Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ten Years On

I had been divorced for almost two years. My birthday was Friday so my son was going to spend the weekend with me. Since I had to go to work in the morning I went to bed but my son, who had just turned 16, stayed up late.

It was about 2:30. My son came into my room and said “Granddaddy is on the phone.” Calls at 2:30 usually mean bad news. This was no exception.

“Your brother, Larry, is dead.” I know why he phrased that in such an unusual way.  My mother had been fighting cancer for over twenty years. “Mother” and “brother” can be hard to distinguish, so my father wanted to be sure I got the message right. My brother, age 52, was dead of a heart attack.

I didn’t sleep anymore that night. I was in Seattle; Larry had lived just across the state line in Idaho, about 300 miles away. I had a long drive in front of me.

My father had not been able to talk to my other brother. I tried calling him at home but I got no answer either.  My father thought that he may be at his in-laws house about 80 miles south of Seattle. As neither my father nor I had their number, I said I would drive down and check.

I had two jobs at the time. I could just call in to the one and make arrangements to take time off. The other one, driving a bus, was a little more complicated. I would stop by the base and take the necessary steps.

Before my son and I left the house I checked my email. I had one of the eeriest emails I had ever received; it was from Larry. Nothing earth shaking, just catching up on family news. It was painful knowing that was the last I would ever hear from him.

I guess being from a military family made us close. Larry and I also had many mutual interests. We could talk for hours about old music and old time radio shows.

My son and I got in the car. Our first stop was at my bus base. I made arrangements to take the next week off. Then we headed south to my other brother’s in-laws. No, my brother was not there. I was pretty good friends with my brother’s father-in-law so we talked for a few minutes. Then my son and I headed back north to Seattle where I-90 starts its eastern journey.

We finally arrived at my late brother’s house I guess at about 4 o’clock.  There was a house full of people. My other brother was already there. It turns out the phone was not in their bedroom so he did not hear it ringing, He got the message after he woke up. Since he was only coming from central Washington, he only had to drive about three hours and not seven.

Nobody went hungry that weekend. Neighbors were bringing food over by the bushel. My brother’s minister came over to help plan the service. He said that he could do the eulogy if no one in the family wanted to do it. Not wanting to barge in where I was not wanted, I volunteered in a roundabout fashion. My offer was accepted.

The subject of music then came up. I mentioned how Larry’s favorite hymn was“Nearer My God to Thee,” the English version as shown in the Titanic film “A Night to Remember.” Larry loved ships and loved that movie.

His wife said, “Oh, yes.” So a hunt was on to find the music for the English version.

We made the funeral arrangements the next day. Larry had an open casket. I know many people do not like the idea, but I did – at least this time. Larry looked like he was asleep. I had the urge to shake him and wake him up. My father stood over the casket and kept saying, “This is not right. The child is not supposed to go before the parent.”

The service went well. I had asked family members to write notes from which I delivered the eulogy. I think I did OK.

Larry was cremated. We spread his ashes by Steven’s Pass in Washington State at a site where we three brothers made an exploration in 1977. It has been a special place since then.

As I said, Larry and I had a number of mutual interests. It was several years before I finally learned to stop saying, “’ll have to tell Larry about this.”

Time goes on, but time does not completely stop the flow of tears.

Larry, I still miss you and always will.


  1. August 16th is a bittersweet day for us. Your Birthday, the 10th anniversary of Larry's death and the 19th anniversary of my mother's death.

    Funny how the world works.

    We will drink a toast to all three tonight.

  2. I'm sorry that your birthday is also a marker for your brother's death - and your mother as well, Fay.

    Thank you for sharing the story, Matt. It makes me feel grateful that I still have all my siblings around me.

  3. Yeah, family is special. Florrie. So are good friends :)

  4. Matt, your story is very poignant and heartfelt; your brother must have been a wonderful man. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I'm so sorry for the mixed emotions you and lovely Fay must feel today. My heart goes out to you both.

  5. Your brother sure looks like your dad.

  6. What a moving story Matt. I'm so sorry for your loss. It seems strange wishing you (belated) happy birthday on the same day as Larry's anniversary, but still, I send you my best wishes for many happy returns together with all your loving family.

  7. Florrie, you're right. He does look like my father. In another picture I thought he looked like me. Maybe we're all related ;)

    Thank you all for your kind thoughts.

    Something I realized at the time and that I tell others who experience a loss of loved ones -- either family or friends -- is that the reason the such losses hurt so much is because we were blessed to have such people in our lives in the first place. That thought helped me and when I tell that to others, they say it helps them as well.