Who was my brother Josh? How do I distill his essence down to who he truly was? He was a brother, a son, a husband and a father. But a genealogy tells nothing of the manner in which a man chooses to live out his life. So into the dark recesses of my memory I went in search of a memory that would sum up who Josh was. But how can just one story encompass a man’s life? So I ask that you please indulge me three stories from the early, middle and latter stages of his life.
First Story. As kids, we’d fight as brothers tend to do. But we didn’t fight like most brothers. Or, I should say that at least Josh didn’t. When anger would get the better of me and I’d attempt to rain down blows upon him, he wouldn’t hit me. Being the older and bigger one, he’d just pin me to the ground or use those long arms to put me in a bear hug turning my aggression into impotence. He’d calmly hold me down and say, “I’ll let go when you’re done. Are you done?”
Second Story. Josh went to college, got himself an education, met his soul mate, and then decided to follow in our dad’s footsteps by not using his degree at all. He fell in love with woodworking. He fine tuned his craft until he built absolutely gorgeous kitchens for his customers. But he’ll be remembered most for the things he built for those he loved – the bed in which his daughter Katelyn rests her head to sleep every night, the bed in which his son Ethan puts his head to sleep every night, nevermind all the additions, nooks and crannies that he added to their house, and much of my parents’ house was built with my brother’s help, especially the cabinets which hold their dishes.
Third Story. During his battle for life, there came a point where something suspicious arose on his tonsils. So the doctor removed them. While he slowly recovered from the anesthesia and surgery, he would float in and out of consciousness. He had been put under, had his throat scraped and his tonsils removed. And do you know what he first said during one of those brief periods of awakening? No complaining, no expression of pain, or even a request for water. No, in a scratchy and soft voice he whispered “Happy Birthday,” to my mom. The surgery occurred on my mom’s birthday and he remembered to say happy birthday in a drugged state. How many of you would remember to wish your mom happy birthday in the midst of all that?
And so from these stories, a picture of who Josh was begins to emerge. He was a kind, gentle-hearted soul. Slow to anger, quick to help, he was the classic middle child – the peacemaker. And then he got cancer. And I saw in him a determination, a resilience, an anger and above all, a desire to live even when it meant pain. Yes, his nemesis Pain was ever present throughout his struggle. Suddenly, this notion of the gentle giant was no longer adequate to describe him. I had trouble reconciling what I knew of the gentle Josh with the fighting Josh.
I got a chance to ask him about this. Less than two months ago, I was staying with him down at a motel near MD Anderson so he could undergo daily radiation treatments. The radiation treatments took all of 20 minutes so we had plenty of time to fill the day. And so I asked him what got him up out of bed every day? What kept him going throughout all this? At first he was perplexed by the question. “Many people give up,” I told him. “It happens.” But he couldn’t wrap his brain around the notion of people wanting to die. It was a foreign concept to him. Ever the pestering little brother, I pushed him further on his answer. He became angry. Tears started flowing down his face. And through those tears he told me the
REAL reason. “Wanting to live” was only half the answer. WHAT he wanted to live for was the half that was unanswered. With his jaw clenched and his voice trembling with anger and sadness, he said to me, “I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE ANNA….I MISS HER…..I WANT TO WATCH ETHAN AND KATE GROW UP…..I WANT TO WATCH THEM PLAY SPORTS, , GO TO COLLEGE, GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL GET MARRIED…… There’s so much of their life I’m going to miss.” The last statement he said in almost a whisper that hung in the air.
Ethan and Katelyn, you may have wondered why your dad was absent so much. It often seemed like he was always making trips down to MD Anderson. It probably didn’t seem fair. And it wasn’t fair. I saw the toll it took on the family by him being away. Cancer is anything but fair. But know this, he fought to the end, and I mean the very bitter end for one simple reason. He loved y’all with all his being and couldn’t bear the thought of leaving y’all. And so who was Josh? Look to the love of his family and his undeniably painful and moving struggle to stay alive for them. He loved Anna, he loved Ethan, and he loved Katelyn with all of his heart, all of his mind, and all of his soul. THAT is who my brother was.
And now, I’d like to finish up with a simple poem written by a Roman poet. It seems the nature of a brother’s grief hasn’t changed much in over 2,000 years.
Through many countries and over many seas
I have come, Brother, to these melancholy rites,
to show this final honour to the dead,
and speak (to what purpose?) to your silent ashes,
since now fate takes you, even you, from me.
Oh, Brother, ripped away from me so cruelly,
now at least take these last offerings, blessed
by the tradition of our parents, gifts to the dead.
Accept by custom, what a brother's tears drown,
and for eternity, Brother, ave atque vale
'Hail and Farewll.'