divinity

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dear Johnny,

He was there again at the same spot on my drive home. Hours and hours after I had stopped and given him what food I had. The same face, same cardboard sign that driver after driver pretended not to see. He seem resigned to this, that he deserved nothing more than their indifference. I think this is what made me cry, this and the thought of his cold hands holding that sign. 

This is where I remember I am no hero for feeding him, that I am the person who left you to die alone with your hands and face slowly turning cold hours and perhaps days before they found you. I remember that I let my own son be homeless, left him to the mercy of strangers, let him be cold, alone and resigned to the indifference of others. That once when he came home cold and hungry I gave him a sandwich and a sleeping bag and sent him out again into the cold night. That I spent that night just sitting on the floor because I could find no other way to breathe. I remember other nights sitting against my bedroom door listening to him trying to get into our house, not crying, only breathing.  But the sight of this boy tonight, this cold boy, holding his sign, his face believing that he deserved no better, tonight this is more than I can manage.

When I see him I also see you, cold, alone and dying. I see my precious boy walking away from his home on a cold night with a stupid sandwich and a sleeping bag and I know that I let all of you down. That I let you die Johnny. That I let my boy be cold and alone and hungry. 

I don’t ever want to be forgiven for this.

And so, I see all your faces together, all your cold hands holding that sign today and it is as raw as the nights I spent sitting on my floor not saving anyone but myself. 

I don’t what divinity is, only that I saw it in his face today and all I wanted to do was save him, feed him and to beg him to forgive me, but the traffic moved then and I do nothing but drive home and leave him cold and alone holding his small sign.

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275 days

wp-1468187743004.jpg275 days of saying goodbye. 275 days so far.

We’ve made it through the first month, first Christmas, first Easter, first birthday, the first 9 months.

275 days since they found you lying on your floor. 275 days of imagining you lying there alone.

It started with a phone call, an email and a long drive home to police tape and a stain on your carpet. Days of cleaning and loading parts of you I wanted into my trunk, an obituary and another long drive back. Later a eulogy, a service with your family, your daughters, my daughters, poems, songs, readings, prayers, food, friends family and a goodbye. Another drive.

20160130_122314-01.jpegThen a flight, a Sedona hike with your nephew, a candle and a prayer in The Chapel of the Holy Cross. Another hike, an offering with the same prayer, “I love you Johnny”. I left part of you in Arizona in one of the most sacred places I know. I left your ring, our father’s ring in The 20160130_143710-01.jpegAmitabha Stupa and Peace Park, a place full of love and peace. I left it there wearing your shirt, the sleeves rolled up in the heat.

And this week a drive, a sacred fire, prayers and songs, an offering to the creator in the tradition of the Lakȟóta people. And last night a bamboo leaf, the same prayer, and a candle floating away into the sunset.

 

 

 

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I love you Johnny

the forgotten art of self love

10616274_10204420794615608_257153541342318674_nFor too many days I have not written about you. I tell your stories more quietly, to just myself. Wearing grief on the outside becomes less fashionable as time passes.

I never did unpack my car trunk completely from my last visit home, my last visit to your home, it’s not mine anymore, and so I still hear the shift of your tool bag and the occasional rattle of the metal picture frames in their basket when I turn corners. To unpack them, and store them has a finality to it I’m not quite ready for.

It’s been just over four months. One hundred and thirty eight days more precisely.

In one hundred and forty nine days it will be what should have been your 48th  birthday. I try not to think about that.

Just over four months since they found your cold dead body lying alone on your apartment floor, alone and cold. One hundred and thirty eight days of imaging you there. I hide the grief better now, but it hasn’t dulled. Its weight on my chest a nearly constant presence.

People are trying to be kind and well meaning when they say things like you’re in a better place, or that you’re happy now, or the absolute worst, these things happen for a reason. I know they mean well, but I also know that regardless, you’re not here, and we are.  That there is no good reason for any of this. The people you left behind, the ones who loved you, the ones who loved you despite your struggles, who loved you even when it was the most painful thing in the world to do. We loved you. We still love you. We are still here trying to make sense of a world without you. You’re not in pain anymore, and perhaps one day that will be comforting. It’s not right now. It’s selfish, but when you were alive and in so much pain, we could at least hope. We could hope that you would find your way back.

