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Monday, May 11, 2015

Losing My Bonus Brother

First of all, I do wonder what people who were running near Lake Drive in Milwaukee were thinking this morning. They had to be wondering, "Why is that guy walking and crying at 6 a.m.?" I was out for my usual walk/run but I do not even remember setting out into the fog.The fog is symbolic of how the weekend felt after hearing that my oldest brother Dave was not going to make it through the night.

Unfortunately, those doctors tend to be right about those things.

Dave was the oldest of six boys. I was the youngest. While there was no being around the man without thinking, "Wow! He is a great guy, " I did not grow up with any of the essence of the actual person. Dave actually had left for his freshman year of college when I was born. By the time I would have any memory of knowing him, he was in Vietnam.

He actually was more like a cool uncle as I grew up. Raising a family of his own and working ten to twelve hours a day driving a truck and selling chips or coffee to support that family meant that actually spending time together would not happen.

The only times we saw each other were at holidays and some family reunions. I remember two things about Dave. One, I was amazed at how many times he could go back for seconds, thirds and more at those family gatherings. Second, he simply was upbeat and positive when even as a kid I knew that all those hours worked had to be exhausting. Even so, he gave completely of himself to his family and that caused his son Ben to tell me, "I really won the Dad Lottery!"

I call Dave my "Bonus Brother" simply because I am pretty sure that we never spent any time alone together during my entire existence. There was simply not time. He had married into being a Dad to his amazing wife Linda's kids Troy and Tammy.  I could see that he was great at making sure they knew that there would never be a moment in the day when he was anything less than a father to them. You know he was drained at the end of the long days convincing people that they truly did need more coffee on their shelves and more Fritos on their counters.

That never stopped him from letting Troy and Tammy and eventually Ben know they were his ultimate source of pride.

He was showing every quality that a Dad should. Being that our father had passed away when I was four, I was a bit curious about what exactly it all meant to have someone who did that for his family.

That being said, I did not know him at all. Besides the obligatory moment at those family gatherings where someone would bring up the St. Louis Cardinals and mock the Chicago Cubs, I never saw anything besides this guy who you just knew you would like if you got to know him.

When I became an adult (or so I have tried to become with varying levels of success), my career took me around the country so, as Dave maybe was able to slow down, I was gone. The Family Reunion Friendship continued.

The Pearsons (at least this particular branch of the tree) has always been known for self-deprecating humor. It's just that Dave being good-looking, athletic and being loaded with admirable traits never seemed to have anything to "deprecate". That fact never stopped him from mocking himself.

Yep, there was that feeling again. "I know I really would like that guy if I got to know him."

Then, I got to know him.

And, I was right.

A few years ago, when I came home for a visit, we actually found a time when four of the brothers could get together and just meet out somewhere for dinner. I was staying with my Mom and I drove the three minutes (everything in Geneseo, Illinois is approximately a three minute drive) to Dave's house and picked him up. I don't know what all we said but we went to the beautiful Quad Cities and had a great night. We talked about nothing in particular with two of our brothers and then drove back to Dave's house.

All in all, the night lasted about three hours. It may not sound like much but it caused me to make the announcement as Dave got out of my 1998 Saturn SL1, "Well, we have officially hung out for the first time."

A wry smile came over him as he said, "Yeah, I guess we have." The joke I would have made was, "So, thank goodness we don't have to do that again," but Dave was too nice to take it that far.

Now, it was not like something where all of a sudden, Dave and I were putting each other in loving headlocks or having long talks about World Peace, Deforestation, or which Beatle was the best. It was a glimpse into what, actually WHO, mattered to him.

It does not break new ground to say that Dave loved his kids. I just never knew anyone who seemed to admire who they were as people rather than telling stories of what they were doing. It was not just about accomplishing things. It was truly that he loved them as human beings and any accomplishments were simply gravy.

I wish I had not waited so long to get these lessons but I am not sure that I would appreciate them as much if I had not "discovered" my brother Dave a few decades after everyone else did.

The biggest lesson that this Bonus Brother taught me came through his love and admiration and borderline-worship of his wife Linda. To give you an idea of how much that guy loved that woman, I just need to mention a doctor's appointment Dave had.

After my wedding to my rather delightful wife, Amy, Dave was not feeling well and basically collapsed in the hotel room.

After getting some updates, I called Dave to check on him after a few days. He told me that he went to the doctor (possibly for the first time since the 1970's.) Unfortunately, Dave had been a smoker most of his life. Of course, the doctor told him he needed to stop immediately.

Apparently, the doctor knew that Dave did not worry much about himself but also knew how to reach him. He told Dave something along the lines of, "I get the feeling that you do not think it's a big deal if you live a long life and that maybe Linda would be okay if you were to die."

Dave was surprised at the bluntness but admitted that he kind of agreed.

The doctor had a great read on him and said, "What if you don't die? How would you feel if Linda is stuck taking care of you for twenty years as you struggle to get around and she has to take care of everything? Have you thought about how that would be for her?"

Dave did not hesitate. He threw away all of his cigarettes and called Linda and let her know where his stash of secret cigarettes was. Dave would only think of himself because he could not imagine putting Linda through that nightmare.

The Bonus Brother was also a lesson in positivity. He actually was only diagnosed with lung cancer because he went to get checked for a kidney stone. Rather than reveling in the misery of a cancer diagnosis, he told me how glad he was that the kidney stone caused him so much pain that even he could not ignore it.

Through months and months of painful treatments and battles to make sure his health insurance and the VA would handle the costs, he just talked about how blessed he was that most everything was covered. While others would look at it as people finally doing their jobs, Dave talked of these wonderful people who came through for him in such a big way.

The positivity went to a whole new level when he talked about how what was supposed to be an ordeal actually let him see this family in action. He knew Linda and his kids would be there for him but to see it in practice allowed him to expound on their beauty inside and out.

Quite frankly, a conversation with Dave that included anything about Linda had the feel of someone calling in to a Love Song Dedication show to request "Wind Beneath My Wings." This was every time we talked.

This carried over even more when the lung cancer appeared to have been gone for many months but Dave was then diagnosed with brain cancer. Dave joked that, "Well at least this proves to Linda that I have a brain!"

I am sure this was a soul crushing thing and it was the first time I heard Dave talk and mention that things hurt. That lasted about two minutes because he wanted to make sure that he could gush about how his son Ben was coming through by coming over and taking care of every chore that Linda was not handling.

"Linda did a great job with him," Dave said. He could say it but even Dave could not deny that he had kicked some butt as a Dad.

Yes, it would have been nice to know the actual person that my Bonus Brother was for a lot longer than the last ten years of his life. He made sure in every conversation to point out that I, like Ben said, had hit the lottery with my wife and kids.

Seeing him bounce my daughter and son on his knee and emphasize the importance of how true happiness is tied to being a Cardinals fan was hilarious. Even my Cubs fan wife thought that was pretty funny.

I am sure I will cry a lot more this week. Everyone who knew Dave will. I just hope that my Bonus Brother knew that getting to know him, really know him through actual conversations, makes me know that this life is a great one if we just stop and notice.