picture albums, pulling photos from our childhood, I found many of us together as children and I began to recall our shared history, often just flashes in memory. I remembered when as a toddler I struck out on my own in search of the milkweed pods that so fascinated me. Just when it was beginning to dawn on me that I didn't know quite where they were, my brother pedaled up to me on his tricycle to announce with an impressive air of authority, "You're lost!"

Fred the magician

At childhood birthday parties he performed as a magician to the rapt attention of little girls in party dresses. Later I would sneak into his room to figure out how the tricks worked. Mirrors! 

Susan and Fred

When our grandmother lived with us for several years he gave up his room and had a rollaway bed in the bedroom that I shared with my sister. At night we would play cards with a flashlight under the covers. 

And when he commandeered our bathroom as a darkroom for his photography, I remember feeling somewhat envious of this passion that possessed him even as I banged on the door demanding access. Some time after that our lives diverged along with our beliefs about the world. The common ground slipped from beneath our feet.

So now I go to the memorial to acknowledge the reality, to hear his “tribe” share stories which he would certainly have enjoyed, to be there for his family and to join with my sister. And no doubt I will still argue politics with him in my head wherever he resides.