Monday, October 3, 2011

WHEN A SIBLING-IN-LAW PASSES

Last week my brother-in-law Steve died suddenly and unexpectedly.  News of his death came in the form of a phone call from my mother while I was taking a Sunday nap.  Barb woke me up and told me the news.  The first thought was of my sister living in Georgia far from the rest of her family other than her daughter and grandkids.  I thought about what she must be going through and what was going through her mind.  I knew she needed help and support from her family.  My brother was on vacation in Colorado and so I called my sister in Alabama to see if she felt the same way.  She had already made tentative plans to go to Carol's to help her out and giver her support.  I bought my plane ticket to leave the next morning for Alabama so that I could ride over to Georgia with Elaine to help Carol and give her the support that a family is there for.

My siblings and I have started to drift apart a bit over the years.  All of us have our own lives to live and though we keep in touch every now and then, the keeping in touch had slowed somewhat.  An email here and there and an occasional phone call from Elaine was about the extent of my interactions with my siblings.  We had all gathered together in October of 2010 to celebrate mom and dad's 60th wedding anniversary and mom's 80th birthday.  That had been the last time we had all been together at one time,  Steve had been there with Carol for the marking of the two anniversaries and we had for the most part had a good time.

Over the past year we fell back into the drifting apart once again.  I could not get in touch with Carol because I had a bad email address.  Elaine would call once in awhile to see what was going on with mom and dad although she had a pretty good idea because she calls mom and dad more often then I do.  The only thing that was tying us four kids together was our concern for mom and dad and their health.  otherwise communication among us had been few and far between.

Then Steve passed away so quickly and suddenly.  The old feeling of care for my sibling and oldest sister came flooding back.  It was not easy getting down to Georgia.  My plane had a maintenance problem that set my departure from Kansas City back about three hours.  Elaine and I decided that I would get off the plane in Atlanta and instead of flying on over to Birmingham so ride with her over to Georgia, she would meet me there and drive up to Carol's.  It worked out and in spite of the  scary drive through Atlanta we made it to Carol's that evening.  She was glad to see us and we reconnected that night.

The next few days were spent helping Carol make decisions on how to set up the funeral service.  We went through boxes of pictures trying to find ones that defined Steve's life.  We found his baby picture.  We came across some pictures from his days in middle school.  There were pictures of the time he spent in Vietnam during the war.  Wedding pictures came next and then Pictures of him and Carol as they lived together in marriage over the next forty one years.  These pictures were laid out on a display board and his daughter, Kelly, taped the pictures down to the display so that it could be seen at both the funeral home and the camp clubhouse where the after funeral dinner would be.

We went through a lot of songs picking out three that fit Steve and his life.  Steve was not an easy man to get along with all the time but a lot of that was because Steve knew what he thought and stuck to it.  He also could explain why he thought the way he did about things.  Steve and I disagreed on a lot of issues but it was always a good respectful discussion.  One thing I can say is that you never had to guess where Steve stood on things.  He made sure you knew where he stood.

We went shopping for food for the funeral and set up a simple menu that would be easy to fix.  It seemed the busier we stayed the less the thoughts of Steve and why we were there would creep in to our thoughts.  You can't keep busy all night though and every night when it was quiet I would think of Steve and times I had spent with him, talks we had together and the mutual respect that was between us.  I have no idea what was going through my sister's head when she went to bed at night without her husband but I know she was heart broken.

The day before the funeral my brother took off from his vacation and flew down to Georgia to give his love and support to his sister.  Once again all four of us kids were together but we were there to support Carol together in this difficult time for her.  Mom and dad could not make the trip because of health reasons so it was up to all of us kids to get closer than we had been in years to help not only Carol and her family,but to support each other as we offered support to Carol.  Steve had been a member of our family for forty one years.  He was definitely one of us.  One of the kids.  He was the first of our generation to pass on.

It is a strange feeling when one of your own generation in the family passes on.  It brings the reality that we are not immortal.  It brings a true sense of loss and leaves a hole in our little group of kids that my mom and dad had raised.  One of our own was gone and the fact that he was an in-law didn't seem to make much difference.

The four of us found ourselves very close the day of the funeral.  We all leaned on each other and counted upon each other so that it seemed like we were the siblings we had been when we were small, young and naive.  This time we were older, a little wiser and had more of a sense of what life was about.  Hopefully this new found closeness that we found last week will stay with us through the years to come.  There will be more times when we will find ourselves leaning on each other and giving each other support.  Looking back on last week, it is good to know that the four of us still have a strong connection even if it doesn't come out in the open too often.  It came out in the open last week and it was good.

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