I just celebrated another birthday on December 1st, my 70th…a big one. But there was something missing. A phone call from my brother Dick. Ever since I went away to college, he has called me on my birthday, until his death in 2000, just 21 days after my birthday…the last time he called me. My daughter had a brand new baby, her first, and Dick talked with her first, then talked with me. That was the last time I heard his voice.
The story goes that when I was born on December 1st, 1944, my brother was ‘over the moon’ with excitement. He had been patiently waiting for his baby brother or sister to be born, anxious to find out which. And he became my protector from the moment he saw me about 10 days later. My mother had to have some surgery immediately after my birth, and so he was at a relative’s until she brought me home.
As you can see from these pictures, he was always watching over me. Growing up, he was always there, whether it was protecting me in the school yard, or giving me advice about my marriages later in life. He was just as much a close friend as he was a brother. And, of course, as most younger siblings do, I placed him up on a very high pedestal.
When my mother and I became close in those last years of her life, we talked about my brother and his role in my life and how she was so happy that he was there for me when she couldn’t be. Little did we know then, but Dick would only be with us for 2 more years after she passed away.
When we talked about him, I could see the deep love she still held for him, and could completely understand it. He was a warm, loving, caring, sensitive human being, who also happened to be really smart. Mom said how she feared that she had made him a “momma’s boy” because they were so close, but you know what? That is OK. He wouldn’t have been the person he was if that hadn’t been the case. And I completely understood how she would love her son, her firstborn, so much. Everyone loved him. He was fun (he could mimic Jerry Lewis perfectly), being more than just a bit nutty sometimes, and could talk your ear off. He told me once, “I am just a big ‘bull-shitter’, which is why I am so good at my job.”
I think I could even see why some of our family was a bit disappointed in me, because I was so quiet and introspective, almost the complete opposite of Dick. When your own mother has trouble relating to you, that tells you something. But, while that used to bother me before, it doesn’t now. Because, after we talked about it, I finally understood. She could relate so well to many of my cousins, seemed so patient and supportive of them, that even today, they don’t either understand or believe it when I tell them that Mom and I didn’t “get along very well”.
I guess sometimes you don’t see what goes on in families “behind closed doors”. Which is why it can be so therapeutic when the truth finally comes out. Of course, my early family did surround me with love and support, so I am so much luckier than many. And for a daughter and mother to have issues, that is more normal than you realize.
Because of my experience with an extremely abusive husband (that story comes out later in my blog), I volunteer at a local agency that helps abusive victims. You have to have lived it to understand it. My brother would be proud of that. Actually, I know he would be proud of everything I do.
I had no idea that while I held him up on a pedestal most of his life, he did the same with me. When Mom died, he came to help me take care of her estate, and we spent almost two weeks together, day and night. We spend all of that time talking. Turns out he had me up on a pedestal too. “You were always so good out there in the business world…I figured you’d be our first woman President.” Now, that’s a huge pedestal!
I shared with him some of the talks that Mom and I had that broke down all our emotional walls, and he opened up with me about some of his walls. I had no idea…I thought I knew him well. What I didn’t know about were the dark times for him, the challenges that he needed help with to overcome.
Those two weeks were wonderful. We shared so much, actually getting to know one another as adults, because when you grow up together and then go in separate directions after high school, you really need to spend that type of time together to ‘get to know one another again.’
Getting to know my brother as an adult brought him back to Earth, down off that pedestal, but still someone I adored and admired. He was still warm, loving, supportive and sensitive, but he was also someone who had gone through a lot as he grew up. As had I. We were two different people as adults than we were as youngsters.
Now, I saw him as a husband who needed the balancing of the woman he had married who helped him “become a better person than he would have been.” (his words) This was a woman that our own mother never seemed to approve of…perhaps no one would have fit the ideal wife to her son? But I now knew that his wife, Alice, had been the perfect wife for him. And I saw him as a father of 4 who loved each of his children completely, who worried about them, supported them as individuals, and was so proud of each of them.
And so, at the end of those two weeks, we were still friends, just on a different level than when we were growing up. But he was still my brother that I loved so much. And he was my friend, now closer than ever. And I miss him today just as much as I did the day he died, 14 years ago.