Monday, February 26, 2018

My Brother Died Today

I got the call at school this morning that my brother died after a valiant fight against cancer. He did everything in his power to fight the disease and did extend his life by several years thanks to his tenacity. In the end, he willed his body to experimental treatment halfway across the country and died there. He didn't go easy as it was up and down for days until he finally gave in. We are all so sad.

So as one probably does when death knocks at his or her door, I have been walking down Memory Lane as family members discuss the funeral arrangements.

Paul was born almost two years after me. He was always a very active, fearless, and adventurous guy who tested the boundaries everywhere he went. As a little one, my mother recalls him running up and down the driveways of every house as she would walk with all the other moms and little children around our Grafton Street neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. Later in elementary school, he rarely had a good day since his bright intelligence and tremendous learning disabilities ran up against each other like thunder clouds that resulted in lots of disciplinary action and many a day standing along the wall in the school corridors. I always felt bad when I saw him glumly standing against the wall, and one reason I became a teacher is because I don't want students to experience that kind of treatment in school. Of course, no one understood what he was facing and this was well before the good supports we have for learning challenges today, though we still have room for improvement in this arena.

My mom and dad did all they could to help Paul achieve at school and in life. My dad and Paul had many adventures together riding bikes and hiking in the mountains. And we all spent endless hours playing with our neighbors and cousins in pools, at the seashore, and in backyards. Games like capture the flag, football, and hide-and-seek were popular.

As Paul grew older, he became more disenchanted with school and began to hang out with a large group of neighborhood kids who were like a second family to him. They found themselves involved in all kinds of activities in the woods, on the train trestle, at concerts, and in each others' houses. Their activities were surprising to my parents and other neighbors, and at times, troubling too. Our neighborhood struggled with challenges related to this and some of our neighborhood teens lost their lives as well. Paul turned to music often and played songs from Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead, and more. And as another brother so eloquently wrote, "Most would agree that Paul was born in the wrong century. His approach to life probably would have been better suited in the early 18th century - blazing a trail for Lewis and Clark. Roaming free in-tune with nature, living by his own rules, and tackling adventures strewn with Odyssean obstacles."

As a teen Paul met his first wife and together they adventured and had four children. As a father he was adventurous and never really settled down to a traditional life. He brought the children with him on his adventures and sometimes left them and their mom for work far away that included adventure too. He and Sue parted ways, and many years later he met Basia who joined him in many motorcycle adventures throughout the United States as well as long stays on the high dunes in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. In those later years, Basia and Paul hosted the children and grandchildren often and afforded them many good times.

Paul became a true champion in his last chapter related to his advocacy for workers' rights and via his fight with cancer as described in this article. He was generous to those around him during this time, and never burdened anyone with his illness.

This was another favorite song of Paul's when he was young.

I've asked my friends and family members to honor Paul's life by loving their family members and living with a zest for life--Paul never missed a chance to explore, adventure, do what he wanted, and live life to the fullest. He also was very proud of his children and grandchildren and grateful to both Basia and Sue.

Going forward, I want to be once again grateful for the loving family we have. We grew up with 56 first cousins, many aunts and uncles, a family of six children, a mom and dad, and countless other friends, neighbors, and extended family. I'm sure many will join us to give Paul a loving farewell. We'll laugh, cry, tell stories, and be glad that we have each other in the next few days and beyond that.

I will continue to include Paul's family in our family gatherings and look for ways to include Paul's spirit of independence, exploration, love of music, creativity, and adventure into my life too.

The best we can do when someone we love passes away is to be glad for the good days we had, the gifts that person brought to our lives, and the ability to pay those gifts forward into our own lives and lives of those we love and live with.

I will miss Paul. My whole family will miss Paul. This is a sad day.

As I remember Paul and think of the celebration of his life to come, this is one song that brings me peace:

Paul's obituary gives a broader sketch of his life.