Tuesday, December 14, 2004


On Thanksgiving evening, ten years ago, my brother went into the hospital and he never came home. Today marks the tenth anniversary of his death from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In the week before he died, his doctor left town to go deer hunting in Colorado. My brother asked him to bring a picture back for him to see, and the doctor promised he would bring one. Before he left, the doctor met my mother in the hall and told her he wanted to be sure we understood that my brother probably would not make it through the week.

But three days before he died, he had a good day, with very little discomfort. He recognized his friends from work, and laughed with them about Christmas gifts. It was a pleasant visit, the kind that belies the ugly truth. I had not yet heard what the doctor had said and was filled with hope that my brother was coming back around.

The next morning, I was there when the nurses brought in the mushed up gunk they feed to patients who can’t eat real food. I spooned it into his reluctant mouth. He did not want it, but I fed it to him, because I was his big sister, and I knew he needed to eat. He was getting better, wasn’t he? I loved my brother. And feeding him, or trying to, at the time, seemed like the most hopeful thing I could do.

It was a year or two after his death before I realized I had behaved in the pragmatic way of the biblical Martha, in feeding my brother, in trying to prepare him for a return to health. That morning, I missed the opportunity to be like the intuitive Mary, to sit quietly with my brother, to gently touch him. By the evening, he was gone. I miss him still.

Trilogy: The Empty Chair

I. Passing

My brother’s passing
left an empty chair
at family gatherings.

He was boisterous
and funny,
the baby, who could not whisper,
and had no sense of discretion,
a big teddy bear of a man.

One day at Animal Control,
surrounded by the smell of death,
while I listened as his buddy
told me what a good friend
my brother was,
his memory slipped up
like a playful toddler,
and tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned,
wishing he were there,
knowing he was not.
I cried all the way home.

II. Firsts

It’s Thanksgiving now
and I think of all the people
who face empty chairs
at their dinner tables.

After the dead are gone,
there are so many firsts:
Birthday. Easter. Christmas.
First time you reach
for the phone, only to realize
the lines don’t stretch
all the way to eternity.

III. Traditions

There were these cookies
we used to make.
My brother loved them dearly.
For a long while after his passing,
it seemed a sacrilege
to make those cookies.
How could we enjoy the cookies
and ignore his empty chair?
But now I savor the cookies
and celebrate his life,
grateful for pleasant memories.

And the chair
no longer seems
so empty.


grief is a strange emotion:
it slips up unannounced
and swells inside,
catching you off-guard
and unprepared.
it has been nearly four years

since the departure
of my baby brother
(at the ripe young age
of thirty-four).
yet, at times

there is something that brings
him back to me.
the hunger to touch him,
to hug and be hugged by him,
it consumes me for awhile.

i miss him terribly,
the grief is fresh and raw,
like a new wound.
these are the times
when i long to hear him laugh again

and to tell him i love him,
that he was the best baby brother
we could have,
that he was a good-hearted man.
and i wonder,

if i had known that year
was the last we would have with him in this life,
what would i have done differently?

i would have said
i love you

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely tribute.
    Dear Annie,
    I found your blog through 52 Photos Project - 2014.
    This morning I read a lot of your posts ..
    Thank you very much.


Don't just sit there staring, say something!