I am in front of the casket now. A line of mourners stretched out far behind me. Floral arrangements spread to every corner. The casket is closed. A framed photograph sits on top; a young and vital version of the man being mourned. A reminder of the life that has been lost. It was cancer that dealt this cruel hand to this son, this friend, this father, this brother.
I am mindful of the presence of the man behind me, my older brother. He and the man in the casket are the same age. They went to school together and are looked up to by their younger brothers.
I step to the receiving line to pay my respects. I’m awkward with my hands. I try to piece together what I will say. What might be appropriate? Sorry for your loss doesn’t seem adequate. I express my sympathies to the parents. My heart is heavy knowing they have suffered life’s greatest tragedy; they have out-lived their child. I think of my parents, and hope they never have to stand opposite where I now stand.
I move on to the older brother. He is a giant of a man, though his size is somewhat reduced by this devastating twist of fate, nonetheless, he remains large in stature. My hand disappears in his, and I see the pain in his eyes. I see the pain and feel the loss, as my younger brother’s face flashes in my mind’s eye. What a blow it must be, when your brother is suffering and you are powerless to prevent it. He could not stick up for him, not this time.
I’m with his sisters now. They stand dignified, forced smiles reflect the toll such a loss inflicts on a family. For they, like my own sister, while outnumbered by brothers, are the glue that binds the family.
I’m at the end of the line now, with the younger brothers. They are twins and they are my friends. We went to school together and ran with the same crowd. A crowd of brothers. We laughed like brothers, competed like brothers, and now, I mourn for them, for their brother. They’ve lost someone who, along with them, spoke a language foreign to any other. The language of brothers.
As I walk from the funeral home, I contemplate my father’s strained relationship with his brother. I reflect on my mother’s unmatched loyalty to her brother. I consider my oldest and dearest friend, his parents’ only son; we are as close as any two brothers could be. Mostly, I think of my brothers, one older, one younger, we are bound and blessed in brotherhood.
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