Somewhere on the midnight highways leading home to my older brother’s memorial service, I temporarily set aside thoughts of his death to confront the oncoming future. He wasn’t going to be around to care for my parents.
He’d passed unexpectedly, and the impact of the loss radiated outward to those around him with profound and far-reaching force. He was my mother’s oldest son, but growing up in different households had helped foster an amicable distance between us that we regretfully never made the necessary efforts to close.
So, during the week between his death and his memorial service, while our mother, our respective fathers, his wife, and his children were completely consumed with grief, I had occasion now and then to think beyond the next ten days. Among the dishes delivered by family friends, and in those quiet hours that book-ended the consolatory visits of the day, I allowed the realities of the future to sink in.
I let it pass without mention until a few days after the memorial service when it seemed appropriate to everyone that I should return to my life states away. “Before I leave,” I segued as gently as I could, “perhaps we should talk about what happens next.” It couldn’t have been less clear to my parents to what I was referring.
My brother had always been the sensitive, compassionate, family-oriented one. He’d been the one of my mother’s three children to settle locally into a comfortable rural-suburban life. He was the one who paid weekly visits and who helped with those homeowner tasks just a little too difficult for my 74-year old father to handle entirely on his own anymore.
I had always been the isolated wanderer, opting for an exchange program in Japan during my 11th grade year just to escape my small town. I followed that up with a 12-year trek around the world as a member of the military following my high school graduation. I returned to my hometown for a decade while my children grew, but ended up 10 hours from home and…