Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Brother, and Two Sisters

Grief is a mysterious condition. I am in the process of reading two books on the subject, neither of which are particularly helpful, since neither author knew my mother, the loss of whom can't possibly be plugged in to a ready formula for recovery. For me it has been part sadness, part regret, but mostly bouts of paralyzing melancholy. Generally speaking, sitting around for hours pondering deep questions about life and death leads to no good, turning you into an inert mass of bone and tissue incapable of summoning enough energy to make a ham sandwich, let alone go to work. So, you try to fight through the reflection impulse, and get on with life. Some days have been easier than others.

But not all bouts of reflection are created equal. For example, if you're laying around in your pajamas for days contemplating why the sun rises in the east and sets in the west instead of the other way around, well, therein lies madness. However, if you find yourself reexamining just how wonderful your brother and two sisters are, it can be time well spent. The four of us are different in so many ways. But the similarities are remarkable and flow mostly from the fact that we all had the same mother. Now that she has gone I have found myself paying closer attention to my siblings, hoping to catch a glimpse of Mom in the process.

My brother, Donnie and I are roughly ten years apart, he the oldest and I the youngest. He is taller, heavier, and slightly louder than me. He taught me how to play baseball, introduced me to the Beatles, and gave me one 30 minute guitar lesson when I was 11 and then left me to my own devices with a piece of junk 5 string acoustic that he had outgrown. He has two masters degrees, and an amazing ability to store and recall the lyrics to practically every song recorded since 1950. He has been a prolific song-writer, and the most natural musician I've ever heard. At mom's funeral, he calmly sat down at the piano and performed a medley of two of her favorite songs that he had put together in his head, and with no music in front of him, sang them in as clear and beautiful a voice as I had ever heard from him. Under the circumstances, a virtuoso performance, graceful and dignified. I marveled at his composure.

My sister Paula is closest to me in age, two years older. I followed behind her at school. My teachers would always stare at me for an awkward moment and then ask," Wait, you're not Paula's brother, are you?" Upon answering in the affirmative, their faces would always stiffen, then they would smile, as if to say.."Then, why are you making C's and throwing paper airplanes in my class??" Years later, working with the youth group at our church, whenever I would tell the kids that Mrs. Roop was my sister, instantly, their behavior would improve, and I would earn instant credibility as a teacher. Paula is the sort of person who brings solutions with her when she walks into a room. She is a clear, decisive thinker, with no patience for incompetence. She has strong and well stated opinions about everything. I see so much of what was great about my mother in her.

Whenever I told the kids in the youth group that I was "Mz. Linda's" brother, my awesomeness score on their Cool-O-Meter went off the charts. When I told adults this, they would laugh and say something like.."Of course you are!!!" I never really knew what that meant, but I was sure it was good. Linda is the leader, the alpha male of our family. It has always been so. The cruise director makes the plan and sees to it that it is executed. If you added up all of the self-sacrificing things that the rest of us have ever done for Mom and Dad, it would probably be less than what Linda does in an average month. As a nurse, much of the burden of their care has fallen on her. Linda loved Mom with not only her heart but her hands and feet as well. She has taken her loss perhaps the hardest of any of us. But there's no self pity with Linda, just a renewed devotion to Dad's care, and a determination to keep the family focused and together. Amazing.