I have been thinking of that day a lot. A day that no one should have to think about… but we do from time to time. The day of our own death. The day that will end our days on this earth and depending on your beliefs – begin a new life. Some will think that I am thinking these thoughts because of my upcoming 30th birthday… but that is not true. Ask me again at 32 – that seems to be the age that the males in our family pass away… so ask me again then.
No, I guess I have thought about it more and more because I have been thinking about my Brother more and more. Sadly, my thoughts of my Brother and death seem to go hand in hand still – since it is still fresh to me. Lots of you know the story of my Brother’s death – lived it side-by-side with us when it was going on… but for those that have come in late to the conversation – let me fill you in as quickly as possible.
My Brother painted cars for a living. In a sad twist of fate – those same cars would be the leading cause of his death. You see, my Brother (Kenny) didn’t use a respirator unless he was paiting an entire car – which in that line of work… was very seldom. So after years and years of doing this, he developed lung cancer. And by the time they caught it… it was too late. It was fairly quick (although it didn’t seem so at the time) if you compare it to other people’s bouts with cancer, but for me – it seems to be a lifetime.
This wasn’t my family’s first fight with cancer, my Stepdad fought that demon and won… his Dad… not as lucky. My Grandpa was later diagnosed and won – so we have seen all sides of it. But I have to say, nothing hits as hard as someone close to your age, and on top of that… a Brother.
I suppose it being my Brother made it worse than the normal. A big brother is always the strong one, the one that should be able to take on the bullies and come home beaten & bruised… but still there. This seemed to be just another hurdle for the big brother to handle. It never hit home w/ me (as we were 5 hours away) until between visits he had lost a considerable amount of weight and I saw that big brother turn into the little brother. I wanted to stand up for him, take on that bully and show it that we were a team. But this bully didn’t care, it was relentless.
So needless to say, this all led to his eventual death. A 32 year old man shot down in his prime and taken out just as quickly as he was placed in this world. Similar in arrival as departure. Hospital bed, gathered family… lots of crying… lots of sleepless nights.
Having lived this before (as my Dad passed away at 32) – it made it worse… knowing what the kids would have to go through… seeing the similarities of my Mom & their Mom (Anna)… it was all too familiar. It was almost as if life had just skipped and restarted – but with a different generation.
I am someone who keeps a lot of his emotions bottled up, or at least finds a way to cope using humor. Humor has always kept me moving forward. I can remember when life was turned upside down the first time – when my Dad was snatched away at age 5. That pretty much began my life as a comedian. My Mom had a real hard time, as expected – when my Dad passed. I guess it was the shock and everything – since he died in a car wreck. Instantly life is changed, no telling someone how you feel, no goodbyes… nothing. A new life from one minute to the next.
The thoughts that pollute my mind are the ones of my Mom and how sad she was. I remember we were trying to start going to church afterwards… because people had suggested that was what we needed. One morning my Mom just didn’t come out of the bathroom… she couldn’t. She couldn’t face the world anymore. I couldn’t blame her. I sat at the door, glancing underneath watching her feet… listening to her cry. I knew how she felt, probably not to the extent she did – since I was so young… but at this point I knew my Dad wasn’t coming back. I knew that my time with him was over. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I didn’t know how we would make it as a family (her, myself & my brother) – but I knew we had to.
At that point I think is when my humor started to come out. It was my defense, it was the only thing that seemed to make people smile. I would make inappropriate jokes – but it seemed to make people laugh and that is all that mattered to me. Making Kenny laugh was always something that I took pride in. He didn’t laugh all the time like other people. He didn’t hand out laughs to mediocre jokes that seemed canned and pre-planned. He liked genuine, spur of the moment jokes up until the day he died. It presented a challenge… which I enjoyed.
My Mom was easy. Throw a fart joke, poop or just anything with a punchline and she would nearly cry. I am sure it had to do with me being her son… and her finding me funny to begin with – but nevertheless it kept her smiling. Which kept me smiling. My Mom spent some time deep in depression – and it was my daily passion to do my best to pull her out of it.
Fast forward to a few years back when Kenny passed. I remember the night it happened… being up til 5AM, after driving in from Austin to his home. Getting 2 hours of sleep. Then watching as family began to show up. This was probably the hardest thing for me. Everyone always loved Kenny. He had enough mischief that he was interesting. He cared deeply for our family, but was the farthest away. He was a hard worker since he was young. And he was the namesake of my Dad. So two generations had looked to him as both himself… and my Dad. He was the spitting image of my Dad, so that brought in those that saw him as the last living memory of him.
So as family started to show up… you basically are stuck in this loop. You had to hug/hold/cry with each new person that showed up. Get your shit straight… then tell the story, put on your strong face. Cry/hold/hug… then repeat when the next showed up. This is vicious for those having to be the strong ones. But, since the strong ones will be the ones telling this story for the rest of their lives – it is merely practice. I remember a specific cousin coming up to me and lashing out as he hugged me. I knew what he was feeling – it was exactly what I wanted to say but couldn’t. Here I was 6 years younger… being the strong one, the wise one… the composed one. That instance is the most vivid in my head after all this time. There are a few that shine as bright as the sun in my memory, and that is near the top of the list.
But as quick as the death came, we gathered on the tailgate of the truck and began to tell stories. Stories we had all heard a billion times. Punchlines seemed endless once again. I was taken back to when I was 5 or 6 years old… that comedian was back. I bet we sat around for hours drinking and telling stories about my Brother. Since I had been a part of these stories, but offered a seldom heard version – it brought new light to them. Everyone laughed until they cried.
I guess the point of all of this is to showcase that death is not funny. I try hard to take it lightly, speak bluntly and paint it with a big fat brush… but it has effected my family in ways that I cannot describe fully. It haunts. It hates. It hurts… and it lingers. Life is funny, stories are funny, fat people in little bathing suits are funny… death – not so much. My humor has helped me disquise it for a long time… but just like everyone else, the pain resides deep within. Death isn’t funny.
P.S. – I will not be editing this post for mistakes, as it was written with pure emotion. If you care to comment on something, feel free – I don’t really care either way. It is what it is. If I said “the the” a few times or mispelled “comedian” somewhere – just correct it in your mind. 😉
I don’t make the blog rounds nearly enough so it’s been 10 days (!!) since you wrote this, but I wanted to offer a (hug) and a thank you for sharing.
We lost our precious only daughter 10 years ago tomorrow…..we are very blessed to have had her, but only recently have been able to get past the loss and appreciate her life with us. Your descriptions of “being the strong one” ring true…..the family gathering, the repeated hugs…..and finally, gratefully, the laughter. She brought much into our lives……but the feeling of loss is as strong as ever. Thanks for sharing.
I first read your post about a week ago. I closed it without commenting because I was without words. I just want to thank you for the reminder that death is inevitable and to not take a moment for granted. So easy to forget this in our busy lives. Thank you for writing from your heart and sharing it with us.
Thank you for sharing this and strengthening the link of humanity. I suspect it was not easy.
We lost my “other” Dad on 11/6/09. He and my Mom have been together for 18 years and married for most. There have been countless ramblings and emotional outpourings on various platforms throughout his illness and following his death. Like your brother, lung and brain cancer stole him from us. And like you, humor has been our family’s coping mechanism. So who cares if it isn’t an “appropriate” time for humor? You are right death isn’t funny….but neither is feeling like I will never truly have joy again. So I practice at it and make sure to smile and laugh often. Thank you for your words. There were heartfelt and needed. Take care and keep on laughing….