Fourteen years ago today, Groundhog Day 2005, I lost my brother and sister-in-law in a robbery — both were shot dead by the robber. They were about to enter one of the several “primes of their lives” — the two kids that they had raised were about to enter the world themselves as young adults and show the planet what they had learned from being brought up by their parents. So much of this story is deeply sad and so tragic.
One thing, though, that has surprised me over the years is the extent to which I have internalized both my brother and sister-in-law, in a very good way. My brother and I were close together in a large Irish Catholic family — two years apart in age, one year apart in school, with he the older, and so the one who was there first and always a little bit better (except for that summer we took a cell biology course together – but that is a different story). There was no question, it was locked in our life stories together. At critical times for both of us, he was my role model, my confidant and my go-to person — as, I am sure, I was at times for him.
Some time within the week after he and his wife were murdered, they both appeared together to me in a dream. I said, “You’re dead.” He said, “We will just have to find a new way to talk to each other.”
And, so it has gone, over the years, as I have found myself at various times doing something — being open with someone, stepping forward in some way — and thinking to myself, that’s much more something my brother would have done, that’s not the way I would have acted. My brother was always much more open to people, willing to reach out, and interested in seeing people for who they are. It is something I have had to learn and have been an apt student of, now that he is gone.
And, there is nothing quite so humbling, and, in its own way, powerful, as when you realize that someone you love, who is gone, still lives, at least some important part of them, inside of you. It can be, privately, as deeply agonizing as it is unfair (to them), just as it is, publicly, something about which to be happy and that you want to share. Odd that it can be both at the same time.
And, now, 14 years later, I find that is one of the gifts that my brother and sister-in-law continue to give to me. It is a gift, I suppose, of hope — just because they lived their lives and shared them with us.