Honoring How Michael Showed Up

This post is more personal than typical posts. I wanted to share some of the reflections on the past couple of weeks. 

June 8, 2019 

I am in route to Massachusetts to see my older brother Michael who is quite ill and in hospital. There is a strong possibility this trip is not just to show love and support, but also to say goodbye. Michael, who is ten years older than I am, was often hard on me verbally and physically in my early years. I spent a lot of my childhood frightened of him.

Although I still remember those times, it’s no longer with hurt or anger. Several decades have passed and my experiences with him from high school on replaced the fear and antipathy with love and admiration for who he became and who he is.

Memories flood my mind: Michael driving me a long distance in his white and red Chevrolet Impala convertible to the New Hampshire shore to be with friends my senior year in high school; introducing me to the “rule of law” and its place in the advance of civilization; conversations about history and film noir; the stories he shared from the 34+ years he taught History and Mass Media (a course he created) at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts.

The consistent quality that comes to the fore when I think of Michael is that when I needed him to show up—body, mind, heart and spirit—he did. When I was struggling with the meaning of life at the age of 19, through despairing tears, I asked what gave meaning to his life. His response was simple and heartfelt—his wife and daughters. I’m so grateful he understood the sincerity of my question and responded in kind.

During my college years, which coincided with the Vietnam War (1966-1971), it seemed everyone in the country, including me, had gone insane. Working as an editor for my university paper and as a reporter on co-op jobs at daily newspapers every other quarter, I had a front-row seat to so many jarring events. From Boston to Washington D.C., I covered demonstrations, got tear-gassed and watched phalanxes of police hidden behind riot gear beating people in the streets and in their apartments. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and the murder of students at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970 (when I myself was a junior in college) shook me to my core.

In the midst of this terrifying quake of events, Michael and his beloved wife Georgene provided a haven in which I could try to untangle what was happening and understand my experience of it.

Decades later, as he and Georgene were approaching the threshold of needing to move to an assisted living facility, I asked him whether he was afraid of getting older. I admitted that I was. Once again, he showed up, telling me about the difficulties of losing his eyesight due to glaucoma, letting his myriad of books and papers go, becoming less able to walk, and the uncomfortable prospect of living with others who would remind him of his own aging.

I carry only two regrets. Because he did not like to talk on the phone, we did not talk as much as I would have liked. And I did not say how much l loved and admired him often enough. His thinking was often surprising in its originality and perceptiveness. I don’t think he appreciated himself as much as I did.

How does one say goodbye to a beloved sibling with whom one has only been close in moments scattered across a lifetime? I hope that I can tell him and that he can hear, how I have loved and been blessed by his fine mind and generous heart.

July 22, 2019 

My brother died June 12, surrounded by his siblings and three beautiful daughters whom I deeply love. Although he was unconscious, I did get to say everything I wanted to say during the three days I spent with him. I hope he heard me.

His death is a poignant reminder to show up—mind, body, heart and spirit—for others as often as we can and to express love and gratitude as often and as precisely as we can to family, friends, and co-workers. For whom do you want to show up today? Who needs to hear an expression of your love and gratitude for who they are and what they contribute to your life?  

3 thoughts on “Honoring How Michael Showed Up”

  1. Beautifully written, Mary. We too are experiencing a sibling’s potential transformation from this world to the next. I agree, “show up!” and also “act with no regrets”. We could have paid more attention to this sibling (flying back east more often, calling more often — which means leaving unreturned voice messages) but with responsibilities to immediate family, I chose not to. No regrets on my choices but perhaps some family will think we didn’t show up enough. We are very much showing up for the caregivers of this sibling! <3

  2. Dearest Mary, I left a comment elsewhere on Facebook offering condolences about your brother, Mike. What a story, though, of redemption and life-long love. As a Hospice volunteer and having been with several close family and friends as they passed, I loved your focus on the importance of being present in mind, body and spirit at the end of life and as we can during life. So often, we save this willingness to be present until the end, which you did not, and sometimes some folks can’t even be there then. There is very little in life that is more powerful than walking up to the Gates with one we love. I’m glad you had a “different” brother in adulthood and that you were there for him and for you at the moment of peace. I love you and have you in my prayers. Ashton

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