I was asked to write a memory of my brother. . . In the vast expanse of our lives intermingling, there seems no single recollection that could justify the deep intersections of him in my life.
Ben was often misunderstood. Misinterpreted, misdiagnosed, misjudged. Determined to have an impact on his world, he overcame challenges, pushed past labels, and stood tall in his dreams and aspirations to be who he wanted to be.
A tough and quiet front, he was shy to speak up and flushed a cherry red when attention was on him. Rather than launching his opinions, he often held back, reflecting deeply on what was spoken and keeping his judgement harnessed for a more intimate conversation.
He was all guy. Video game loving, hot sauce pouring, practical joke playing, fart-laughing, animal catching fellow. Underneath all that rough and tough though, he was one of the most tender hearts I know. He cared so deeply, sympathized so gingerly, loved so infinitely. He never fought to show a facade to anybody, he was real and sincere and trustworthy.
This dear brother held close many of my secrets. He was the first I could tell that we were expecting because I knew we could give each other secret winks across the room of those we weren’t ready to tell yet. He could give a most impressive eye roll as we giggled about the most recent frivolous family drama. He was an extension of my heart, as I was confident he could hear my burdens, rejoice in my triumphs, and be unwaveringly supportive because no foolishness could come between us.
When distance separated us, he visited more than anyone else. He made an effort to spend time with us whenever he could, sometimes staying for weeks. He became the favorite, silly uncle who not only snuggled them close as babies, but grew to be the most patient, funny, and “cool” uncle around. He loved a good xbox battle or Nerf war, but also wasn’t afraid of dress ups and tea parties.
When my husband had to deploy and I was scared to be so far and alone, Ben sat and wrote my fears, acknowledged the unease ahead of me and the strength we would need to pull through; a poem folded into a cherished rectangle of solace. He worried with me and stayed available when I was overwhelmed and needed to vent my inadequacy of being a single mom for a time.
After endless months of effort and exhaustion, he was the one who celebrated with me when I finally got to pin on the badge of a paramedic. In a crowd of no one who seemed to notice, he was proud of me, and spoke of following in my footsteps. He made me feel valuable and important.
When we stood at the gulf of my daughter’s grave, his eyes spoke what his words didn’t need to. His embrace told the weight of his grief, and his gentle words laid empty consolations aside when he apologized for the self-involved, and blurted,
“somebody died here, can’t you all get along, for funeral’s sake?”
There was no ease in his words, but the fierce protection and sensitivity with which he spoke them soothed cooling over my heart wound.
Ben was the one as weeks ticked by and life moved on to remember my heart. He knew it hadn’t all melted away when everyone went back home. He called just to ask how I was, to acknowledge what was lost, and to make sure I knew in his eyes she would never be forgotten. He dared to imagine with me what she would have been like, and didn’t fear upsetting me to speak of the things he would miss in her.
He texted all hours of the night to relay what exciting new call had brought more passion to his life as an EMT. He wanted to hear my stories too, and in a world where it takes one to understand one, I had a soulmate, a punch line, a sounding board. When the world showed disinterest, he admired my trade in a way that gave validation to what I believe in, and made me proud to blaze our trail. He grinned with satisfaction when I taught him how to achieve what became our trademark; a lustrous spit-shine on toil cracked boots.
Ben didn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve, he wasn’t quick to blurt out his point of view, but his enduring strength and quiet compassion made him an irreplaceable friend. Had anyone gone to Heaven before me to love on my little girl, I may have been jealous, but Ben? I could think of no company sweeter to be with her while we finish our earth days.
My words are too small to capture my brother, but my memories swell to hold every bit of him I can cling to.
It’s going to be one marvelous reunion when I get there someday, and many more memories to be made.
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