Remembering My Brother 5 Years Later

This has become an annual ritual for me; something I have felt I owed my brother, but in reality, I probably owe myself. While it becomes more difficult to see the new lessons as time passes, they are still there. Simply put, I am not the woman I was 5 years ago. I don’t really remember who she was. I am better for having had Ralph in my life, and in someways, it was his loss that made me grow in the ways I am most proud. His belief in me was unwavering and it took losing him for me to take the chances on myself that I so desperately needed to take.

At this point, when making the decision of what to write this year, I knew that I wanted to recycle something I had written as a Facebook note about a month after Ralph died. It honors my brother in the purest form and is a lesson is what one man’s words can mean years later…..

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July 25, 2009

The following is a letter my mother received about 3 weeks after my brother’s death. I’m sharing it because in the years since my father’s death (when I was 11) I developed a huge aversion to funerals and viewings. As the years went by, I got to the point, where I could no longer even attend them due to anxiety attacks. On a few occasions, I wrote one of these “letters” to families because even though I couldn’t handle going to the funeral, I wanted the family to know what that person meant to me (even if I didn’t know the family). I think everyone hopes that when they leave this earth, they will have left a mark somehow, someway.

In the days following my brother’s death we were overwhelmed by phone calls, cards, flowers, online condolences and visitors. We comforted grown men as they cried for their friend and that made us cry harder. As the days passed, the funeral came and went and for everyone else, life went back to normal. But for us, it’s not over, its really just beginning. There are moments of intense grief that hit like a huge wave in the midst of trying to go on with your life. And while it felt ok to break down at any given moment a few weeks ago, there is a “unspoken social etiquette” feeling that we need to keep it together now that a little time has passed.

I digress….anyway, so when this letter arrived just as the quiet had settled in, it really reaffirmed the message we were so afraid had been lost in the formality of a funeral. The message that my brother was special and that he had touched people he didn’t even think he had.

July 17th, 2009

Dear Joan:

Ralph obviously meant a lot to different people in many different ways.

Ralph and I were friends during high school, but about twenty years ago we again crossed paths and happened to be working at the same place. It was a difficult time for me, recently divorced and in serious need of lifestyle changes. During one of our many conversations, I told Ralph that I was going to turn my life around. I made him that promise.

I last saw Ralph about ten years ago. He told me that he was proud of me for my success. He told me that I was the one person that followed through on what he had heard so many say. He told me that if I could come back from the depths that I had sunk to, then it was possible for just about anyone, and that I was truly an inspiration to him and a lot of other people.

Throughout all the years of my effort and struggle, no one else had ever bothered to recognize what I considered at the time to be my greatest accomplishment; turning my own life around. I’ve replayed his words over and over in the ensuing years. Ralph said I inspired him, but in the end, it was he who inspired me.

I never got to thank Ralph for that. So I’m thanking you instead.

May God keep you all close and comfort you. You still have each other and we’ll forever have Ralph in our hearts.

Kindest Regards

PS The enclosed check is to help with Ralph’s burial or other expenses. Please use it at your discretion. If it isn’t needed, please donate it to the charity of your choice in Ralph’s name.

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I omitted his name for privacy reasons but left the part in about the money because an amazing thing has happened. Quite a few people have sent money. Those of you who did know my brother knew him as the guy who always carried alot of cash. I used to get so mad when I was bartending and my brother would roll in with a few hundred dollars crumbled up in a variety of pockets for all to see. I often demanded he (who was 12 years older) hand over the cash and I would decide who he could or couldn’t buy drinks for. Anytime anyone had an issue with a car, my brother handled it, even lending his own car to others while theirs were in the shop. This was a source of contention for alot of us in the family who felt Ralph was being used on numerous occasions. And here we are, when its all said and done and people we don’t even know are paying him back. Or I guess you could call it paying it forward.

So next time someone you know passes away, remember a time they impacted your life and write it down. This will sustain us longer than this man even realizes.

5 years later, this still sustains me.

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