To My Brother Who Lost His Only Brother
Anytime someone asks me how many siblings I have, my heart sinks a little in preparation for my response. “I have two brothers and one sister.” Sometimes I leave it at that. Sometimes I add…”but my younger brother has passed away.” I still find myself referring to “my brothers” as if in the present. But it’s almost immediate that I have to correct with “brother” and not “brothers,"
The four of us. Boy, girl, boy, girl. That’s how it’s been for most of our lives. So much of our personalities were shaped early on according to our sibling roles. So, when one of your siblings is no longer present…has taken up residency in heaven…things tend to change.
I joke that Will, my younger brother who passed away, left me as the sole middle child. Fitting, I suppose. I lost my little brother. My sister lost her big brother. And my brother, Matt, --he lost his only brother.
It wasn't until probably a year after Will died that I realized this. We were at a family cookout celebrating Matt’s birthday and it dawned on me that while we all lost our brother, Matt lost his only brother.
What does that mean? I don’t really know. I don’t know what that means for Matt. My sister fills certain roles for me that only a sister can. And my brother fills certain roles that only a brother can. Not that it makes mine and Suzanne’s pain any less, but we still have a brother here with us on earth to do all those things that only a brother can. Matthew doesn't, but not once have I ever heard him mention this.
Now, Matthew isn't one to express much emotion. He’s a tough guy. A man’s man, if you will. And so when Will passed away he measured up the big brother role he had always assumed and was there to comfort and support both of his younger sisters. Because I know my older brother…I know he was dying on the inside, but you would never have known it on the outside.
Just a couple months ago after I posted a blog “Letter to my Brother Six Feet Under,” I got an email from Matt. It was an email from Will to Matt in February 2012, before he passed away that April. Matt told me that he had tried to respond every week for the past two years with all the things that he wished he would have responded with before he died.
Along with a lot of heart wrenching details of Will’s life, the email says…”Among all my other prayers and out loud thoughts every night, I know I have said to myself plenty of times, ‘Why can’t I just be like Matt, you seem to have it all.’ I hope I can earn your trust back but I know that will take a lot. I know you just want the best for me and trust me when I say, I want to be the best husband, brother, son, uncle, employee and business partner I can be.”
The email broke my heart. It still breaks my heart. And I can’t imagine how Matt’s heart broke when he read it for the first time and every time after—probably in a new way each time he reads it.
You see, Matt is a poster child for best husband, brother, son, uncle, employee and business partner. He's also an amazing father. He has a good head on his shoulders. He always has. Things seem to come easy for Matt. Life seems to be easy for him.
But you see, the saddest part to this is that the only thing that stood in the way of Will being all those things was alcohol and drugs.
So, as time goes on, we all assume these different roles in our sibling order trying to adjust and makeup for the absence of our brother.
Matt, in my opinion, probably has it the hardest. He’s the only son and the only brother. I don’t think he minds for one second taking it on—I just know it must be really hard for him to not have a brother around.
Suzanne and I are awfully lucky to have one amazing older brother to look up to! Happy Birthday, Bro! Love you to heaven and back.