My brother died on June 23, 2008

The sibs — Sheila, Madeline, and Kenny — August 2007 — Ken’s 70th birthday

The Sibs — Madeline, Sheila, and Kenny — June 2006

We buried my brother on Wednesday, June 25, 2008. It was 90 degrees out at the cemetery, and we sat there with sweat rolling down under our arms and wet between the legs while we eulogized him and then covered him with one shovel full after another of dirt. It still hasn’t sunk in that he’s gone. I look around his house and don’t see him there. When someone sits at his chair in the breakfast room I want to say get up, that’s his chair. This was a man who will be missed – and very much. He was a wonderful, unassuming guy who was so smart and so cultured – like his wife, Barb, said, a modern Renaissance man.

Actually, the service was very short – the Rabbi’s eulogy that was quite good considering that he got the main facts from us just yesterday. Sure a few details were wrong but they really didn’t matter in the scheme of things. Then he called Ben to read my poem – one that I had written almost two years ago when he still could walk around the block and didn’t have to have oxygen all day and all night. Here it is:

Brotherly Love

He made me walk across the street
away from him and his friends
to avoid me, his little sister,
on our way to school.
He’d rub my arm until it burned
whenever he could take hold,
and flicked me with a dish towel
when it was his turn
to dry the dishes.
He called me fatso,
He called me Madeldini
He shut the door
of his room in my face.
Growing up, my mother’s mantra,
“He teases her and she screams,”
echoed throughout our house.

I only retaliated once.
I threw a pair of scissors at him
that landed just under his eye.
It hurt me more than it hurt him.
Instead I wanted to copy him
to get the same grades, to see the same movies,
to read the same books, to go to all the Cubs games.
I was happy tagging along even if it meant
being two steps behind.

Now he’s so thin his shirts fall off his shoulders.
The lines around his mouth are deep and black
like the strokes of a charcoal stick.
His white hair combed flat
barely covers his skull.
His voice is raspy and weak
like my father’s in his last days,
and he has to suck regularly
from his oxygen supply.

The only walk he takes these days
is around the block.
Not trying to hurry his dog as she sniffs along the way
he takes short steps and short breaths
until he’s back inside.
In his chair in the sun room,
he reads, he snoozes,
he watches his grandchildren play
breathing more easily with a hit or two
from his oxygen tank,
his new-best friend.
He looks out to the yard
while the birds flit from one feeder
to the other
and sing their songs.

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