Message to My Brother: What You Missed by Dying Young

March 1, 2011

Today ought to be a horrific day. It is the 25th anniversary of the day my brother Kevin died. A quarter of century ago, my parents woke me up in my college dorm room and told me the unthinkable. Kevin fell asleep at the wheel. He was killed when his jeep fell off a cliff. Gone. Gone at 23. Life for the next several years seemed like it was no longer worth living. My brother, my best friend, my alter ego would never again be at my side.

And yet, I doubt that today will be such a bad day. This anniversary period is not the toughest. Why? I miss my brother the most during momentous or trying times. My life may be at its steadiest now. In this last of three posts commemorating the 25th anniversary of Kevin’s death, I write about an experience most mourners share: the realization of how much our loved ones missed by not being there.

What did you miss, my brother, in the last 25 years?

  • My graduation from Northwestern University, just three months after your death. The previous year, I was there when you graduated from Ohio University.

    With my parents at my Northwestern graduation, 1986

    • The weddings of our first cousins.
    • The births of our cousins’ children. Al has three, ranging in age from 8 to 14. Al’s son is Alexander Kevin. His middle name is in memory of you. Liz has two children, ages 15 and 17. Sara also has two, ages 2 and 5.
    • So many birthday celebrations. Mom and Dad were barely 50 when you died. You missed helping them celebrate as they turned 60, 70, and 75. Our eldest brother Steve turned 30, 40, 50. I celebrated 30 and 40 without you.

      Mom and Dad with a 50th anniversary silver cup

      • The surprise 50th wedding anniversary party for Mom and Dad in 2006. I planned it alone. You would have loved to have played a role. You would have been so wonderful at providing the spoofs.

      Family at Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary party

      Dipping my fingers into a waterfall on a 1997 bike trip to Israel

    • Traveling to new places. You never made it beyond the United States before you died. Yet you were a born adventurer bound to see as much of the world as you could. Israel, Japan, Mexico, England, Wales, Ireland, Costa Rica. I’ve seen them all in the decades since you died. And, like you once did with such joy, I’ve skied down plenty a slope out West.
    • You missed seeing the one grandparent who survived you flourish for years more. Grandma Pearl, around 80 when you died, remained healthy and spunky into her early 90s. After eight years with Alzheimer’s, she died in 2004 at the age of 102. You missed providing what I know you would have – a comforting hug to Mom.

    • On my wedding day with Pavlik, Nov. 12, 2006

    • You missed one of the happiest days of my life. On Nov. 12, 2006, I married Pavlik. Your best friend Randy and his family came to the wedding. In Randy’s hug and smiles, I sensed the joy you would have felt at seeing your little sister finally tie the knot at the advanced age of 42. You, I know, would have poked fun after seeing me whirl around the dance floor in a waltz with Pavlik. Your sister, that jock, even did a dip. You missed, too, getting to know my husband. He, like you, has a sense of adventure. He is a licensed pilot. And of course there is what matters most: He loves your sister.
    • And you missed another one of the happiest days of my life. On Jan. 30, 2008, I gave birth to Simon Kevin. He carries part of your name with him. Simon will never know you. Maybe that is the biggest loss of all. Your nephew – the only one you would have had – shows that lust for life so embedded into your personality. He also has a talent you never had. At age 3, he can carry a tune. Still, some day, he will hear about his uncle who used to sing all the words to Billy Joel songs loudly and off-key.

    • Holding Simon a few days after his birth

      Simon Kevin - ready to go home from the hospital

      Simon on his recent 3rd birthday

    • You missed so much more than I could possibly write here. Yes, there were sad and difficult times, too, along with the joys you missed. Mom and Dad had serious illnesses over the years, but recovered. There were my own struggles to recover from the grief of losing you and to recover from less serious losses – breakups with guys.  There was my own bout with a potentially deadly health issue – blood clots after knee surgery. And there were all of those little moments in life that are fleeting and yet precious, like seeing the sun set over a Carribean ocean or meeting a baby goat or skimming across water as smooth as glass on water skis.

    Today will not be a breeze, but there was a much tougher anniversary, the March 1 that came barely a month after my son’s birth. It hit me hard as I stood in the temple sanctuary holding Simon and saying the Mourner’s Kaddish. Kevin, who so loved children, not only would never have babies of his own but would never meet my child. He would never say to his nephew what was so easy for him to say to me: “I love you, kid.”

    Note: This is the final part of a three-part series of blog posts reflecting on the 25th anniversary of my brother’s death. With each post, I include the slide show below of photos of those years before and shortly after my brother’s death. Click on the caption box to see captions. Click on the main picture to see the show full screen.

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