Bittersweet Thanks

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

Thanksgiving is usually a joyful time for me. It is joyful again this year, but tinged with a bit of sorrow. A year ago, I was at my parent’s farm for Thanksgiving, mainly to see my brother who was battling kidney cancer. As fate would have it, I ended up with a nasty stomach bug, and since he was going through chemotherapy, I was unable to talk with him and could only see him briefly, from across a room so that I didn’t make him sick. I left thinking I would see him again.

I did not see him until his funeral months later.

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks for what we have been given in this life. Foremost among those things we usually give thanks for is our family. While I wasn’t always the closest with my brother, I’m very thankful that I had him in my life. When we were children, he was the sensitive one who understood why I couldn’t stop crying when I was afraid or sad and he would hold me and help me stop hyperventilating, calming me down. He was the patient one who didn’t yell at me when I nearly took his arm off learning to drive a stick shift, as I popped the clutch and we barreled out of the garage. He had an offbeat sense of humor and would often give prank gifts, enjoying the look of concentration on my face as I tried to get countless quarters out of a plastic tube. He was also thoughtful enough to know that a college student would value pounds of quarters for laundry over most other gifts.

My brother had a brilliant mind, but he was humble enough to hide it from most people. He had numerous patents when he died and mentored other engineers. To us, he would say little about what he did at work. He was the type who preferred to be in the background and let others take the spotlight. It was always my oldest brother’s humor and social skills and my achievements that the family celebrated while he quietly stayed in the shadows, smiling. He never wanted to talk about himself, but was always glad to hear about everyone else’s life. He was truly a selfless person who I never appreciated while he was alive the way he deserved. Looking back, I wish I’d noticed him more and made more of an effort to draw him out.

As odd as it may seem, I am also thankful for his death, which was the end of a very long, painful battle with cancer. He never told any of us just how sick he was, but that was his way. My brother died on his own terms, just as he had lived and while I would have liked to have seen him and hugged him one last time, I’m also glad that he got to leave this world the way he wanted, without a fuss. I’m thankful for all the lessons he has left me to contemplate on after he is gone. His life, in retrospect, is like a book that I can go to when I need examples of quiet dignity, playfulness, and selflessness. I may not be able to ask his advice, but I can refer to that book he has left in my memories of him.

Rather than dwell on the loss of him, I am choosing to be thankful I had him as a brother at all and for as long as I did. He was definitely a brother that a little sister can look up to and he gave me another role model, one that now will never grow old or cynical, but will always be sitting to the side with a mischievous smile.

Happy Thanksgiving, Jeff…wherever you are.  I made cranberry sauce, your favorite, this year.

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