20151019_143920-01When you were just a little boy mom had to rush you to hospital in the middle of the night. You were very sick, and I remember being so jealous that you got presents, new pajamas, and all the attention. You recovered completely and the dramatic midnight hospital trip became a family antidote that we would pull out and laugh about.

Last night I ended up in hospital in tremendous pain. It was a different time, different place, but the same aliment. But mine was brought on by my own indifference to myself, that and some ambitious and opportunistic bacteria. I did not get presents or new pajamas, but I did finally see how poorly I’ve been taking care of myself. I’m like the character in the video below, a cartoon version of me.

20151019_144255-01Johnny, I think about you every single day, every hour of every day that I’m awake, and often in my sleep. My heart hurts every day. I wear some of your clothes, your art work hangs in my office, your tools rattle in my trunk every time I drive. You are with me every moment, so much so that I forgot that I needed to take care of myself. I have been so wrapped in grief and heartbreak, and keeping that pain inside that I made myself physically ill.

For the first time in a very long time, I cooked a meal just for myself. We were such foodies you and I, and I lost that. Tonight, after a quiet day of post hospital rest, I made myself a wonderful meal and ate it while I read. It was an act of self love that I’d almost forgotten about.

I miss you. I keep waiting for this to be a story I’ve made up, but it never ever is. You’re gone, and I’m still  here.

IMG_5568I love you Johnny,  that was the last thing I ever said to you, last summer, a couple of months before you died, standing in the pouring rain by the lake in Chicago from my cell phone. I had called you on whim, we had barely spoken since your time in ICU, the time we thoug
ht you were going to die, but you pulled through.  I didn’t realize I would never speak to you again.  I still want to say more to you. Maybe that’s why I write these letters to you. Maybe it’s me pretending that you can hear me still. Or maybe I just need to get the words out to keep myself sane.

I love you Johnny, and I miss you so terribly much.305888_1912109127175_7470649_n

 

 

eulogy for my brother

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“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.”
-W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues

To paraphrase Emily Brontë, my love for my brother was like the eternal rocks beneath, not always visible, not always a source of delight, and no more a source of pleasure than I am to myself, but necessary, it resides in my bones, not just in my heart, or my thoughts, it lives in every cell in my body. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

To say John was brilliant, or merely complex would be an understatement. He was so many, many things, – to paraphrase myself – a brilliant creator and solver of puzzles, a talented player and lover of music, a gifted conceiver and expresser of visual arts – be they paint, pencil, wood, clay, or words, and an inspired and – sometimes overly – creative chef.

He created. He created games, puzzles, paintings, delicious food. He created a home for his daughters.

He made you laugh.

John would have had you in stiches by now. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known. Brilliant, witty, irreverent and always ready with a joke or amusing observation.

Everyone in this room has laughed, and not just once because of something John said or did. He was the original photo-bomber, he was always ready to drop to the conversation lowest common denominator, which generally involved loud bodily functions, burping, farting, burping and farting together, burping songs, making fart noises in his arm, in his arm pit, and then drawing everyone in.

20151019_144255-01When my son first started struggling he sent him homemade Hero cards, featuring Greek, Roman God, with points and skills assigned. Each and every one said “Kicks Butt” and Hercules “Occasionally goes BESERK” The last card he sent was the Uncle John card. The Uncle John Hero was described as “The Sharpest Spoon in the drawer, fancified dancer, can kick his own butt – plus that of Uncle Ruth’s, yep, that’s what he called me when he wasn’t calling me Big Nose. His Attack number was 42, a Douglas Adams reference I’m sure, His Thoughts were listed as “Not Often”, his Symbol was “Messy Hair and Stinky Socks” – although his stinky socks, as many of us knew could be better listed as a Weapon. His special skills were “Sarcasm and Burping” – okay, that part was pretty accurate. The card was quintessentially John, from the stinky socks to the self deprecating humour. he also sent Graham a rubber chicken, a series of original Canadian comic books, still in their protective covers (a state that did not last long), and a hand sewn teddy bear.

