16 October 2016

Remembering the good

How does a person, any person deal with grief? Can everything be placed in an organized folder in our mind and dealt with in a day? Or a week? Or a month? No one has an answer and no one can give an accurate way to deal with grief.

I recently lost a brother and while we weren’t close, it still has affected me. Memories of the past, which are few and fantasies of what could have been.

I do believe in the old saying of never speaking ill of the dead. I have no need to do that. Read my books or past thoughts from previous writings and you will know everything that has happened.

After 40 years and now one death, it is time to remember some good things. Not to belittle Mike’s contributions to my life but with our age difference we really didn’t share many good times together.

Mike served America in the Vietnam War. I was 10 years old while he was there. I don’t remember letters he wrote or what I may have written to him. I do remember when he had a leave and decided to visit Australia, instead of returning home. I never really thought about it to just now but even then we did our best to stay away from home.

Anyway, while there he found that prices were really cheap and he mailed home – piece by piece – a state of the art stereo. I remember my dad setting it up and I played with it. That’s right, a valuable stereo and I was playing with it. I remember making recordings with his reel to reel recorder. Roughly six months later, when Mike’s tour of duty was over and he returned home… he saw first hand how much I enjoyed playing with his stereo. He never shamed me or made me feel guilty about playing with this valuable piece of machinery.

Within a week, he brought home some wood and plywood and made a beautiful cabinet for it all and he let me help, as much as I could anyway. I did get to stain quite a bit of it.

Mike was home for just about a year when I asked him if he would be my confirmation sponsor. As I knelt at the altar and the priest came in front of me, I could feel Mike place his hand on my shoulder. I was so proud to have him as my sponsor. He was a war hero… at least in my eyes… and here he was saying he would guide me in the ways of the church.

After Mike settled back in and went back to being a citizen with a full-time job, he invited me to go on a fishing trip with some of his work colleagues. It was deep sea fishing and though I didn’t catch anything it was a trip that opened my eyes. It was a father-son gathering. Mike didn’t have any children, yet there was enough of an age difference that for the first time I saw that we weren’t your typical brother relationship. And in reality, for most of my childhood, Mike was more of a dad to me than a brother.

And at times he even spoiled me. When he returned from Vietnam, he had brought home three boomerangs that he purchased in Australia. They were gorgeous. Hand carved, with art work engraved in them. Being a kid, I begged and begged to have one. And Mike eventually gave me one… which as a kid, I never really appreciated. I promptly took it outside and began playing with it, watching it fall to the asphalt on the empty parking lots where I tried to perfect the art of throwing it, until finally it just shattered into pieces.

Mike flew on helicopters while in Vietnam and got to meet many celebrities doing USO shows. He once sent me home a flyer for an upcoming show featuring a half dozen baseball players. He got everyone of the players to autograph it. Two of the players I remember till this day – Tug McGraw and Denny McClain. It was a very valuable piece of Americana – which as a kid I never truly appreciated. Looking back at it now, it is quite an honour to think that while flying in a helicopter, in what were very stressful times, he thought of me.

How truly sad, that as brothers, all of us, we were never mature enough to realize that what happened wasn’t my fault, or his fault, or anyone of our faults. Our parents were alcoholics, whose destructive behaviours affected us for the majority of our lives.

I wonder how many people have died filled with shame and guilt for things which they had no power over? As alcoholics, my mom was out of control, my dad was out of control, and they were in control of me. And while, my brothers were able to physically escape, I do believe my parents were in control of them as well…

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