My brother died again yesterday. I’ll explain.
It’s been a long time since my brother passed away, and not everyone knows the details of that. It was a big event in my life, not just because he was my brother, but also because I was called upon to identify his body. The whole experience was a pivotal moment in my life, because so many things were shown to me during that time.
My brother died a homeless man, and I’m not going to go into the events that led up to that. He was loved and my family tried to help him many, many times. He definitely struggled the last few years of his life with his ex-wife, with drugs and alcohol to numb that pain, with employment, with everything. He wasn’t a bad person prior to this, and I won’t immortalize him the way some people do with the deceased that just don’t deserve it. He was an average guy. He liked to draw and was really good at it. He was an excellent cook, even though he ate some really gross stuff when we were kids. He was funny. He had a million “get rich quick” schemes. He was really good at pool and we were even on a league together once.
My brother unknowingly chose my daughter’s name, even though he never met her. I like my daughter’s name, and I knew it was one he had not been “allowed” to name either one of his daughters. The last time we spoke, on the phone, my daughter was about 3 months old (she’s 21 now). He had been kind of missing in action for quite a while, although I think my mother had some contact with him now and then. He told me that he had heard I had a baby, and could he come to see her? I told him of course he could, he was her one and only uncle! And that was the last time I spoke to my brother.
When my daughter was about six months old, I received a message on a now antiquated answering machine, from a morgue in Wayne County telling me they were pretty sure they had my brother and could I come identify him? He had been there for months, found without identification, and unfortunately, Wayne County also houses Detroit, so tracking bodies is a job that requires overtime. He was in a refrigerator there. I was called when they finally checked police records in Oakland County. My brother had outstanding traffic tickets, my parents had both moved since that happened, and I was the easiest person to find I guess.
My husband at the time looked after my daughter, and I called my father. It was quite a conscientious decision to call him and not my mother. For one, as a new mother myself, I could not imagine having to go and identify the body of my child. For two, my mother had an extraordinary bond with my brother. He was her only son, and her firstborn. Lastly, my mother is extremely emotional and dramatic. I felt it was in everyone’s best interest to call my dad. I didn’t want to go alone or I would have spared them both. My father came to pick me up immediately.
I’m not sure what I expected. But we had to sit in this little room with a television in it. The camera was pointed over my brother and would show up on the television. It wasn’t like Law & Order or any other show you’ve ever seen. We had to look at a television screen, not the actual body. My dad and I both shrugged. Maybe it was him. He had been homeless for a long time, so it was hard to say. I wasn’t used to seeing my brother with so much facial hair. Nor with his eyes shut. Nor so completely swollen. Without being allowed to go in and examine him for ourselves, we needed to come up with another way to identify him besides height and weight. Which my father did. My brother had had many knee surgeries from dirt bike accidents. He had rather significant scars on his knee, with a very distinct shape. My father asked the coroner to go look at this knee for scarring, without defining what they looked like, and then report back to us. He did, and he told us exactly what we needed to hear to confirm it was my brother.
I agreed to be the one to tell my mother. I felt like my dad had done plenty. It was one of many times my mother would show me her irrational side, waters that I have since learned to navigate as grown woman with life experiences. I’m sure she was simply devastated to lose her son, but what came out was how horrible of a daughter I was for calling my dad and not her. Like I said, many things were shown to me during that time. I was also shown how strong my father is, and how I could rely on him for just about anything. I was also shown the value in having a couple of really good friends.
I don’t get hung up on dates. I don’t remember my brother more on his birthday, Christmas, or any other time of year. In fact, I barely remember his date of death. I know what month and year it is, but I don’t have a day of mourning or anything like that. I still miss him sometimes, thirty years later, and at times I feel like he’s still around me. I am now more than ten years older than he was when he passed away, keeping his image forever in his 30’s in my mind.
I’ve moved a couple times since my divorce in 2001, and along the way lost track of small card they give you at the funeral home with the deceased’s information on it. It made me feel just horrible. I probably have it somewhere, but it makes me feel like a bad person that I can’t tell you exactly where it is. I have a small pile of them, that include my grandparents’, but his is not in there. And I don’t know why, but also know it is somewhere and would never be thrown out. Stay on the train…this is where things take a weird turn.
So, for literally months I have been looking for my small sewing box. Most homes with a woman in it have one of these, containing sewing needles, various colors of thread, maybe a measuring tape, buttons, or seam ripper. I do recall seeing this in my new home, but I could not find it anywhere. I went through closets, boxes, anywhere it might have ended up. In that process, I found a very old, very yellowed daily devotion book. A tiny book, almost like a pocket book. I remember reading it every day back in the days I worked at Lawrence Tech, as it was given to me by a woman there named Gloria. The sight of it made me smile, and I cracked it open. My brother’s obituary, from the newspaper, fell out, almost in pristine, new condition. The book had yellowed far more than the obituary had.
I read it once more. I did not cry at first. I did not dwell on the circumstances that I just outlined for you. I simply remembered my brother, and the things he loved. I remembered the man he was. Not a man immortalized, nor a bad man. Just my brother. I smiled before a couple small tears ran down my face and I felt his death one more time. It was as if I lost him again, thirty years later, when that obituary drifted out of that book of devotions. How appropriate was it that I find it there? I almost threw it away. But I didn’t. I opened it. It was as if, for a moment, I could feel my brother’s arms around me in a warm bear hug.
Then I found that stupid sewing kit and laughed at the universe.
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