He Was My Brother

My brother died today, the first of our generation to go.

We weren’t close, he and I—brothers by birth, but distant in life.  He was a complex man, troubled by emotional problems and addiction issues, and hard to help.

Since learning of his passing, I’ve been reflecting on his life and how it intertwined with mine.  As is often the way with me, it helps to write it down and share it.

The best parts of our relationship were during our childhood, so long ago now that I have to think hard to remember them.  We didn’t see each other much over the past five decades, nor did we speak very often by phone—telephone phobia being one of the fears he struggled with.  The last time I met with him, he looked older than I who am his elder by three years—hair gone white, walking only with assistance, racked by a persistent, phlegmy cough.

When we did meet over the years, it was almost always when he needed help.  I checked him into rehab clinics on three different occasions, lent him money, gave him a temporary bed, and after our parents’ deaths, managed his financial affairs—always feeling, I’m sorry to say, somewhat put-upon.  I could never understand why he seemed unable to respond to the many, well-intentioned interventions mounted by his sisters and me.

I have pictures of him as a young boy, nestled in the cocoon of parents and siblings, but almost no pictures of his adult years.  He always had a dreamy expression on his face in those pictures, as if he couldn’t quite grasp the notion that the onrushing realities of life would have to be faced.

He was highly intelligent, but seriously unable to apply his intellect to everyday problems and situations.  He wanted to be liked, but his social skills were lacking, to the point that he would frequently offend people without intending to.  And when he became frightened or frustrated, as he often did, he had a temper.

But he could display a quirky, astute sense of humour, too, and would smile quietly as the rest of us laughed at some of the things he said.  When at his best, he was unfailingly polite, almost Victorian in manner, and spoke deliberately in the most precise English.  Even when I, impatient with the pace of the conversation, would finish his sentences for him, he would continue on to finish in his own way, as if I hadn’t interrupted.  He could be a charmer.

He was a keen devotee of chess, a game at which he beat me regularly in our childhood, much to my chagrin.  He loved classical music, a trait we both learned from our father.  I remember listening to each other’s LP records and arguing about which was best—Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol; Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos or Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht-Musik or Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, ‘Emperor’.  I find now that I love them all, and am glad we listened together.

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Reading was another of his passions, as it was for me, although our tastes were not the same.  Nevertheless, it was my brother who introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe and William Butler Yeats, two favourites to this day, and it was he who gave me my first copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, Lord of the Rings, perhaps my all-time favourite story.

It would have been nice if all that had continued into adulthood.  But it didn’t, and no amount of wishing will make it so.

Given his afflictions and general health near the end, I feel little sorrow at his passing—rather, I am grateful that his problems are over and he is at peace.  I picture him now, embarking upon the next phase of his eternal journey through the universe, unencumbered by his mortal restraints, free and open wide to whatever may come.

If I choose to remember him only through the good things from our time together on this earth, so be it.  If I choose to believe we loved each other despite the many obstacles, then it is so.  He was more than his illnesses and sufferings, after all.

He was my brother.

21 thoughts on “He Was My Brother

  1. Beautifully done Brad. So true, on so many levels. Liz and I send our condolences, and also our admiration for such a fine piece of work.
    David and Liz Gorman

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  2. Hi Brad

    Dianne and I want to offer our condolences on the death of your brother. Thankfully you have the “Good Memories”

    Bob

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  3. This was so beautifully and heart-fully constructed, Dad. Aspects of it resonated for me quite poignantly; playing chess with Allan — yes, he’d have 2 boards side-by-side while he played Megan and I simultaneously. And though we were children, he never let us win – Ha ha! And he’d always take the opportunity to point out where we erred in the game. But he took the time to play with us, to teach us, despite his superior abikity, which gave me the impression that perhaps one day I could beat him. He made me feel like I was also intelligent simply because he engaged in the game with me. And he would chuckle, even let out a gravelly, gleeful giggle when I would make my errors, giving me pause, indicating that I should think more on it.
    I remember feeling mystified that he could come across as so arrogant and opinionated, yet was rendered helpless at the simple task of calling for pizza. Or entering a crowded room of people. He must have been deeply frustrated by the stifling dichotomy of his intellectual prowess vs. his emotional and psychological incapacities. Especially with such social, vivacious and charming family members surrounding him in his younger years. Perhaps this is part of why he isolated himself the way he did as an adult.

    You wrote this response to your brother’s passing so soon afterwards, so the piece is quite inspired, raw and at times poetic. I love how music impacted your relationship with Al. We are so fortunate to have writing and music to express our grief and joy.
    I’m sorry you couldn’t have had a closer, more balanced bond with your brother in life. But you’re wise to let those positive, amusing memories dominate your reflective thoughts now. That’s your gift to him in his absence from this place — he lives on through your loving thoughts, your cleverly-crafted words that are shared with us, and the image of his sly smile.
    I love you, Dad.

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    • I’m discovering through comments from people who knew him, both here and in emails, that my brother will be missed by many, and remembered fondly. That’s a good thing.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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  4. Hey Dad! Very well written. Some choices for love are not given, just presumed. I loved uncle Allen and all that made him so. 🙂

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    • He loved you, too, and all of us, in his way. His nieces and nephews were a source of wonderment for him, I think…..people he could more easily relate to.
      Thanks for commenting.

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  5. It was interesting to note that one of your fans commented that she was going to call her brothers right now. One of the strangest things about the time when people leave this earth is that you can never reach them on the telephone. It is strange, now you can, now you can’t. And of course all that incredible information disappears with them and you wonder where it all goes. If nothing in this universe can be gotten rid of because it is trapped in the universe, and there seems to be no escape from that, where the heck does it go? It’s fascinating. So Alan and all his stuff is out there somewhere, and only God knows where. Maybe it’s hidden in that sort of mystical world that we seem to have left behind in our modernity, A place that people claim to visit with their extra special powers who we look up on as being slightly nuts. Ah, Life is so complicated and in our own life times we only get a 10th of the answers. Yes sir, he was great at playing Chess and I remember playing a game or two up in the bedroom above the garage, the same place we helped him with his epilepsy. Some of those times were drastic times for young people but he could play a great game of chess. I actually can’t remember who won but I bet it wasn’t me! And now with your remembrance to remind me yes he did have a great sense of humour and a sly a little smile! And yes all the things you said brought back some great memories which I’m sure will last a lifetime. I can solve the favourite piece of music for you, Brandenburg Concerto’s certainly take the cake no matter what you or Alan have to say about it.

    Sincere condolences, Peter

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    • Thanks, Peter…..there are good memories, despite the travails my brother endured.
      I wrote this little tribute to him while listening to Barenboim playing Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ concerto….a piece of music that evokes heaven more perfectly than any I know.

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  6. Beautifully written Brad- I think his true colours will come out now. So many people in the same situation today, what can we do? Thank you for sharing such an intimate story. Beth

    >

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      • Yes you’re so right Brad. Right now I’m taking an online bereavement program for writers, to help me deal with my recent loss. They send you a writing prompt every day for 30 days. I’m on day 28 and it has helped me manage my grief. My condolences Brad, always sad when a family member passes away.

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  7. i’m so sorry for your loss.. and i’m sure you did love one another. love isn’t about phone calls or how long you can spend without arguing, it’s a connection between hearts. the kind of bond that’s never broken. i’m so sorry. i haven’t seen my brothers in months, and i’m calling them now. thank you for sharing ❤

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