It has been five years since Jim died. I always know the anniversary of his death is approaching for I am overwhelmed with loss the week before his death and continuing through early September. Forever will my brother's passing be connected to the tragedy of 9/11 for it happened 11 days after he left us. Now, though, five years later, I find myself not as deeply intrenched in grief as I was in 2001 or even in 2002. This summer I came across the photos I'd been asked to take of my brother at the funeral home (yes, my family is sort of weird that way). I hadn't seen them since I was on the other side of the camera taking them. When I saw them, it wasn't a shock nor did it send me into sobs. For he had been sick for so long, that he had stopped looking like the brother I had known when he was so full of life. I saw the photos only as a history for I am the family's genealogist - the person everyone sends memorabilia and "stuff" to. I can look at old videos of my brother and feel a since of happiness - for there he is on the screen - so full of life, smiling, enjoying the moment. Some of the videos has him waving at the camera and I find myself waving back and calling his name. I can't do that in real life. I can't call him on the phone and tell him he has a new great-nephew. I can't tell him about my children's achievements and activities. I can't tell him about my grandson's first day of kindergarten BUT . . . He knows. He is with me everyday. I can talk to him whenever I want and I can almost hear his responses. I know the facial expressions he would have at certain things. My brother's death taught me a valuable lesson - one, I'm sorry to say, not all who were affected by his death learned. There is nothing anyone I love can do that would make me so angry I wouldn't speak to them. I can't imagine anything worse than being mad at someone and then finding out they are dying and never getting a chance to reconcile and resolve that anger. So much now rolls off my back and not much gets to me anymore. I often wonder why it took Jim's passing for that to happen and realize that it was a gift, one final thing, Jim gave to me. Jim and my grandparents are my guardian angels - they have been with my children at the lowest lows and when I haven't been able to be with them at critical times in their lives. They are with family members who are far away and knowing that, gives me a sense of peace and optimism. I miss Jim with my whole heart. I had him for my brother here on earth for almost 40 years. Yet I know that he is still with me, in my heart, in my memories, each passing day.
There are many words to describe the brother that I grew up calling Jimmy. Prankster, sensitive, happy, fun-loving, teasing, well-mannered, loving, gentle. When I was born, Jim was 21 and already married. I missed out on growing up along side of him, yet he never let me forget that he was my big brother. When I was a gawky adolescent, he teased me unmercifully - just as if he was only a few years older than me.
As I grew, he started calling me "Sis" - a term of endearment that I looked forward to hearing him speak. Usually it was my birthday when he'd call. He'd always stress out my age - knowing that no matter how old I was - he would always be twenty one years older than me.
He took me on my first visit to Cedar Point amusement park when I was young. And he took me to my first rock and roll concert - Aerosmith - at the University of Dayton arena when I was a freshman in high school. We sat at the very top of the arena - the performers looked like ants. Yet it will always be special for me because Jim was there. He insisted on chaperoning my first boy-girl party when I was fifteen. He thought we were so boring that he ended up spending most of the evening in the living room talking to my mother. But he cared enough about my welfare to do that.
I remember some of our serious discussions. At fifteen I had a boyfriend that I thought would be around forever. Jim was very concerned that I would get hurt over what he considered "puppy love". Then when I was seventeen and a new guy was in the picture - things did turn serious. Not only was my mother concerned, but Jim took me for a drive and we had a very long talk. Sometimes I wish I'd done everything I'd promised him. Then there he was - walking me down the aisle - at my wedding when I was eighteen. He'd been like a surrogate father to me for many years so it was only right that he give me away - as much as no one there wanted me to be "given away". At least not then.
Jim loved to pull pranks on people - he thought up lots of little "tricks" that young kids loved to see him perform. He was good at card tricks and amazed all of us. From my sister I learned that he was voted best dressed in high school.
Several years ago, he pledged his life to God again and was re-baptized. His life changed and became full of love and serenity. For the last several years, my brother had been ill. His weight dropped radically - but over a long period of time. He had back pains, fatigue, nausea, no appetite, lethargy, and a general feeling of malaise. After several doctors and several prescriptions, he called me early in 2001 with excitement in his voice. They'd found the problem - and the best part - there was no cancer anywhere. That was his greatest fear. He was diagnosed with Addison's disease (adrenal glands shut down). Most of the medicine was not needed and there was a treatment available to help. His appetite came back and he even gained some weight. Then there was a relapse. In June he went into the hospital. The diagnosis came back - pancreatic cancer. He had surgery but not all of the tumor was removed. Chemotherapy began in August. But toward the end of the month, hospice said there wasn't much time.
I was able to visit him for a few days. He lay comatose - but I sat and talked to him as normally as I could. I joked about what he did to get me to finally visit him. My sister kept messing his hair up - something he never would have allowed. We reminisced about fun stuff he had done or the jokes that he'd told. We reminded him of our love for him. And we told him it was okay to go. As each hour passed and still no change, we all wondered how he could be hanging on. I left on the last Monday of August. I kissed his forehead, held his hand and cried. I knew I wouldn't see him alive again.
As each day of that week passed, I would call each evening to check on his progress. Friday, the 31st, I got the call about 1 p.m. He'd passed away about 10 minutes before. Even knowing that the inevitable is going to happen, doesn't make it any easier when it does. There was still so much to be said - still so much to do - so many words not spoken. He wasn't supposed to die at age 61. He wasn't supposed to leave the happy life he'd found.
I made the hardest calls of my life. First to my husband - I was okay until I heard his voice. Then it all broke forth. He came home from work. Then to my sister - also at work - hundreds of miles away from me. As soon as she heard my voice, she knew. We both cried. Then I had to get word to my mother - the hardest call of all. No parent wants to be told that their child is gone - especially when they've only had a week to get used to the idea; especially when it's a beloved son; the first born child. I knew that the lady I contacted close to my mom would tell her personally. It would be easier that way then over the phone.
We all converged on Cullman, Alabama the very next day - by plane, rental car, and van. We all stayed in rooms close by at the same hotel. We all grieved together. The funeral home was overflowing with people who loved my brother. Everyone of them told us stories about how he'd touched their lives. All of them were better from knowing him.
Yes, he has left this earthly world but he leaves a legacy behind. Everyone who met him, who was his friend, who shared his life, who worked along side him has a part of Jim within them. The part that he gave in love, friendship and respect. Those of us who share a blood tie with him are better because of him. In his last days, he taught me that life is too short for petty bickering or differences - that when we love someone, we don't have to approve or condone their behavior or opinions - what matters is the love.
Recently, my 40th birthday rolled around - the phone call I wished I could have received never came. Yet, I could hear him saying - "fo-or-ty" - drawn out in that special way he had. Then the chuckle that he would have blessed me with. Deep throated, from the belly. No one will ever call me "Sis" the way he did.
I know that he's at peace and there is no more pain. I know he's finally reunited with our beloved "Nana" and "Grandad" - with our Aunt Genevieve, Uncle Johnny, and Uncle Glen. My cousin, Barbara, summed it up beautifully in an email I received after his death. ". . . there has been a wonderful reunion in heaven this year . . . "
For my brother - Jim - someday we will all meet again - and I hope the first word I hear him say to me is "Sis".