Saturday, June 16, 2018

Good Night, Dear Brother, Good Night

The readers will have to pardon me this week, I have no funny stories of outrageous battles, strange forgotten history, or tortured prose to offer, tonight—all I can think about is my big brother.  As I write this, he is peacefully medicated and slowly dying.

In so many ways, this should be a celebration, for he is the perfect example of the life well lived.  He is surrounded by a loving wife, devoted children, and countless friends.  

Though we were born six years apart--a gap in years that should have been formidable to cross--he has always been a great brother.  We frequently joke that we were raised by “the same but different parents” because (and we certainly do love each other in spite of this) in so many ways, we are polar opposites.

My brother is fascinated with cars—almost as much as I am with airplanes.  While he regularly  sends me photos of fancy cars parked in front of airplanes, I send him back photos of airplanes, telling him there is some kind of car parked behind each.    Where my brother was very active in the church, I never was.  Where he excelled in school, I had graduated on a plea bargain.  

We do have a few things in common.  Our father instilled in each of us a strong work ethic, but where my father and I frequently had been so preoccupied with our work that we had all too often sacrificed our home life, my brother has always managed to combine the two, working with his wife and children--an accomplishment I have always envied.

We both married women who are clearly the sources of our salvation.  Both of our wives are smarter than we are, and both are kinder and far wiser than we deserve (though I suspect that my wife has been told this more frequently by strangers than his has).

Our wives--frequently in spite of our contributions—have raised wonderful children.  My brother is rightfully very proud of his children, who are obviously devoted to him.  His family is the best proof of how successful my brother’s life has been.

Tonight, my brother is dying of multiple incurable and fatal diseases.  Just two days ago, he slipped into unconsciousness, unaware that he was surrounded by his gathering family.  Very late last night, while we waited for the worst, he suddenly woke up, looked us all in the eyes, and spoke clearly and coherently to us.  For two hours, he said exactly what had to be said and told all of us that he loved us.  To be honest, he told me that he had loved me even during the times he had hated me.  (Something, perhaps, that only brothers can understand.)

Those were two difficult hours of extremely hard work for my brother, and I am incredibly proud of him.  He did it beautifully, telling his wife and children—and yes, me—exactly what each needed to hear before he drifted off again.  Those were, perhaps, the finest two hours of his life.

Sometime in the next few hours—perhaps in a few days—my brother will leave us.  This inescapable, horrible fact is made bearable only by remembering how successful a life my brother led.  While he is a very successful businessman, his true wealth is measured by the love of the people who have gathered around his bed for the last few days.  He has obviously touched the lives of many people.

My brother has certainly prepared for his death, having worked months at putting his affairs in order.  He has even created a small family cemetery on his ranch.  It is a quiet, secluded place above the Brazos River.  Though at this point nothing has been decided by his family, I have a suggestion for an epitaph.  To be fair, this is stolen from Mark Twain, who placed these words over the grave of his beloved daughter Susy, who tragically died at the young age of 24.  So many words have been pirated from Twain that I am sure he will not begrudge this small theft of his words for one who so clearly deserves them.

Warm Summer Sun, Shine Kindly Here,
Warm Summer Wind, Blow Softly Here,
Warm Sod Above, Lie Light, Lie Light,
Good Night, Dear Heart, Good Night, Good Night.

Good night, Dear Brother, good night.


  1. Mark, my name is Nancy Alexander Lindley. Richard Alexander and I are brother/sister and he was a friend of Mike's when they were kids. You may remember Richard. Mike and Barbara and I have become friends in recent years and I just wanted to say how much I love what you have written about your brother. He was a champ for sure. So are you.

  2. As the eldest of my mother's seven and my father's extra two after he ran out on Mom, I fully expect to lead the way for my siblings into the great beyond. Before I take that long dirt nap, however, I hope I can manage to go out with the grace and dignity that your brother managed. Vaya con Dios Big Mike. I hope to meet him someday there beyond the river in the world made new. I'm sure he has some great stories about his little brother.

  3. Such a deep loss, Mark....but you have memorialized him beautifully. Hopefully, his family will find the peace that has come to him. Lo siento. kburke