One month ago, to the day, I received the phone call that no one ever wants to receive.
“Karen, this is Jeff. Brian has taken a turn for the worse and he’s not going to make it. You need to come quick”.
My brother had suffered 2 massive strokes and was in ICU in a St. Louis hospital. The painful reality that I was losing a brother was so unreal to me, which is why I feel compelled to write about it and about him. Grief is something that remains strangely elusive to folks until it sucker punches you unexpectedly in the gut. And then you have to deal with it, on its terms.
I cry when I don’t want to and I can’t cry when I do. To this I imagine that Brian would probably tap me on the cheek and say, in your usual sarcastic fashion: knock that (colorful expletive) off, I’m okay dag nabbit. And then he’d laugh, because he found most things in life funny. Kinda like Boyne Mountain…
Late summer, circa 1973, Kiwanis International Convention: dad decides it would be fun to take Brian and I with him for the annual convention boondoggle as Mom was not able to go. We stayed in the “Edelweiss” section of the resort campus while dad was about half mile up the road where his cronies were staying. We watched in astonished admiration as our father taught us how to cling-wrap toilet seats, sew suit pockets and sleeves together and turn trunks and dresser drawers upside down and remove every trace of facial tissue and toilet paper from the room after cold-creaming doorknobs and faucets. Even Mrs. Lippus’ hair piece was not safe as it lay unsuspectingly hid between the short-sheeted bedsheets. It was a veritable crash course in madcap pranking. We are under the impression that this is what people do when they go to resorts. How novel!
On this particular fateful evening, as the movie we were watching: The Face of Dorian Gray was getting a little dull, Brian and I decided it was high time cross the threshold of apprentice to master prankster. I can’t remember if it started with multiple toilet flushings, (about 50 per hour), a game of hallway horseshoes using ice cubes which eventually soaked our neighbors front carpet, or a twice hourly town-crier recitation of the Gettysburg address out our window which brought a very angry security guard crashing down upon our little mischief party.
The security bloke ambled his way up our steps at about 3am and knocked loudly. “Security, security, you need to open the door, NOW.” Brian and I were 14 and 8 years of age, respectively. I think Brian’s appearance was enough to convince anyone over the legal drinking age that there was something wrong with Brian. His eyes were completely swollen to little slits with hayfever (August-Michigan-ragweed….you do the math). So now the security guard knows we’ve been raising (expletive) and probably thinks Brian is high on marijuana.
“What the (expletive) are you kids doing? There have been multiple complaints from guests about your behavior”. And then this…
“I’m looking at your eyes”.
… ‘uh oh’ … Astonishly, my brother is trying not to LAUGH. Which is now making me laugh. Security bloke now he thinks we are total stoners.
“Where are your parents?”
“Our Dad’s in up the road with the Kiwanis people”.
“You mean he’s not even in this building?”
[Why, no, as a matter of fact. Ha ha! He’s abandoned us to our own devices AFTER training us to be complete idiots in public. Good job Dad. If mom could see us now, she’d run you over with the lawnmower.]
“Get him on the phone”
Brian nervously dials my father at 3:15am. The laughter has disappeared as we realize we are now in deep doo doo.
Dad mysteriously picks up after 1 ring.
“Uh, Dad, this is uh, Brian, your son. And we sort of, need to let you know that, we are uh, …….with a security guard”
Security bloke takes the phone from Brian the Hayfever Stoner and has a serious telephonic throw down with my Father.
“Mr. Iles, this is Security. Your children are down here raising (expletive) and your son looks like he’s on drugs. You need to take care of this.”
Phone is passed back to my brother who is now soiling himself…
Dad sounds mad but not toooo mad. Tells us to knock it off, go to bed, and we will talk in the morning.
Disaster averted for the evening, but morning is a painful eternity away. We did not sleep. We didn’t even move.
So as my skivvy-clad father is tom-tomming the neighbor’s wall just behind the rather ominous beer-can pyramid they had constructed hours ago, a knock is heard at his door. He answers and is rather surprised by his late night visitor who is NOT the pizza delivery but the Security Bloke. Oooops. Apparently Security Bloke decided against hoofing it back to the place where security blokes hunker down but instead detoured to my Dad’s Kiwanis lodgings up the road. I guess the eye slits, sunburned face and general “cat ate the canary” expression that Brian was noted for necessitated a personal a-priori visit to dad. You usually got blamed for most things as I recall.
We are the only registered guests to ever be blacklisted from Boyne Mountain Ski Resort. An accomplishment that we have grown ever prouder of with each retelling of this story.
I golfed on Sunday. On the 18th fairway I landed my approach shot in a bunker just off the right side of the green. I decided to pick up. As I exit the trap I look across to the noonday lake that formed the other obstacle to this hole. The radiant glints of sunlight danced across the surface of the water like an orchestra of light and I am reminded of your smile. I can no longer move because I am struck by the idea that I’ll not ever play golf with you again. This makes me cry. This is grief. Finally I understand what I have arrogantly told others in my feeble attempts at trying to help them. That grief comes and goes like the wind – when it wills. But so do the memories—and they are all good ones of my funny brother who had friends all over the globe. I don’t have funny work jokes or poignant tales of drama. What I do have are many pocketfuls of laughing memory that keep reminding me that he is near to me….especially at Holy Communion and during adoration.
I will miss you in so many ways. I will also try very hard to be the good example that you were to so many, especially to your beautiful wife and children. I know you are with God in heaven because of the sheer number of times I have heard the song Amazing Grace since September 4.
When we’ve been there, ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
Thank you for being my brother, Brian.
I’ll keep tweeking it and with God's help, this too, will someday make sense.