What do you write about someone who was taken too soon? Someone who kissed his wife and went to work in the morning and was gone by that evening? What do you write about someone who you've known and loved for 35 years, but will never see again this side of Heaven?
My mind has been awash in memories since I first heard that my brother was suffering with an aortic dissection. I don't know why I immediately played the highlight reel of my years with my brother. Initially I was optimistic that he might be one of the 20% of patients who survive. If only wishes could become reality. . .
My brother was seven years older than me. Those seven years weren't significant at all at a certain point in adulthood, but there is a huge difference between an elementary school aged-girl and a high school-aged boy. I don't know many older brothers who would let their significantly younger sister pal around and hang out. But he did.
When I was really little, under five years old, he would wake me up when Mr. Bill came on Saturday Night Live. He had a giant Darth Vadar, a giant Godzilla, and a ton of Star Wars figurines. Sometimes we'd all play together. He had a blue sleeping bag and we'd pretend that it was a swimming pool. We'd cruise around on our rollerskates. It was good to have an older brother and an older sister. I was very lucky.
After our parents divorced. . .well, after our parents divorced, I didn't see my brother for a long time. I almost forgot that I had a brother. One day, he was back in my life. I ended up losing my own bedroom and had to bunk with my sister who was eight years older than me, but our brother was back and that was good.
We would ride our bikes to Heritage Park in Cerritos and goof off on the "Island". We would play army men. . .he always made me that dorky radio operator. He had a dart board in his room and we'd spend hours throwing darts. He loved to play games; Generals and Risk were favorites. When my parents finally broke down and bought an Atari, he figured out the tricks to advance in the games we had even though we weren't allowed to spend hours playing in the house.
He joined the Navy right out of high school. I was ten years old. I don't know that I ever told him this, but I woke up early the morning he left. If you know me well, you know how rarely I do that! Anyway, I woke up early and ran to his room. He was already gone. I crawled in his cold bed and cried myself back to sleep.
He visited us once or twice before he got married and started a family. He ultimately ended up fathering four children. He spent most of his Naval career stationed on the East Coast. My parents and I were ecstatic that he was getting stationed in San Diego. We finally were able to enjoy close relationships with his children.
It was hard after his divorce. So very hard. I will always cherish the memories of the last Thanksgiving that my entire family (my parents, my sister and her family, and my brother and his children) shared. Within months, his children were gone and he was stationed in Virginia. That is all I can bring myself to say about that painful time.
My brother told me that he was going to remarry. I told him that he was insane to take such a risk again, but he was in love. He said, "She's worth it." And she was worth it.
My brother asked my husband to be his Best Man and I was his wife's Matron of Honor. It was a wonderful weekend in Las Vegas. How I wish that we all enjoyed more fun times like that!
A few months later, my Grandmother died. My sister's wedding was scheduled a few weeks later. My brother wanted to know if they should come out for Grandma's service or for our sister's wedding. My mother said to come for the wedding so we could all celebrate together.
My brother and his new wife came out for my sister's wedding and the family enjoyed a final celebration together. I never saw my brother again.
Various things worked against us going to see him and them coming to see us. At least two trips had to be postponed and were never taken. I never saw my brother again.
When my father was so close to death, my brother asked me if he should come out. He said he'd get right on a plane. I regret that I advised him to just wait and see what happened. Had I told him to come, we could have seen him one last time. My only brother would have had the opportunity to meet my only son. Sadly, it wasn't to be and he breathed his last this past Tuesday.
I will always regret not telling him to come see us when our Dad was so sick. Always. I wish that I had said, "YES! We need you here right now. Dad might die and we need you. Please come now! Hurry!"
My brother gave 20 years of service to this country. He had a loving wife and four children. He had lots of friends who cared about him, truly cared about him, some of whom he never even met in real life. He was always trying to get me to play this on-line superhero game he liked and I would laugh, calling him a nerd. I wish I had played because I probably would have enjoyed it too. We did, however, share a deep love of reading.
Put simply, no one could have asked for a better brother. He was always there when needed. He was so helpful to me when I went through my divorce, even going so far as to help me move not once but twice. He even helped me work on my fixer-upper condo.
I'm in New Jersey right now with my brother's widow. She found something in his boxes in the attic and thought I might want it. It is a card, well, it's a card made of folded over notebook paper. It is a card that reads:
Derek's are made of sugar and spice and are nice. But all I want to say is
Have a Wonderful, careing (sic), Loveing (sic) and Happy
Why would he have kept something like that? Based on the horrible penmanship, I must have only just learned cursive so I guess I was around seven or eight-years old when I made it. I don't know why he kept it, but I am touched that he did. And I'm glad to take it back home.
Derek Rushing may be in Heaven right now, but he will also always be in my heart. Forever.