You have to have a brother to truly understand the bond between brothers. My brother Anthony was a royal pain in the ass. He was confused, angry, reckless, often the victim, funny, loving, and he was my brother. Although not diagnosed as such, we are fairly certain he was bipolar and clinically depressed. We lost Anthony over twenty years ago (June ’99) and the “what ifs” and “if I’d known” still creep into my conscious mind quite often.
I don’t want this to be a eulogy or a lesson in dealing with loss. I don’t want it to be about what was or might have been. I certainly don’t want it to be about me. I want this to be about human failure and where it takes us. How do you learn to forgive another and yourself for just being human and why is that so difficult.
Anthony died of a drug overdose. He had been clean for a long time prior, however, a major life setback sent him out on the streets to purchase a lethal dose of heroine. My sister Grace found him lifeless, needle in arm. Nobody saw it coming.
Seven years prior we were walking on the beach in Puerto Rico; a conversation that shook me to my core resurfaces periodically. My brother was about to become a father. He had been clean for a number of years and he was very much in love with his wife. He was hopeful, excited, and cautious. Toward the end of our walk he asked me to make sure that his child was well taken care of if anything happened to him. I was a bit angry that he would even suggest that his passing was a possibility. He had worked so hard to stay clean and he was my best friend. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that Anthony knew he would not live to be 40. I was dismissive, but agreeable; never thinking I would have to honor that pact seven years later.
What a Brother Knows
Your brother knows what’s in your head better than just about anyone. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. It’s a combination of sharing the same history, the same space, the same biology, similar thoughts, and love; most of all love.
My brother played by his own rules. He was always in some sort of battle — with himself and everyone else. We were as different as night and day, but we understood one another. There was a good deal of chaos and pain around us at home and we processed it differently. I shared my feelings and frustrations and Anthony kept it all in. I would say the wall is blue and Anthony would say it was green and then we would fight about it until we were too exhausted to keep fighting. I was two years older with strong opinions and most of the family on my side (or at least I thought). Anthony was probably stronger physically, however, his respect for me outweighed his strength. When he got angry, things were destroyed. We shared a bedroom up until our teenage years; the damage from his rage could be seen throughout the room. My mother seemingly ignored it and my father paid little to no attention.
Anthony and I were competitive in different ways. I was determined to do well academically and Anthony loved sports; he lived for it. Not only did he excel, but he was the envy of most boys we grew up with. Everyone wanted Anthony on their team and no one wanted me. My brother was aware of the bullying I was subjected to. He would fight my battles when I was out of sight. I later learned that he did not want to embarrass me because he was younger and smaller. Fortunately, I learned this early on and I could express my gratitude and appreciation while he was alive. The older brother is the one who should be doing the protecting.
Looking at your brother, is like looking into a mirror. In Anthony, I saw my own distorted self-esteem and misguided rage. One cannot help but see similarities in the way information is processed and although you see differences as well, strong character traits have an overshadowing effect.
How can you not be shaped by the traumatic death of a sibling? One moment you are laughing and sharing life’s secrets and the next moment they’re gone. You can examine your sibling’s life and find meaning in their choices, their successes and failures, their laughter and their pain, and their love. You can learn from them and love more deeply by fully embracing their faults and failures — you are a better for having shared space on earth with them. Your brother can help you to see who you are and accept your own humanity; even after they’re gone.
Losing my brother taught me more about my own life than just about anything else I have ever experienced. Mortality is a huge slap in the face. You can temporarily ignore it, however, in the long run, you are forced to examine it. You ask yourself the big questions like: why I am still alive, does fate play a role in my future, what did he leave behind that I can learn from, and can I be a better person in his memory?
They say a parent should never have to experience the death of a child. My mother was a strong woman; drama and hyperbole were her go to responses to just about everything. She used my brother’s death as another way of getting attention. It would have been easy for me to call her on it and push her away, but cruelty is not one of my personality traits. I was patient and attentive, hopeful that the impact of his passing would ease. She eventually came to accept my brother’s death; however, the self-blame and remorse never ended and followed her to her death. She lost my sister Grace a few years after Anthony passed, but for some reason, she saw that death as a merciful one. As one can expect, losing two children made her paranoid about losing other children. I had to constantly reassure her that I was not using drugs and being safe. I was very much aware of the fact that my own death would kill her. As it is, she was a young 78 when she died and I was certain she hastened her own death in order to gain some peace.
My brother Leo and I became closer as a result of Anthony’s death. We have scolded one another for reckless behavior a number of times. Neither one of us wants to lose another brother. Our shared love of Anthony and his memory, have forged an unbreakable bond. We can never fill the void Anthony left in our lives, but we can try our best to love and enjoy our lives as a way of honoring his memory.
Anthony left behind a seven year old daughter. She is now a woman with children of her own. It would be unfair to comment on the impact her father’s death had on her life. As her Godfather, I hope life provides the answers she needs in order to understand the hows and whys that allow us to move on.
My Brother’s Presence
A number of years ago I was riding a mountain bike in a Mexican forrest. At one point as I picked up speed and became lost in the moment, I felt my brother’s arms around my waist. His strength fueled my momentum and bathed me in hope and joy. I know it was only moments, but it felt longer. That was the embrace of a soul I was fortunate to know and love. Anthony was with me that day and has been with me since the day I meet him in his bassinet 59 years ago. It is a brotherly bond that can never be severed and I am a better man for it.
Anthony to my right and below that, Anthony to the left of Leo.