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The closing of the year 2018 could not come soon enough. It had been a good year. It had been a challenging year. It had been a year of tremendous highs and of deep and sorrowful lows.
It began with the sudden and unexpected passing of my brother, Gary Ohlemiller. Every year we hear of people who succumb to the influenza virus; he was one of the statistics for 2018. My heart is still heavy today when I think of how he remained too alone and then in his time of transition, had no one with him. My sister and I miss him dearly.
The year continued and the losses mounted all too regularly, childhood friends, extended family members, elders in the community. The news of more people passing began to wear on my spirit. I attended a few memorial services. Later, as the news kept repeating… I stopped going. My heart could take no more.
During the summer, my sister in law from Peoria called to tell my sister and I that she would be bringing the remaining elder brother, Marion, to visit. Initially it was to be early September, but it turned out to be a 10-day visit that ended Monday, November 19. The emotions I have experienced have been deep and multi-layered.
The fact that I have, during my lifetime, had two elder brothers that never lived in the same home with me… nor ever met, is a story unto itself. To face the truth that I have never been in the same room with all my combined siblings; Marion, Gary, Michele, Marvin and me… and never will, has created emotions that I was not prepared for.
Growing up in the city of my birth, Peoria, Illinois, many if not most, of my friends had at least one older brother; perfect for those times when you need him to ward off the bully down the street. Or to help you to learn to drive a car, kiss a girl, tie a necktie. I had none of those moments. I learned those life skills on my own. Later, I passed them down to my younger brother… for that is how it should be.
This visit, from the last elder brother, who is diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, the questions that I might have wanted answered, won’t be. Never will I know why I was not important enough to drive the few blocks between our homes, to see about me, to help me figure out how to find my place in the world, to talk me out of quitting my high school basketball team, to better understand our father… who had his own destructive demons. It’s what big brothers do… at least in the movies.
And now you will return to your home… the city that I departed more than 40 years ago. A city where many of the people who know you but had no idea that you had siblings… really. Anyone who knows me knows Michele and Marvin, family.
There is nothing to be sad about as we bid you adieu. You never telephoned me nor my siblings during those 40 years… not once. You never had to worry about whether Marvin would find his way to sobriety and happiness, or feel proud to see Michele create an amazing life with her husband and family. It was never something that you felt compelled enough to inquire. And as I shared with you when we spoke last week, while witnessing our monthly family game day with four generations of our family, you missed knowing who we’ve become.
I pray that the Creator is gentle with you, and your family. The journey that you all will travel, as the disease robs you of who you were, is one that I have witnessed with friends and loved ones. It is not easy. But, you will not need us. You never have. And today, I found that voice, in that place where I have seldom dipped my bowl for sustenance, and can confidently say goodbye. For this big brother has done his part for our younger siblings.
They have known that I was always there; in good and difficult times. Showing up with a hug, and when required, a voice of reason and correction. I gave them what I had hoped to receive from you. Encouragement. The wind at their back. LOVE.
So, the words, “you can’t miss what you never had” are in my heart today. My life has been filled with men who cared enough to be the older brothers I never had; Mark Burk, Fred Shepherd, Randy Walker, Robert Thomas, and Harold Harris. The Creator always makes room for us at the table of plenty. For those men and their contributions to my life, I am forever grateful.
That is why I chose today to not return to Elk Grove to see you again. For one of the few times when it comes to my family, I said no. Not this time. There is nothing more for me to say, nor to ask. For you now know that it was your loss. We have done all right.
And maybe before that dreadful disease robs you of all those memories for which life is but a scrapbook-filled, you might know that you could have had us all.
You missed what you could have had.