Brother’s Day

56 is too young to die. My wife’s brother passed away last night. He was only 56.

Bill had been fighting cancer for a few years and it seemed he was winning. Things got worse within the past nine months. On Friday, they told us he only had a few weeks left. He died four days later.

My brother-in-law loved a good argument. He would bluster about sports, politics, religion or just about any topic you could mention. He was especially passionate about food and would often compare local fare to meals he had in Japan or Ireland or Germany or Peru.

When we moved from California to Tennessee, Bill became the relative who lived closest. We visited his home in Woodstock, Georgia, several times. When a job change took him back to the Washington suburbs where he grew up, he would stay overnight with us on his frequent road trips between Georgia and Virginia. The routine almost always involved dinner at a nice restaurant on Saturday and Mass at All Saints on Sunday.

Bill was my daughter’s godfather. In his last months, she drove him to the hospital several times when he needed a transfusion, often late at night. My wife spent her Easter vacation visiting her brother and their mother. I last saw him two weeks ago when we made a quick trip to Northern Virginia. He was doing especially well that day.

When someone is dying, it’s hard to know what to say. Even my wife hesitated before we placed a phone call to her brother this past weekend. She and I realized that the action of making the call was far more important than worrying about what we would say. The words came naturally as my wife told her brother she loved him and said her good-byes.

Funerals are similar in some ways. I know too many people who are afraid to attend funerals because they don’t know what to say. I think it would be better to show up and say nothing than to stay home. In the long run, the surviving family members remember that you were there, not what you said.

My brother-in-law had been making plans for a family reunion, perhaps near St. Louis, where his parents and siblings lived before moving to Virginia. Now the family will gather in Virginia for his funeral, confident in the knowledge that Bill’s suffering has ended and that the good Lord will welcome him with open arms.

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