Hello from another Saturday of Working,
What is becoming my new semester weekly process, I am back in Panera, although this time in Buckhorn, sitting at my corner table where there is an outlet. However, I am missing my Panera study-buddy, and reflecting on how many mornings, afternoons, and sometimes a weekend we accomplished so much sitting here. Last evening, I found my memories flashing back to the 10th of February in a hospital waiting room. It was even about the same time in the evening. My sister-in-law, my mother and I had been asked to leave my brother’s hospital room as he endured yet another seizure, a serious Grand Mal seizure. They were happening regularly I was informed. I had come back to Sioux City earlier that day; it was the first time I saw my brother after his fall at work and subsequent brain hemorrhage. It had been almost 5 weeks, but I had remained in Ames, where I was supposed to be going to class. I remember the lines of stress and the incredible fatigue I saw on my sister-in-law’s face. She was 25, and I was 21. She epitomized the sort of hold-over hippie of the late-sixties. In spite of birthing three children, she looked as if she had no children. Her willowy stature, her long hair, and her incredible eyes were all still there, but she looked dazed and overwhelmed, and I felt inadequate. For many reasons, I had no ability to be the support she needed.
In less than an hour after leaving his room, he passed away . . . I was even more inadequate now. How could a simple fall of less than 10 feet end up in this way? I remember struggling to understand God in that moment; I found it difficult to believe that the God of love I had heard about all my life existed. My feeling fluctuated and moved from anger to remorse, from confusion to sadness, from selfishness to despair. I knew I was flunking out of college; I knew I had not spent the time with my brother I should have. I knew that I had little idea of where I was headed or even why I might if I had an idea. He was barely 26, and he had a wife and three small children. There was nothing fair in what was happening. I knew such things were possible; I had read about them or heard about them, but this was not merely reading or hearing about it. This was my family . . . one of the immediate consequences (and to this day most profound) was seeing my father cry. That had never happened. Seeing his tears stunned me, not in someway that said he was finally human, but instead, it was the first time I ever saw him vulnerable to something. The year was 1977 . . . that is a long time ago. As the decades pass, it is difficult for me to remember as much about my brother’s intricacies . . . his mannerisms. I certainly remember his general traits, his abilities, and somewhat what it was like when I was in his presence, but so many things fade away . . . we did not have the ability to take photos, videos, or other things to capture the moment as we do now.
I wonder what it would be like to chat with him today, almost a half century later. He and Kris were much closer to each other, or at least that is how I see it now. They had the ability to stand up against things they disagreed with much more immediately and intensely than I did. I had the same feelings, but I was more hesitant to express them. My fear of my mother was powerful and many times created a paralysis. What I thought and what I did were very different. I think he would still be disgusted with many things that have become commonplace in our world. I think he had a sense of social justice that was much more developed than many would have understood at the time. I know my sister did, and I think that might have been one of their many connections. The other thing I would love to do is talk to him about so many things that I understand so much more at this point in my life. I wonder what he would think about my being where I am. I remember he was stunned when his little brother enlisted in the Marine Corps. I have noted in other blogs that if he had been drafted, I am sure he would have migrated north.
I remember standing in the cemetery at his committal service and sobbing. I was overwhelmed and felt lost. Fortunately, my grandmother held me in her arms as I stood there in the Iowa winter. I remember this day, the 11th of February, she and I were at my brother’s house caring for three children as Carolyn and my father worked to make arrangements for a funeral that would occur the next day. Carolyn’s father would arrive from New Jersey later this day, all those years ago. There was the attempt to explain to three children that their daddy would not be coming home again. Two of them will make it to their 50s this year. That too is stunning to me. It is easy to understand why some things fade into the background as we fill our lives with more things than needed. In the time since, there are experiences, emotions, and parallels that keep some things from fading away however. There is more of my brother in his eldest son than that son probably recognizes. His love for mathematics, for things that require order and thought, and yes, even his proclivity for being a bit reclusive come from the father he hardly knew, the father he does not really remember. Those memories were not cemented into his life, and so it is impossible to fade away. My experience is completely different. His daughter is such a profound blend of her parents. I sometimes wonder what it was that attracted Carolyn to my brother. Was it his unwillingness to play by the rules in the Music Department at Morningside College? He would fail his sophomore jury because he was too busy (I am assuming) with his extracurricular gig playing in the rock n roll band, the Board of Directors. I have little doubt why my brother was attracted to her. She was smart, personable, and beautiful. My niece sounds so much like her mother (which has also continued to the third generation of a daughter, my great-niece). So . . . what keeps things from fading away?
