Saturday, September 18, 2004

That We Still Mourn

Going through the mail after getting back from Texas, I found a small letter from my father. It began as follows:

September 14, 2004

Dear Steve,

Today would have been Jim's fiftieth birthday, something to remember if not to celebrate.
I read that, and I crumpled and cried. Jim was my brother, my big brother, for a horribly short time. He died of leukemia when he was five years old, and I was only three, but I do remember him. I do have a few memories.

But Jim did help to shape my life, brief as his life was, and for the better. It's a commonplace assumption that teenagers get into so much trouble largely because they simply do not believe, on a gut level, that something really bad can happen to them. That they can actually die, in a car crash or some other catastrophe. Somebody else, maybe, but not me!

I never thought that. I knew from the age of three that my big brother had died despite every desperate attempt my parents and the doctors had made to save him. I never thought it was their fault, not at all. There was nothing they could do.

The point is that, because of Jim, I never ever dreamed I was invulnerable. I knew I could die. And I therefore didn't take quite as many stupid teenage chances as I might have taken otherwise.

Oh, Jim, Jim. Though you never knew it, and couldn't have understood it if told about it when you were alive, you helped protect your little brother. Your death warned me to be careful.

Oh god I wish you had lived.

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