“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” ~ Graham Green
It started with a phone call… I’ve found people will fall back on trite sayings when they don’t know what to say… more so now than when I was a child. However, there was one significant moment in my life when I was told, “Everything happens for a reason.” I was almost three years old, and my world changed. It was the summer or 1973, musically I was still listening to children’s songs or the music of my older cousins, siblings and parents; Chicago, Elton John, David Bowie, Carol King, Diana Ross, Van Morrison and Rod Stewart, to name but a few. It seems odd to realize that some of them are still around in one way or another, still performing and giving us new songs to make memories. But, this really isn’t about music, and to be honest I was more interested in my spotted stuffed dog, playing with my baby dolls and just being a child. I was one of four children, my baby brother had just been born and I was insistent on ‘helping’ to care for him in any way I could. My sister is almost four years older than me, and at the time was set on terrorizing me. I also had an older brother, Denis, who this story is really about. Denis was fourteen at the time, a virtual god in my eyes along with my cousin Danny. Of course I followed them around like a little puppy and am sure I was a royal pain in the arse most of the time. For the most part though, they tolerated me and answered my questions which always started with “Why?” or “How?” or “When?”. They were teenagers, typical boys who teased little girls but I knew they loved me nonetheless. Denis always made me smile, he was a comic genius or as the nuns used to say, ‘the class clown’. I don’t think that was a bad thing though, everyone needs a laugh now and then… It was a typical summer for the most part, and then one Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t.
The 18th of August, 1973 started as a normal day. My Mum was busy getting things ready for our annual family reunion held at an amusement park not too far from our home. Everyone would be there from near and far, all gathering in this yearly pilgrimage to be together once more. My Daddy and Grandda were busy getting things packed and ready to set up that evening. My baby brother was sleeping mostly, he was only a little over a month old and my sister was doing her thing. I was watching my Mum and playing with my dollies when the phone rang. I remember my Mum drying her hands and rushing to the front parlor to answer the phone and then she called out for my Dad. There was something about her voice, it wasn’t right. My Dad came rushing in and went to my Mum, who was sitting in a chair with her head in her hands… I knew she was crying. Shortly after this scene, my parents left us with my Grandda who said they were going to get Denis. He was hurt, they were going to help him. It was why Mummy was crying. He reassured my sister and I that things would be okay, they would be home soon and everything would be okay. But, it wasn’t. It was never okay again. Denis was in a diving accident, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. He survived, but was unable to walk, and at that time unable to talk either. Denis was in the hospital, the months flew by and things never were the same again. Denis never came home, he needed special care, he would never walk again, never be able to properly care for himself again, never tease me or my sister or little brother the way he used to. He wouldn’t get to fulfill his dreams of being a doctor or baseball player or whatever else his fourteen year-old dream was. He was moved from the hospital and lived in a convalescent home about 15 miles from our house. We visited him all of the time, but it was never quite the same.
Life changes so rapidly, and I am still trying to figure out the reason this happened to my brother. Visiting Denis was always a joy though, he has the sweetest smile. One smile from him and you know all is right with the world. I would bring him goodies and play music and just sit and chat with him, even though he generally didn’t talk back. I could tell by his eyes though, he was listening and all was right with his world. Fast forward to today, it’s the 16th of August, 2014. I visited Denis this morning, I always went to touch base with him (us gingers have to stick together) and have recently been visiting as often as I can as I’ve had more time. This morning was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, it wasn’t hot or humid, and we spent a long time in the courtyard just together, my big brother and I. Me doing all of the talking, telling him my heart and he listened, sharing a box of gumdrops and the pleasure of each other’s company. It was a wonderful visit, I felt at peace with him, and his smile told me that all was well with the world, both his and mine.
Tonight at 9:12 PM, I received a phone call telling me that my brother had passed quietly in his sleep. Almost 41 years to the day, Denis has finally gone home. He is free from his earthly bonds, once again walking and running, being the funny lad I remember from so long ago. And as I sit here crying and writing, my heart breaking once more, I know that I will miss him terribly. Yet, I’m so grateful to have had him in my life, he gave me joy, he gave me hope and in many ways he saved me from myself. Denis was always there, and even though he wasn’t the big brother most people have, he was mine… and I love him.
I leave you now with a song called “Steal My Heart Away” by Van Morrison, for Denis…
I can hear the sound of violins
I can hear the piper play
And every time the song begins
You just steal my heart away
The journey’s longer than
I thought my love
There’s lots of things
Get in the way
But every time I think of you
You just steal my heart away
It started with a song, and ended with a smile!
Thank you for reading,
For more info about Van Morrison and his music, please check out the following links: