I sometimes have specific questions about my childhood. But there’s no one I can ask or with whom I can reminisce because my brother, who was my only sibling, died eight years ago.
When my brother and I were children and would fight, my mother would say to me, “you only have one brother; you have to get along.” She was an only child and wanted nothing more than for us to be close. My brother was four years older than I was and as a child that seemed like a lot. We shared a bedroom in our little house in Brooklyn and had bunk beds– my brother had the top bunk and I was down below. I had an earlier bedtime than he did but if I was still awake when he came into our room we would chat for a bit. Sometimes he would lean over the side of his top bunk and reach down so that we could engage in a thumb war.
Back then we often got on each other’s nerves, as siblings do. He and I were different in a lot of ways; he frequently tried to engage me when I preferred to be left alone to read. My brother loved to be outside in the winter while I loved to be inside. He had a lot of energy; I was more sedentary. When we moved out of Brooklyn to a bigger house on Long Island, we finally had our own rooms, which were located next to each other. Before we went to sleep my brother would knock on the wall between our rooms and I would knock back with our own code. I have no idea why we did this, but like the thumb wars, it made me feel less alone.
As we got older, I realized that we had more in common that I had thought when we were kids. The four-year age gap and differences I had perceived as important when we were younger became less significant as we both became adults. We started our own families and celebrated holidays together, and we grew closer. I admired the passion with which he lived his life and the joy he found in traveling, skiing, playing tennis, and so many other things.
My brother was a quiet sort of person; I don’t think anyone would have described him as chatty. Sometime a week or even two would go by without us speaking on the phone but then we were always happy to catch up. I always knew he was there for me and it was a comforting feeling. When I had appendicitis and was stuck in the hospital, he closed his dental practice in New Hampshire and came to New York to hang out with me in my hospital room and play cards. I was grateful for his company.
In an effort to help me, when I visited him and his family, my brother would take my babies out of my arms. He was gentle and kind to my boys and even felt close enough to them to discipline them on my behalf when they got out of line. He taught my oldest son to water ski and inspired my youngest to be a dentist like him. It makes me sad that they didn’t get to know him longer. I realize that his death was harder for my sister-in-law and their sons; it left a gaping hole in their lives, which I know time has done little to diminish. I am positive that my brother would have been extremely proud of the men my nephews, who were teenagers when he died, have become.
Around the time my brother got sick, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. My brother was smart and patient and I had counted on him to be there to help with decisions regarding our parents and their health care. I hated being thrust into the role of only child. When my father passed away last summer, I gave the eulogy on behalf of my brother and myself; I tried to include the things I thought he would’ve wanted me to say and I felt his presence as our father was laid to rest.
I visited my brother in the hospital shortly after he was diagnosed with brain cancer and had started treatment. When I saw him lying in his hospital bed, I hid my anguish and told him to move over so I could get into bed with him. I made him laugh when I told him I needed to rest more than he did, but I think he knew I wanted to be next to him so that he would feel less alone. Before he died he told me I was a good sister and I told him he was a good brother; we left nothing unsaid. However, it would’ve been OK if we had not spoken those words because we both knew how we felt.
Siblings are the people who sometimes defend and frequently torment you when you are young, and the ones who corroborate your memories and comfort you when you are older. My mother was right, I only had one brother. And I miss him every day.