I wrote the following piece last September. For no particular reason, I decided to hold on to it.
We lost my brother this week, and for no particular reason, I feel it’s time to share my writing with you.
September 5, 2017:
Many of my readers have followed this blog faithfully for years. Not only have you tracked my travels, my recipes, my rants and raves, but you have also witnessed the joys and losses of my incredibly large family.
My family is currently preparing themselves for yet another loss. My brother Billy is also preparing himself for his journey. I know that this may seem odd to some of you, but somehow, I think it is appropriate to celebrate his life here with all of you. (But I will check with him before publishing this post.)
As I have surely written before, being part of a huge family that spans 19 years between the firstborn and the youngest, also brings numerous and almost constant challenges. One of those challenges is getting to know each other throughout the many stages of our lives. Billy and I are about 13 years apart. Therefore, there were many times that I really didn’t know him at all. For instance, I was just a little kid when he went off to the Navy during the Vietnam War. My memories of him from that period are truly just from photos. At other times, he was the big brother who built cool furniture, or who had the cool Jeep, or who was out driving his van to a job, or who picked me up to take me for a ride or spend a few hours at his house.
Luckily for me, that all changed. About 10 years ago, after buying a house that needed some love, Billy came out every day to work on the house. My job had downsized so I was there every day with him. I was also suffering with some auto-immune issues, so I mostly laid on the couch every day while he painted walls, repaired everything, built radiator covers, installed new windows and ceiling fans, and much much more. Although I wasn’t at my best, we made a weekly trip to the neighborhood bar. What fun that was when Easter season came and we headed up there for their weekly Friday seafood dinner!
Our friendship only grew from there. I sold the house and moved to Turkey. Of course, having a lot of free time on my hands, I went back home at least 3 times a year to visit. Billy was almost always there to meet me at the airport and to take me back at the end of my trip. In between, he and his wife spoiled me with dinners at their favorite restaurants, grilling unbelievably big steaks for me, bottles of wine, and constantly offering a place to sleep in order to escape the often chaotic life at Mom’s house, even though they knew that I couldn’t miss out on the chaos which had become a part of my life that I enjoyed.
When the time came for me to come back to the US to take care of our sister in her final days, Billy was there for me every day. If I was at Mom’s, he would come for lunch and make sure I had a glass or two, or three, of wine. He would encourage me to take care of myself, and he did it for me when I didn’t. On Thanksgiving Eve, shortly before she passed, he “forced” me into an overnight at his house by dangling the biggest steak I had ever seen in front of my eyes, after having filled me with wine, cheeses, and olives! Oh, I caught hell for that from Mom, but she eventually got over it and understood my need to be with my brother. The exaggerated version of that story gave us something to laugh about for years. I can still hear his son the next morning saying, “Aunt, we need to make a plan. Tell Grandmom you were watching a movie with me. What movie was it?”
When my 50th birthday rolled around there was no doubt in my mind about how I wanted to celebrate it. Billy and his wife were onboard. They have a big green property surrounded by trees. They hosted God knows how many people (again, big family) at their place. Billy was grilling. Kids were playing badminton and horseshoes. Music was blaring. It was the best summer weather. We laughed, and laughed, and laughed. It was almost the best Henson party ever! I am a little biased, I think my wedding was the best party ever.
A couple of years ago, Billy’s work slowed down for a brief period and he finally had time to come visit Turkey. He was going to bring Mom along, and we also were planning a trip to Germany to see our extended family. I was reveling in the thought of it, and figuring out all the places I wanted to take him to see. I especially wanted to take my sailor-brother to the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the airline ticket prices were incredibly high to fly from the US. I am sure he would have done it anyway if he were flying alone. I looked for tickets for months. After finally giving up and postponing the visit, the “attempted coup” happened.
Billy stayed in touch with me for daily updates. He and all of my family wanted me home. But I was at home in Turkey. I admit, I was really suffering with a touch of PTSD, but I now had 3 homes, the US, Germany, and Turkey, and I couldn’t leave that easily. After a month, I flew back to the US for a visit. Naturally, he was waiting for me upon arrival. I told him parts of the coup story that I wasn’t sharing with anyone else at the time. He got me through that visit. He saw me or checked in every day. None of my siblings wanted me to return to Turkey, but in the end, he knew I would. He knew I had to be with my husband until the travel ban for Turkish professors had lifted and we could leave together.
When my husband and I moved back to the US last autumn, Billy finally got his way. We moved in with him for 6 weeks. We all probably had some minor apprehensions, after all, I couldn’t remember the last time we lived under the same roof. Certainly he would realize what a big pain in the ass I could be! (OK, to be fair, he probably already knew that.) But, it was incredibly easy to live there. We were made to feel at home. We all got along very well. I learned which coffee to buy and how to keep the coffee machine ready for the next cup. Ha! I had no choice but to learn that, I knew where the door was if I didn’t! (Just kidding.)
And so our friendship continues. I’m helping out where I can. He is making sure that I know I am still the little sister as he navigates through these final waters. Of course, he constantly is letting me know that I am loved.
While we naturally look upon this time with great sadness, it is also an extraordinary experience; an opportunity for my family to openly share our love for each other. I love all of my siblings, and I thank them all for our friendships. I know they feel the same way. At the end of this voyage, a celebration of life and love will replace a period of mourning.
As I have ended many a phone call with Billy, “Love you Brother.”
Billy, you my have sailed on, but you are always here in my heart. Thanks for the beautiful moments, laughter, and love. Celebrating you today and always.
Love you Brother.