Where’s your Brother?
They say a little piece of your family history is ripped away when a sibling dies. Someone who remembers things from childhood is gone and so are the shared memories you had together. My heart is breaking today as my “little” brother passed away suddenly last night.
When I was a little girl, there were four of us girls, with our older brother Don at one end and our younger brother Duane at the other. Mom always said her boys were her bookends with her girls in the middle. We lived in the woods of Maryland with a lot of property, horses and a creek. I was the last of the four girls. When I was three, Duane was born. My earliest job was to keep an eye on my younger brother.
“Lo Lo”, my Mother would call me by her nickname for me. “Where’s your brother?” I think that as a busy Mom of six, she did this to help keep me occupied. Duane would be safely in his crib about ready to be fed and she’d ask me where he was, and so I would go with her as she went to pick him up and hold him in the rocking chair. As he got older and could crawl, all she’d have to do is ask, “Lo Lo, where’s your brother and I’d run to follow him as he crawled and then toddled about the house.
I always remember Mom was busy at some task or another, whether she was washing clothes, gardening, carrying groceries, or fixing dinner – she always seemed to have her hands full. When my older brother and my sisters went to school, it was expected that I would play with my brother while she went about the house doing her tasks. Periodically she’d call out “Lo Lo”, and I knew it was my job to find my bother and report back to her. And since just telling her where he was, was not enough, she often had me physically have him stop what he was doing – whether he was playing in his room, in the sandbox or out on the swings – and bring her to him so she could be assured that we were both alright.
My poor brother Duane, would be happy in his sandbox and I would rush over and grab him, sandy hands and all and bring him over to the kitchen window or wherever Mom was, so she could see us both. Satisfied that we were okay and not lost in the woods, or fallen in the creek – she would let us go back to playing. One day, when my Mom called, I dutifully began looking for Duane only to report back that I could not find him. Mom, who was busy at the sink getting lunch ready, sent me back out to try a different place. I checked the backyard, the basement, even under the bed. This seemed to take some time and I remember I was almost in tears when I came back to the kitchen for the fourth time because I could not find him, sure I’d be in trouble for losing my brother.
Mom turned from the counter and began wiping her hands on her apron, a sure sign that this had taken a serious turn. “Lori, where is your brother”, she said using my formal name now. “I don’t know”, I said. “I can’t find him anywhere”. I could tell she was worried now trying to figure where he could be. I began crying because it was my job to watch him and look after him and I had failed. He was gone.
We began to look about the house together, finally coming back around to the kitchen where I suddenly spotted his little sneakers peeking out from behind the laundry basket tucked under the counter. He was hiding from us. “Lori, where is your brother”, she asked almost panicked and just then I was able to point to him hiding right behind her. “He’s okay Mom, he’s right behind you”, I said wiping my tears. My Mom turned around then and bent down to pull out the basket and retrieve him from his hiding place. She was crying too and folded us both into a hug before admonishing him to never do that again and me, for letting him out of my sight.
I share that story because when my sister-in-law, Val called to tell me my brother had passed away, for just a moment, I heard my Mom’s words to take care of my brother. And in that moment I felt I’d failed her and failed him. I hadn’t done enough to keep him safe. I’d not kept my eye on him and he’d passed away. I cried on and off for the rest of the night. It didn’t matter that he was a grown man and we had lives of our own now. I’d lost my brother and it was like I was five years old all over again, running through the house and yard looking for him. He wasn’t in the usual places he used to be and I was the one who felt lost without him. Gradually I let it sink in that he had passed on from this world and was now in another place with the rest of my family – with my Mom and Dad and my two sisters.
I sat quietly looking at old family pictures today, reminiscing and missing the past. I missed my family that was gone. I missed my Mom and I missed my brother Duane. If I could just hear my Mom one more time I would want to hear her say, “Lo Lo”, where’s your brother?” I would now be able to wipe my tears and turn to her and say, “Mom, he’s right behind you!”