Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Brotherly Love

We buried my only brother yesterday. Rol was 74 years old with three children, and four grandchildren. He was a half-brother actually, eighteen years older than I. His mother died when he was quite young and our father eventually remarried. My younger sister and I came from that second union. Dad’s family was Methodist and my mother’s family was devout Catholic. Throw in the fact that he was fifteen years older than she, and I would imagine there were a few eyebrows raised on both sides when they got together.

I have little recollection of my brother when I was young. He married in 1954 when I was four years old and went off to the Navy shortly afterward. In some respects, he seemed more like an uncle to me, and in fact, a few people at the wake offered me sympathy on the loss of my father. Despite both of us living in the same small town for over fifty years, many people did not realize we were brothers. Most of my memories of him commence when he returned home from the service and bought a house where my sister now lives with her husband.

Rol and his wife, Joy, were both smokers. She died unexpectedly ten years ago after suffering a heart attack on the same day my brother was scheduled for heart surgery. He developed circulatory problems which eventually took one leg and his eyesight. The blindness forced him from his home and he spent the last three years of his life in an assisted-living facility.

Despite all of his ailments, Rol was not a bitter person. He loved sports and enjoyed listening to the games on television. He slept in a chair, more comfortable than the hospital bed, he said. And he never kicked the cigarette habit even after losing part of lung. In the end, it was his kidneys and liver that failed. The last chest X-ray showed his lungs to be remarkably clear.

My fondest memories of Rol involved baseball. He and my Dad took me to my first Cub game at Wrigley Field, probably about 1960. When he would come to visit my parents, I always managed to make an appearance with my ball glove hoping he would offer to go outside and play catch. He often did, and even coached my little league team one year. He was pitcher in his youth and was good enough to attract a scout from the Chicago Cubs to visit our house one day. He taught me to play first base, a position I played through high school ball.

He had some struggles in his life, but he overcame most of them. Going through several career changes, he always managed to survive thanks to the support of his wife and family. There were some tears and lots of laughs, typical of many families these days. Not so typical perhaps was the closeness of the family. In a day where many quit in the face of adversity, Rol and his family persevered with an abundance of love.

That love was ever so evident in his last hours with his two sons and daughter by his side. My sister and I were also present when he died. It was the first time I had ever seen someone die. My father died in a hospital after we had left his bedside to get some rest, and my mother died unexpectedly at home in her sleep. I can’t find the words to describe the experience and perhaps I shouldn’t try.

Many thoughts went through my minds as hours slipped by at his bedside. I prayed the Rosary silently, asking for God’s mercy for my brother. I prayed that his children be comforted as they watched in agony as their Dad struggled to breathe. I prayed that his suffering would be united to the suffering of Christ for the remission of his sins. I prayed that my Father and Mother, and his Mother, and his wife, and our Blessed Mother would be waiting to greet him. At ten minutes after 1 AM, the end came. He is in God’s hands now.

Last week, a friend remarked how shocked Protestants will be someday when they find out there is a purgatory and they have no one here on earth praying for them. I won’t let that happen to my brother. I will continue to pray for the repose of his soul, and I take some comfort knowing that much of his temporal punishment has already been served. Through the Mercy of God, may he rest in peace.

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