Yesterday, I alluded to something alcohol related coming today. And here it is. Seven years ago today my oldest brother went to his particular judgment at the age of 52. He had been afflicted with “the curse of the Irish” from an early age. Along with my third-oldest brother (also since deceased) the two of them drank their fair share – and yours and mine as well. He had lived apart from the rest of our family for many years. Still in the same general area of the state, he later said that he did not want to bother the rest of us with his problem. A dissolute life carried on for many years. There was the child out of wedlock with the drug addict woman (already married to another man). That “union” lead to my parents raising three additional children – their biological grandson and his two half-sisters from two additional men. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
In the fall of 2015, however, an odd set of circumstances saw him arrive at the door of one of our sisters looking for a temporary place to live. He had, for the most part, cleaned up his act although the ravages of years of that kind of hard living could plainly be seen. My sister obliged him and took him in. Within weeks she asked him if she could bring him to the hospital where she worked as a nurse since he had been complaining of gastroenterological symptoms. It was then that he was found to have stage IV pancreatic cancer, likely from years of alcohol abuse. The surgeon described it thus: “It’s as if someone mixed cancer with concrete and then poured it into his abdominal cavity.”
From October until January he would spend his time in and out the hospital trying to manage the terrible pain. My wife, kids, and I traveled up for Christmas to see him. There wasn’t much I could do. We had never been particularly close but this was my brother. I could pray and I could sit with him.
Throughout those last days my brother revealed himself to be the most gracious of patients. He was truly grateful for every scintilla of care and affection shown to him – and much was shown to him.
One night right after Christmas, I was summoned to help take him back into the ER. Well after midnight, his room was not yet ready. “You can go,” he said to me. “And leave you?” I asked. I’m mom would have murdered me if I left a sick man alone, let alone my brother. And it was joy. And he made laugh. He awoke to find me watching a re-run of the sitcom Friends. “This is pretty funny,” he said. “How many years was it on?” Clearly he wasn’t watching much TV in the 90’s. “Ten season, I think,” I replied.
“Man, I hope it make it to the end…” was his dry response. We both had a good laugh.
When the day came, he was in the home of another sister surrounded by my parents. He had received last rites and the Apostolic Pardon hours earlier. My mother called me to break the news. I was about to teach a class.
“I want to tell you that your brother died a few moments ago,” she said. Knowing that she had born him, raised him, suffered because of him, and suffered with him in the end, I asked her, “How are you doing?”
“I only ever wanted my children to go to heaven.” That is all she said. God heard her prayer and gave her hope. Her son came home, had suffering given to him, died with the sacraments with his family. I couldn’t ask for a better death myself.
Please pray for the repose of his soul.
Below I am republishing a story I wrote after the viewing a few days later. It captures my thoughts from that time. As you can see on the picture of the card below, my parents wrote that they “know you are at peace with Our Lord and Savior.” I believe that sentiment comes from the true hope of two parents who witnessed their son receive the Apostolic Pardon; but regardless, pray for his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed.
****************************Originally published January 27, 2016
Much of this day was spent in final preparation. I drove past the church where his funeral would be held the next day and pondered why. Not “why” as in “why did he die?” but “why this church?”
Even though he was fairly light at the end, a solid oak casket is still heavy.
Look at those steps!
True there are going to be at least 8 pall bearers including me but still…
Anyway, by afternoon I had hit the florist and ordered an arrangement for the funeral home. Then I picked out shoes with my daughter who hadn’t brought a decent pair for the wake. How inconsiderate of her… Mommy instructed me “no heels”. My daughter instructed me “Daddy, I want heels!” We compromised. She got wedges. Until this afternoon I could not have told you what that meant.
And how does one follow that…
At the funeral home we celebrated my brother’s life. There was sadness, yes, especially in the first few moments as my mom and dad approached the casket. They have now lost four of their children. This hurts just watching them but they’re so solid in their faith. What was gratifying was seeing the number of friends who came out in this weather — people I hadn’t seen in years. My childhood best friend and his wife came and sat with us for two hours. They delighted my mom with great conversation and helped me too with their presence.
This is an Irish wake.
This is love.