Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – January 2, 2004
Memory & Michael
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – January 2, 2004 – Whatever our ancestral or cultural heritage – we all have a deep, primordial connection to what has gone before us. Whether events in our lives are positive or negative, our yearning to remain linked to a person, place or thing is unmistakable.
We have been given a remarkable gift in the form of memory. We can choose to let a memory be an exciting, vital part of our lives or let it slip, silently and mysteriously into the recesses of our being, where it can either give us guidance or make us bitter. In my lifetime, memory has served me well and served me poorly. As I mature I endeavour to bring this precious gift into balance where it can be an ally.
My brother Michael died on December 8, 1971. His beautiful life was cut short by a drunk driver. My father believed him to be an old soul whose presence was required elsewhere. My mother bonded indelibly with her grief. It became her friend, her solace, her need and her daily fix. It excused her from living. She remained inexorably bound in its steely grasp for the rest of her life.
He has been gone for 32 years and I still miss him. I wonder about the life he might have had – memories never born, that are forever lost to me. My brother Eric, my sister-in-law Jeannie and I embarked on the two hour drive to our family home the night he died. At the first opportunity I had to be alone, I sat in the living room beside the stereo. It was dark outside. I was conscious of the night and unaware, both at the same time. I turned on the phonograph and re-played the same track from a record, dozens and dozens of times. I wanted to consume the composer, the music, the phonograph and the entire orchestra that played that haunting melody – “Largo” by de Bussy. I thought if I heard the music enough times that its beauty would somehow steal slowly under my skin and lodge in my chest, where it would ease my pain and maybe fill the gaping hole in my heart.
I could then let it seep out of my pores to run down my body where it would bleed into the ground. I wanted the knowledge of Mike’s loss to be silently telegraphed through the earth to everyone who had ever known him. I wanted the world to know that it had lost a profoundly beautiful and good soul. I tried to fathom that I had lost my brother. I had to believe he was really gone. Otherwise, when I woke up in the morning, in that split second before conscious thought takes over, I would think he was still alive – part of my life. Then I’d have to experience his loss again. Pain is a cruel companion. Death is a silent, unwelcome intruder. We fight its presence at every turn, but know in our hearts this battle can never be won. It awaits us all.
Over the years my longing has mellowed. I don’t think of Michael every day, but I reflect on him often. I remember the day I lost the sound of his voice. That was such a cruel blow. But I remember his smile, his kindness, the mischievous sparkle in his eyes, his sense of the ridiculous, the way his light brown hair fell so softly over his forehead. I wish him a Happy Birthday every March 2nd and without fail a Merry Christmas. I wonder how he would have grown, what wisdom he might have shared with those he loved. During the bleak times in my life I’ve known he was there. I was laid low by his loss, but I’m richer in spirit because he was my brother.
I hope all people who have lost someone ‘greatly loved’ learn with time, to feel this way. This is where the gift of memory is at its most sublime. I have never heard words that convey this sentiment more beautifully expressed than in Carl Sandburg’s graceful lines:
“I take you and pile high the memories,
Death will break her claws on those I keep”