My brother Tommy died today.
I’d like to be able to tell you that he died peacefully, in his sleep, surrounded by friends and family… but that was not the case.
He died, pretty much the way he lived most of his life; angry, frustrated and fighting his many demons. Even once he began his end of life journey they would not leave his side. Considering themselves his friends, they’ve hung on till the very end. This, along with the fact he was so sick, made his final journey, a long and arduous one.
It should be said that although my brother’s “body” stopped functioning today, he actually died some 50 years ago, and I have been mourning that loss ever since.
You see, my brother Tommy, the brother I had known and loved for the first 13 years of my life, died in Vietnam sometime between the fall of 1967 and the 4th of July, 1968.
Although the United States Army was kind enough to return his somewhat broken body, and what was left of his mind… the better part of him (the part many of his friends and acquaintances never got the chance to see) was left behind; a million miles away from here, forever entombed in the murky waters of a hillside rice paddy.
Like so many of his comrades in arms, he was not prepared for what he experienced in Vietnam. And although he did only what he was trained and ordered to do, I don’t believe that my naive, 18 year old brother ever reconciled with what he witnessed and he certainly never forgave himself for any transgressions that he may have committed.
These were his demons.
Torn, between being proud to be a Sergeant First Class in the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division (aka The Screaming Eagles) and being (at his core) a pacifist, he constantly struggled with grasping a genuine understanding of who he “truly” was and what he believed in.
If you knew my brother at all, you probably had a love/hate relationship with him. Generally he was a nice, polite, funny, generous, outgoing guy who could (when he wanted to) be quite charming… but he also had a dark side. He could become angry, hurtful, verbally abusiveand quite difficult to deal with, at the drop of a hat.
He didn’t mean to be any of those things and he always regretted it. It was just that the demons sometimes possessed him and devoured his sense of right and wrong.
As I said, if you knew him at all, at some point during your relationship/friendship you would have had a legitimate reason to call him an “asshole.” If you didn’t, then you didn’t know him as well as you think you did.
Regardless of all his many shortcomings and imperfections… he was my big brother. He was a good man. He was an honest man and he always loved and protected me, his baby sister. And I, with every fibre of my being, loved him right back.
His passing leaves yet another hole in my already battered heart. After so many losses, I now imagine my heart has taken on the texture of a sea sponge… rough and pourus, softened only by absorbing tears, which won’t stop.
My brother is finally at rest. He is finally free from the demons that have plagued and tourtured him for so many years.
In the last few hours of his life, I believe I witnessed a softening in his face… his usually furrowed brow was relaxed and smooth. I choose now to believe he took advice I gave him earlier in the day… I believe he began the process of self forgiveness and acceptance and he came to understand that he, just like the rest of us are flawed and nothing short of human.
Hmmm? Come to think of it, he did die peacefully with friends and family by his side… he had me, his only family and his best friend.
I love you Tommy.
Your baby sister, Lissa