Perhaps it is when multiple senses are affected by something, but additionally, and more significantly, there is repetition. Every time I hear Carolyn’s voice, I hear her daughter and vice versa. Every time I hear Rachael’s disarming laugh, I know exactly from where that comes. Every time I see Jennifer’s alluring smile, her eyes which are magnetic, I see the generational connections. Therein is the repetition, albeit from different entities. One of the other things that connects me to all of them is their similar and incredible vocal ability. They all have musical ability inherent in their DNA. Carolyn and my brother studied music for a reason. My brother was an excellent trombonist. Carolyn excelled both in piano performance and in vocal acumen. Again, in the recesses of my memory, I remember he and I practicing our instruments regularly. And there were even a few times we tried to do something together. That was a special time for me because I was the pain-in-the-behind younger brother. When he took time for me, I was both stunned, but grateful. Somehow, my propensity to remember random dates stuns me too. As I sat here working on this post, and perhaps unconsciously connecting the idea of music to somewhere in my ridiculous memory for things, I looked up and connected that in the date between my brother’s passing and his burial, yes, today, 11 years ago, Whitney Houston passed away. I never connected that to my own significant dates until this moment. How is it things can fade into the recesses of our memory only to come to the surface when least expected?
Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with my Dominican brother about faith, Luther, and God . . . is it God’s incredible omniscience that makes us that “crown of creation, little less than angels,” the creature that can remember the past and imagine the future? It is God’s protection that allows some things, albeit significant things, to fade into the recesses of our memory. Perhaps. For if the pain of loss did not recede, how would we continue on? Perhaps this is why our memories of that person also become more opaque. And yet I long to imagine how different my nephews and niece would be if their father would still be alive. I wonder how Carolyn’s life might have been different. I believe that would be the most profound difference. Would there have been more nephews or nieces? Indeed there were, and I have relationships with additional people, and there were two more children. Are “what if” imaginations helpful or are they simply another thought that fades away? What allows some things to remain and others to disappear: thoughts, people, events, experiences? As I find myself at a time my brother never realized; as I find myself at a time when half of my siblings did not reach; when I look for answers to the why, and I walk away knowing there is no answer, I realize three generations of incredible ladies have blessed my life in ways too countless to enumerate. Carolyn, Jennifer, and Rachael, thank you for keeping things from simply fading away. I imagine singing this song with and to each of you. I love you all.
Thank you as always for reading.
7 thoughts on “It Simply Fades Away”
Love your reminiscing, Michael. Sorry that you lost your brother so early. Glad that you have these ladies in your life.
It is tough to loose a sibling. My Sister has been gone 30 years. I wonder what her life, her husband & their children’s lives & mine would have been like had she lived?
You have a beautiful soul Dr Martin. And I believe your brother was like you. Sorry you don’t have him around, I think he would be a great Panera partner
I’m sorry that you had to lose your brother at such an early age, I cannot imagine how devastating it must be to experience that in the way you have. A little over a year ago, my brother lost someone extremely close to him, his fiancé; they both had been in their very early 20’s at the time. I can remember vividly the day that I received the news. I had to leave the hospital for my shift at work and only two hours later the tragedy took place. I regret not staying with my brother to support him in such a tough time and it will be something stuck with me forever. If only I just called work and said I had a family emergency. It would have been so easy but yet I still did not. I try not to let it linger my mind but every now and then the thought populates. I did not understand how such a terrible thing could happen in such an unexpected way. She was eating steak at a cookout with her close family and she choked on a piece. Her residence was out in a place called Penn’s Creek, which is in the middle of nowhere pretty much. by the time the ambulance could come pick her up and get her help, she had been induced into a coma. For a week my brother lived at the hospital while the doctors attempted to wake her. This was the first relative to pass that was really this close to me and it had a substantial mental impact not just on me, but my whole family.
Hi Dr. Martin,
I am sorry for your loss and while I have been fortunate not to lose a loved one, I can empathize with that sense of helplessness when you don’t know how to help someone suffering immensely. The time I will never be able to forget was the time my mother lost her brother. The setting was Carolina, Puerto Rico, and my brother and I had just gotten out of school. As usual, we were happily walking home ready to tell our parents all about our day once we arrived back home. When we approached the door, we could hear what sounded like laughing so we figured something fun was happening and hurriedly rushed to join in the festivities. However, it was not laughing that we heard but my mother’s sorrowful wails as she had just gotten the news that her brother had been killed. My mother was like an unmovable statue and to witness her expressing such intense emotion was world-reckoning. I was incredibly young maybe six or seven years old and I could not process what was happening. Over the course of the next few days, everything seemed like a blur and I had become numb. Then came the day of the casket viewing. As shameful as it is to say I was never particularly close with my uncle and as the concept of death was foreign to me I could not understand why my mother was so overwhelmed with grief.