He was generous. With his love, with his art, food, with everything he gave openly and freely.

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

Picture John made for (of) me, 2003

He also called me Big Nose, even made me a little drawing of Big nose. I called him No Chin. It was a special sort of endearment between us. He also called me Bruce, well my whole family calls me that, between that and the Uncle Ruth is surprising I don’t have a gender identity problem. At my wedding he gave a brilliant speech – it included Ode to a Grehian Urn, my driving skills, my applying makeup while driving skills, my applying makeup, singing to the radio, while shifting gears, driving skills – you get the idea. He was brilliant. He was also charming, and a beautiful person all the way through.

Where I have been described as feisty, stubborn, Little Miss Splendid – yes, they gave me that book, John was the sucky second child, the one who charmed his way through things. I would dig my heals in and cross my arms – metaphorically and often literally when faced with obstacles, John used charm. It made me crazy. One fateful year when I was visiting from school I came home to a little brother who was now taller than I was. It was a moment he had been waiting for his whole life. In the den he wrestled me to the rug, sat on me with his hand over my mouth and the poked and tickled me all the while yelling “mom!!! Ruth’s hurting me!!” Needless to say by the time my mother arrived he had jumped back and assumed an injured stance in the corner looking beseechingly at our mother, who may or may have believed him, but certainly played along. That is how my brother rolled. Many of the times I have laughed the hardest, the stuff coming out your nose, tears coming down your cheeks, the immanent danger of peeing your pants kind of laughter, those laughs 20151019_152813-01originated with my brother.

Which makes his ending all the more tragic.

A few months ago, a friend of mine died. He was in his 90s, had lived a full life, was productive right till the end, and then one night he died peacefully in his sleep. We took comfort in that. The rare times we think about our own deaths, this is often the one we want, the good death, the peaceful, after a long well lived life death. This is what we want for ourselves and our loved ones. No one wants to die like John did, no one. There is nothing comforting about his death. It is utterly heartbreaking and tragic. It is unfair. It was wrong for him to die as he did.

The thing about a brain disease, which is what John died from, a brain disease called alcoholism, the thing about it, is that it takes away the personality, and then it takes away the person that you knew and loved. We lost John, but before that he lost himself. That guy, the one who made us laugh till we cried, who sang to us, read to us, who made wonderful art and delicious food, that beautiful person, was lost to a disease that affected and distorted the way he thought, the way he saw the world, and mostly the way he saw himself.

John felt things very deeply, maybe too deeply. One of my first memories of us is me wrapping him in a blanket during a sand storm on a beach. I have no idea what the context of the situation was, what I remember is wanting to protect my brother above anything else.

I couldn’t protect him from this. None of us could. There was never something that one of us did that caused this, there was nothing that we didn’t do that would have cured this, and there was never a way anyone else could have controlled his disease. Cunning, baffling and powerful is how alcoholism is aptly described, and it is, it is all of those things. It took our father, and it took John, both before their 50th birthdays.

John’s behavour for the last several years was baffling, it was heartbreaking. He pushed us away. His brain, his thinking was so distorted by this disease that the only way he could cope was to continue to try and numb his thoughts and feelings. It never meant that he loved any of us less. He loved his family, his daughters and Tamara were his life. That never wavered, not for a instant. He loved us, all of us, and in the end that’s what we need to hold on to. As painful as this has been, hold on to the times he made you laugh, the times he showed his love to you, the times he was his exceptionally lovable and goofy self. It won’t happen today, or maybe not this year, but start to let go of the painful memories, and hold on instead to what you loved about him. Remember him as someone full of love, caring, stinky socks and really terrible jokes. His personal favourite was “you know the corduroy pillows, the ones that are making all the headlines?”

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
― Augusten Burroughs

“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last ——

I was right. Love is the thing that endures. Love is what we have left of John, love and some pretty wonderful memories.

12108267_10207722033310124_8293890433605817967_nHang onto those, and hang on to each other. He loved us all, what we have to do now is continue to love each other, to create in what ever way we express ourselves, eat good food, play games, solve puzzles, and make the odd fart or burping joke.