Sitting on my dresser are two cards. They are save the dates for our 30 year vow renewal celebration that is to take place in December of this year. One, fully addressed, was meant to be sent to my husband’s oldest brother. The other, which bears only a name, was meant to go to his brother Robert. I didn’t have a current address for Robert to put on the envelope, because the relationship among the three brothers has been fractured for many years. But my husband wanted me to reach out, invite them to our celebration, and maybe they would see it as an olive branch – a way to heal the brokenness among them, a way back to some sort of brotherly relationship.
Robert was 11 years older than Jim. While a two year old Jim was taken by his mother with his older brother when his parents divorced, Bob was left behind at his father’s house. They didn’t really “grow up” together – growing up in two different generations – but at least in the early stages of our relationship, Jim reached out often by phone to seek Bob’s advice or opinion on things.
There are happy memories, to be sure. Bob and his former wife visited us in South Florida, to celebrate our daughter’s First Holy Communion. Jim, a PADI divemaster, took Bob diving, got his certification, and had the opportunity to share an incredible day on the water with his big brother.
We did a cross country trip, where we visited Bob, who by then was an attorney with the public defenders office. The brothers got to connect over things like trains, chess, politics, and dogs. It was a short but happy time – one of only a handful of times the brothers have been together in our 30 year marriage.
Grief is a complicated thing – made even moreso when it comes at the end of a complicated relationship. Bob led a full and fulfilled life in California, but it would have been awesome to have him spend time with our daughters – to watch them grow into young women he would have wanted to know. He could have held Calder and Emersyn – his great nephew and niece – watched them learn to walk, get their first teeth, say their first words. He could have been a mentoring influence for both Jim and Brighid as they went through law school – and yeah, I might have bent his ear a time or two as I struggled with my own law school trials and tribulations.
When Bob died on Friday from COVID-19, a passenger on Holland America Cruise Line’s Zaandam, Jim lost more than a brother. He felt he lost his brothers many years ago. He lost the chance to try to make things right., the chance to reach out and see if they could find common ground despite the chaos and turmoil. – the churning water under the bridge, the missed opportunities to even see what may have happened in five years, in ten years, as they both reached their golden years, mellowed, and perhaps opened up their hearts to let each other in.
Jim doesn’t pray. But I do. And I pray for Bob’s family and friends, the co-workers with whom he shared his life for the past 25 years, the people whose lives were touched and impacted by his. I pray their broken hearts heal and the hole left in their hopes and dreams finds a way to fill in.
Bob, I have wondered since the beginning whether things would have been different had you been raised differently. If you and Jim had been gifted with a mother who fostered a relationship between you instead of driving a wedge; if she had helped you patch things up when there was a tear instead of ripping open wounds even deeper. You will be missed – what might have been will be missed.