It has been 33 years since I had to experience the loss of a loved one first hand. Then, on December 14, 1968, my brother was killed by a drunk driver while standing at the side of the road. He was 21 years old, I was twelve.
The experience that followed, my view of it all, and my eventual comforting conclusions of what had transpired in my life is what I want to share with you.
Although I had knowledge of the passing of two of my grandparents in England who I had never met, I had no comprehension or understanding of what death was all about. It is not something that we are taught in school, by our parents or at our churches, not that I was a frequent visitor.
I was home alone when the phone rang; it was the highway patrol asking to speak to my parents about the accident involving my brother. After explaining that they weren't home, it was all I could do to ask, "Was he hurt?" The reply was sympathetic, the answer was yes. I knew that I was not brave enough to inquire further and that the officer would not be forthcoming if I had. It could not be good news.
At times like these, friends are so important. There is nothing they can do or say, as much as they want to. There are no comforting words that can make you feel better. My mother had already received the news and was being comforted by a friend and neighbor. My father was on a business trip in England and by this time no doubt making arrangements to fly home right away.
The phone rang again. This time it was our neighbor. She was sending her son down to pick me up. I explained the phone call from the police. By the generous reaction of comfort, I knew that I could expect the worst.
I walked into their home less that 10 minutes later and I could tell by the expression on everyone's face. My brother was gone. I would never see him again. I could never talk to him again. I could never tell him how much I would miss him.
The days that followed were surreal. Our home filled with flowers and sympathetic well-wishers. The counters and tables were covered with food. And the attempts to comfort were noble, but ineffective.
I withdrew. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want anyone to talk to me. I did not want to sit in a room full of flowers and try to find something to say. I was totally alone, but it was the most comfortable place I could find. My father arrived home and the funeral was held. Everyone's sole had been bruised to the core and we all sought refuge in our own thoughts and conclusions. We were each too weak to offer significant support to each other beyond pretending that we were each ok.
Life goes on as it always does and I remember the first time that an entire day had gone without feeling the terrible pain from my loss. It was years later. These days became more frequent and I had to stop and wonder what was happening to me. Why was this happening?
I came to a very personal conclusion, and a very comforting one. I thought about my brother and how wonderful he was. What his life meant to me and everyone who knew him. With these thoughts I began to understand his immortality. I realized that my brother had become immortal through the lessons that he had taught me and others, which we would in turn express to our children and others still, and which they might in turn pass on again.
I also began to realize that his love for me had become my angel, something which would look after me in the toughest times and follow me everywhere throughout my life. And to this extent, I can say from experience that it has.
I solemnly believe that our lessons to others and our love for them give us immortality within their lives and the more that we give and teach, the greater our immortality within them and the others that they effect. When we loose the lives of the ones dear to us we can find some solitude knowing that they will live on inside of us.
It is no wonder that the greatest pain comes from the loss of our loved ones who give the most. They can be infant to aged, healthy or ill, but what we miss so much from them only our hearts can understand.
Who are your angels, and whose angel will you be?