Let it be said, I’m not deluded. I’m no poet. This is a work in progress, and it will evolve. However, it is the first time I have felt moved to write something since my only brother died two years ago. Yes me, who has written a few eulogies in her time, and rarely finds writing a struggle, hit a total block on writing anything at all about my older sibling until 2 years had passed.
Part of that was coming to terms with what felt like the loss of some of my own childhood. I have since lost my mother. Given she was 89 and had dementia for many years, the loss had been a long, slow process, so it felt qualitatively different. My father is still here in body, but his Alzheimer’s has also meant a long, slow loss.
My brother and I were close when young, despite the 5 year age gap, and despite the fact that when he was a teenager I must have felt, to him, like a total menace. He did things properly (according to our family norms) having met his wife to be at 16, courted her for 7 years, saved up for a home, and married her. He went on to have a successful career, three children and then grandchildren. I went off to university the year he married, and our lives veered in different directions along separate paths.
For some years we played by the geographically mobile rules of Christmas and birthday contact, with the occasional additional visit. We had different interests, and ways of doing things. He liked sport, high grade holidays, and was extremely organised/perfectionist. I was untidy, ad hoc and more emotional with a zigzag career, a community focus, and 5 children of my own. In many ways, while doing family stuff, we grew apart (the same happened with old friends, as we all become tied up in our own lives when raising children; they become the priority).
Later, as my parents became ill, I saw more of him. We were able to pick up again where we left off. Then he became ill, and I saw still more of him. Occasionally, I looked after him while his wife was working, so she didn’t have to worry that he would be on his own when he invariably fell over trying to do something. His daughter said that, sadly, his illness had made him a nicer person. I know what she meant. He became less acquisitive, more the brother I’d known. When faced with a progressive terminal condition, you quickly realise that money may add to your comfort but it is powerless in the grand scheme of things. People matter more. Would he have had ever learned that lessons without his illness? I don’t know, but it was a tough teacher, and there are pleasanter ways to learn.
Anyway, I claim no merit in this poem. It is what flooded out recently, which I am sharing today on the second anniversary of his death, as a form of catharsis.
In the grief zone…
It was tougher than tough watching your decline,
My big brother, sibling, the only one of mine.
Successful, organised, like an obsessive system fault,
Reduced to the slow lane, life grinding to a halt.
Over time, mobility declined; you needed a chair
You were already resenting it, not wanting to be there.
“A nightmare living within a nightmare”, as you described it to me,
I wanted it eradicated: “go away, disappear, flee”.
It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t much fun, was it?
When you couldn’t even stand up to get your clothes from the closet.
You couldn’t eat without choking and dribbling, too
Yet food was ironically such a comfort to you.
You fell down so often, regularly cut and bruised.
An insomniac, awake early, you could rarely snooze.
You had to cut down on food but also on golf
And control your weight for the good of your health!
The dogs snuggled up and babies played with you, gladly
They hadn’t a clue what was wrong with you, sadly.
When you fell on the floor they thought it was funny
Their laughter was worth more to you than all of your money.
Towards the end you could not really talk
Or if you did, it was halting, like you walked.
No one could quite understand what you were trying to say
So we Whatsapped about Klopp on Liverpool match day.
Your condition was rare which somehow made it more cruel
You were always on top of your game, organised, cool.
Yet when you needed help, no one knew where to find the key
To cure your brain’s Multiple System Atrophy.
I sat at your bedside after your heart failed
Held your still hand, you were twitching and pale.
The day came for them to turn off the switch
You could not recover from the brain damage.
As the light of breath slowly left your face
Your skin greyed and aged, in a death race
This was bleeping dying; it was an awful day.
When you died too soon, in that dreadful way.
So, funeral and life over, I now look back at you
To remember the relationship we had, we two
You knew me bro for well over fifty years
No wonder I still shed bucketloads of tears.
You rode a bike, had a paper round
Drove a boy racer car, wore cravats you’d found.
My friends all fancied you and wanted to date
But you had no interest, they were all too late!
You were a rock for our parents, the one who really knew
Who could laugh at Mum’s vitriol, tell me what to do.
Care for, visit, wish at times their dementia was dead
Sadly, it happened to you instead.
As a child, you were my big, big brother
Who looked after me, unlike any other
You protected me and made me laugh,
Tormented me, teased me, induced my wrath.
You once refused to eat from anything but paper plates
Germ warfare announced by my older playmate.
You’d bury and release me in the sand by the sea.
I’d bury you and leave you there, letting you be.
You were the one who pushed the boundaries
Making escape from our childhood easier for me.
We played games, had fights, and squabbled, you and I
But I never in a million years thought you’d go and die!
The last time you visited, I made you fruit cake
I’d gone to some trouble to make one like Mum baked.
You told me then that you’d never liked it.
I proffered a hard scone instead; you tried to bite it.
We cracked up that day, it was so funny.
Your eyes ran with laughter, your tears were runny.
It was like when Mum was singing loudly in the home
We giggled, we roared, we cried, we groaned.
I never saw you again awake after that day
It’s so sad it had to be that way.
The funeral was packed, with family and friends
That day it was real, this was the end.
Two years ago and I miss you still.
I wish I’d had more time for you.
Suddenly my childhood died then, too.
No one to share it with, no one who knew.
The tears are flowing as I write
It is that time of year, time to say goodnight
Just to say I miss you so; sometimes, I feel so alone
Wish you hadn’t had to go, leaving me in this grief zone.