For a few years after, around the time of his death anniversary, my mother would get up early and attempt to silently cry in the kitchen. I used the word “attempt” because as hard as she may have tried she was not skilled at silently grieving. During those moments, I felt lost and became frustrated with myself for not being able to do anything. There was a period of time when I hated myself because I blamed my uncle for dying and causing such pain to my mother. With time, I came to understand that it was wrong to blame him for my mother’s grief and that just being there for her in her time of need was the best way I could help.
I share in your thoughts of wondering what life would have been like if my uncle had not died. Would he have gotten married to his childhood sweetheart and have children? Would he have moved to the U.S. to be closer to his sisters? Would I have grown closer to him? These are just a few of the questions I pondered after reading your post.
Dr. Martin, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing such a personal memory.
Hi Dr. Martin,
I am so sorry for your loss. You have a way of being able to tell a story through writing as if I was in your shoes. As I am someone that is fortunate enough to not have lost close loved ones, I can still remember the day my dad lost his grandfather. I say I have not lost close loved ones because the two that I been told about I was not around and not old enough to have a connection. Although I was at such a young age, I knew something just wasn’t right when he stormed in the house door and right up the stairs he went after being called to his house in which his grandfather was brought home to die peacefully in. I don’t know much about him but through family gatherings and memories told, I can see him in my grandmother and her six other siblings. There is one thing that always sticks around at every family gathering and it is the contagious laughter that each of his children inherited from him. At first there was always some form of sadness that lingered around my house and relatives houses but as time went on, we were a family that made good memories, unforgettable ones and always referenced back to the ones that we’ve lost along the way, knowing we were making them proud.
As I grew a little older and understood a little more, I learned so many lovely stories about my great grandparents. To this day I wonder just how life may have been if I had been just a little bit older to fully remember them and remember the time, I am told I spent with my great grandfather. I was not born when my dad lost his grandmother but from what I hear to this day, she was one amazing person. So amazing with a happy soul that I was given her first name as my middle name. As I am writing this, I am beginning to wonder if I have inherited any traits of hers or some of her personality. What I do know is that she was a special woman to my parents, that the day she passed away two weeks before they got married and a little over a year before I was born, I was given my middle name.
I am grateful you took the time to write such a personal blog because it has given me and some other students a chance to look at life from a different perspective. It has me wondering what life would be like if I knew them a little more or if I got to meet my great grandmother, but I guess that is why we tell story after story at family gatherings. I do know one big thing that I am taking with me from reading your post, spend just a little more time with my brother as I never know when it will be the last.
Thank you for this post!
I’m very sad about your brother’s passing. With everything else going on in your life at that moment, that had to be such a difficult time for you. I also lost a few family members who were very important to me. Reading this journal has actually caused me to think back on my late grandfather, which is my dad’s dad. I don’t really remember the last time I thought about him, which makes me feel somewhat regretful. I thoroughly liked reading your blog because you make your point and give me the impression that I have had similar experiences to yours.
I admire how strong you are because reading this blog and reflecting on what you told me you’ve been through in life during our encounter show me how strong you are. Many people who have bad things happen to them tend to be more on the negative side of things, but I really respect you for being so upbeat and optimistic.
I just wanted to say that this was an extremely powerful story you shared and I am extremely sorry for your loss. I personally am not scared of dying, however, I am scared of the people that i love passing away. I personally have never experienced a death in my family so I can not act like i know what youve gone through. Just thinking about a loss in the family makes my eyes water and my heart race. I love my family and friends and know that when that time comes I will be devastated. The scary part is not knowing how to deal with a loss. I want so point out how strong you were in this situation. I do not believe i would be able to handle it how you have. You did not let it keep you down and you seem to have had a optimistic attitude through and through.
While this topic is a sensitive one, I am glad you shared this experience with you. I know that once I experience a loss I will be back on this page reading your story again. I know this is a brief reply, but I wanted to comment on it because of how powerful it actually was. Reading your story almost brought me to tears.
Thank you for sharing, and again I am sorry.