I attended a really great event last year, Listen To Your Mother. This is a collection of stories about motherhood read by the author. The stories were so good- funny, relatable, heartbreaking, everything, much like motherhood. I decided that I was going to audition this year which is way outside of my comfort zone. But ya’ll, I really want to be in the arena or at least trying to get in . . .
I wrote several pieces and settled on one about my brother, Lewis and how his loss 12 years ago when I was just 23, has influenced my parenting. I enjoyed recalling all of the incredible stories about him. For time and space reasons, I had to leave out many of them.
I did not get chosen to participate. My piece was too much about my brother and not enough about motherhood. They did give me the option to rewrite it within a day but I can’t do anything that quickly. So, next year! I’d like to say that I just brushed this “defeat” off and moved on but I was upset. It felt like a setback, like a failure. A few weeks have passed and so the disappointment isn’t as fresh. I’ve moved on to just keep doing, keep trying, keep failing and working toward victory. Thanks Theo.
If you like good stories, he is someone that you would have wanted to know because he was living a good story. Here’s just a tiny piece of it . . . (This story was supposed to be read out loud so it might read differently than if you were listening to it.)
As They Are
I always considered my younger brother to be my miracle baby. He was born 9 weeks early which just happened to be 3 days after my first birthday, so I assumed he was my birthday present, my first best friend. His entrance into the world was dramatic. My mother being rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night after waking in a pool of blood. Incubators, tubes and 6 weeks of intensive care. I think he knew that while he’d never have to compete for affection, he might have to compete for attention.
My brother was fun and free spirited, full of life, love and generosity. He was the kindest, shyest kid you’d ever meet. Hiding behind my mom’s legs whenever we left the house. Taking to heart every insult or harsh word. Never retaliating. He couldn’t say no to me and like a true big sister I took full advantage. I used to dress him up like a girl in my cutest outfits with bows in his hair. Lewis transformed into Lucy. Instant sister.
That shy kid grew into the life of the party. He was never one to turn down a dare or pass by an adventure. That fence, he’d climb it. That rushing river, he’d cross it. That bridge, he’d jump off it. He was magnetic and had more close friends in his 22 years than most have in a life time.
He was always getting into trouble, I mean, having adventures. One day he, our dog and four friends were exploring large drainage pipes near our house. (Why anyone would want to do this, I don’t know!) It had just rained, and they were washed down to a creek a few blocks away. Their hands were full of shards of glass. Their foreheads bruised from grasping for air. My dog lost all his nails from death gripping the concrete. It was terrifying. And typical.
My brother loved rock climbing. Being on the side of a mountain was for him like swimming in the ocean, starting at the sunset or going to church. One Christmas, he stocked up on rock climbing gear including a couple of rope ladders that are designed to get through particularly tricky maneuvers on the rock. They were also good for sneaking out of your second story bedroom in the middle of the night. He may or may not have been brought home by the police after one of his late-night adventures.
He was so good at rock climbing that when the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia opened the gorilla exhibit, he was asked to come climb the walls before the gorillas arrived to see if it was secure. If there was a way out, he’d be the one to find it.
When he moved out of our parents’ house, he took our big furry family dog with him. Really, he was my brother’s dog. Even animals were drawn to him. When he got frustrated with how much this furry dog shed, he didn’t brush him, or give him a bath, he vacuumed him.
And then there was the time that he brought my Dad’s suburban home with four flat tires but had no idea how that happened. And the time he totaled my Dad’s newer suburban. And the time smoke was pouring from the shed in our back yard, but he swore he wasn’t smoking cigarettes. And the time he was sent to boarding school for smoking pot and then kicked out for smoking pot. And these are just the stories I know.
There is also the scotch he brought my husband on our wedding day with a hug and wish, a small comfort shown to a very nervous man. I can picture his smile in this moment, genuine with a hint of mischief.
I can see his strong arms holding my grandmother as she tripped over the church threshold at our grandfather’s funeral. And the car ride home when he told us about his new puppy, who would soon become my parent’s well-loved black lab. I remember the trip to the park with our niece where they raced on the monkey bars. And the conversation we had afterward about our future and our families, the opportunity to move from brother and sister to uncle and aunt.
But Lewis will never meet my babies. He will always be their mom’s brother and never their uncle.
Even so, he is a part of all of us. I see him in my oldest son’s athletic abilities and in my second son’s generosity. I see him in my daughter’s love of people and in my baby’s eyes.
I look at life differently now.
His loss is the deepest despair from which some of the greatest gifts have come. While I would trade his life for everything I have learned, I only occasionally mourn the fact that this isn’t an option. Instead, I feel gratitude for the gifts of acceptance, grace, friendship and love. Losing my brother has been humbling and horrible. And knowing how truly I loved him, I also know that I will never get over it.
But I will honor him. Whenever I teach my children about kindness and generosity, having fun and not taking things so seriously, he is the role model I will use. Whenever I wish that maybe they’d work a little harder in school or stick with baseball or basketball, fight back when bullied or not give all their best toys away . . . whenever I wish they’d be more like who I think they should be and less like who they truly are, I will remember him, and I will treasure my children exactly as they are.
Please share a Lewis story with me.