I just got off the phone with my brother, Jamie. He and his family (wife and 14-year-old daughter) live in Urbana, IL. I'd heard about the terrible weather there, so just called to check on them. It's been months since I spoke to Jamie.
I am eight years older than Jamie. He and his younger brother, David, are "Irish Twins" - meaning, they are only 15 months apart in age. What a pair they were! And cute? Well, don't even get me started...except to say that my sister and I used to love to dress them up as little girls and put them in the wagon and walk them around the neighborhood! Thank goodness, they don't remember that. But they were both so precious.
Jamie had dimples - BIG dimples - as a baby. He still has them, but you can only see them if he shaves. One of my favorite pictures of Jamie is one that my dad took of him. It's a profile shot, with Jamie holding one one of my dad's (unlit) cigars in his mouth. Precious.
Jamie and David used to play "Mary Poppins." Jamie was always Burt, in his blue and black striped sweater and a little cap. David was always Mary Poppins, wearing a straw hat with fake flowers on it. For years, those two played Mary Poppins. They would probably die if they were reading this...but, maybe they would laugh. They were so much fun!
When my mom got diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer three years ago (almost to the day), Jamie and I both flew to Denver to be with her for a few days. We sort of re-connected then. I can't explain it, but I think we both felt a renewed fondness for each other after years of disconnection.
When mom became terminal, just after Thanksgiving, Jamie and I arrived in Denver again. He had brought his family, but Mary Beth and Mimi went back home and Jamie stayed. I arrived with Warren and Jonathan, and they both left together, leaving me behind. Jamie and I and Amy (baby sister) pretty much spent the next several days taking care of mom 24/7. It was a really difficult time, but we had so much fun! I felt a renewed spiritual connection with Jamie. And Amy, of course, just added to the whole wonderfulness of it all.
The morning that mom died, Jamie woke me (I was on the couch just outside her room) and said, "Mom's making some different sounds. You might want to come and see what's going on." Immediately upon walking into the room I said, "Go wake up Dad and get him down here." Less than an hour later, Mom died. I'm so thankful that my dad was there next to her, holding her hand, when she died. When it "was all over" Amy lay down on the bed next to mom for a long time. We called the rest of the family, and as folks began to trickle in, the sun started to rise.
And rise it did! It took several hours for our Hospice nurse to come - we wouldn't have anyone but her there. We all stood around the bed while she did her "last testing" of mom's frail body. She was dead! I took mom's wedding rings off her finger and gave them to my dad. A few minutes later, the guys from the mortuary arrived. They asked us to all pay our last respects - to take our time. Then they did what they had to do - behind a closed door - and brought mom out on a stretcher, her face still uncovered and available to us for one last brush of her hair and a kiss on her cheek. It was tearful; it was joyful. She was no longer meant for this world, and we knew that.
We all stood outside and watched as the mortuary guys put her into the van. The sunrise was incredible! After the van drove away, we all stood and watched this incredible expression of God's love that seemed, to us, as some sort of a message that our mom/wife/friend was destined for a place much more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
There wasn't much "shock" regarding mom's death. We all knew it was coming. We went into preparation mode (but had actually been preparing for it for weeks). Once we were all together, we started having more and more fun. Incredibly, our mother's death brought her children closer together than I believe they had ever been before. A room full of adults who grew up together, laughing and crying and playing music and teasing each other - mom would have loved being in that room...every night!...I know my Dad loved sitting there watching us!
When I flew back to Worcester after Mom's funeral I was sad to leave my family, but mostly sad to say goodbye to Jamie. We had had such a wonderful time together! I didn't want to lose that.
Sadly, we did lose that. Tonight was the first time in three years that I feel like he was interested in hearing about me and my life and my family. And we laughed! Oh, we laughed so much. About silly stuff, about serious stuff. About dad, about family, about our jobs. We laughed. I feel so renewed and so refreshed by that telephone conversation! Should I thank God for the horrible storm in Chicago yesterday, which encouraged me to call Jamie and see if they were okay? Alright, I will! Thank you God! Thank you for giving me the incentive to call and say "I'm thinking about you. How are you?" And the rest of the conversation - history now - will remain in my heart.
Little brother Jamie with the dimples who loved to play Burt and who grew up to be so smart and have a beautiful family - I LOVE YOU! Thank you for giving me YOU tonight. I will sleep well, with you in my heart.