My youngest brother passed away just shy of turning 50 and it all could have been avoided. He and one of my other brothers were identical twins. As you can imagine it was particularly hard for him because identical twins have an unworldly psychic connection. Dealing with the death of a sibling is hard, especially when they die before their time.
When my twin brothers were born in 1965, I was 12 years old. As the eldest, I became their primary babysitter. It wasn’t unusual to babysit at age 12 in those days. I changed their diapers and attempted to keep them in line when my parents went out. Twin boys can be double trouble. Once, they drew all over the walls with a permanent felt pen when no one was looking. Taking care of them was excellent training for me and made it easier when I had children of my own.
He was living in Napa, California near one of my other brothers. I grew up with3 brothers and1 sister. I also have a 1/2 brother I found out about when I was 12.
My late brother had been through hard times in the past, but was doing better and seemed happier. The winery bar he had been working at laid him off because they were on the verge of closing, which may have caused a setback. Even though he’d only lived in Napa for 2 years, he made many friends at the local bars.
He liked to party and became known as the king of karaoke among his friends. You would never have known he had this amazing talent because whenever we’d see him, he mumbled. I watched a video of him singing on YouTube and was blown away. He was a rock star!
He was also a master at trivia and frequently won contests at local saloons. Both of my twin brothers tested out with unusually high IQs.
A week before my brother’s death, he started vomiting blood and was taken to the hospital with a gastrointestinal bleed. It turned out his liver was damaged. He also had Hepatitis C, which contributed to cirrhosis of the liver. As far as we know, he never did drugs so we’re not sure how he got it, but it’s a common ailment with older adults. Soon he lost consciousness and never regained it despite massive efforts to revive him.
I flew to Napa for the funeral. His twin had become an orthodox Jew after marrying his wife. Both twins met their future wives while they were on an archaeological dig in Israel. After the dig, they traveled to Egypt, Syria, and Iraq before the first Gulf War.
His twin wanted a traditional burial which meant it had to be done immediately before the Sabbath. My sister wasn’t able to get a flight in time from Grand Junction and had to stay home. She was devastated, like the rest of us, but we talked to her on Facetime. My brother left a 20-year-old daughter from a past marriage who came to the funeral with his ex-wife.
Our parents passed away at the end of 2013 within 2 weeks of each other so we’ve had our share of dealing with grief. But my dad was 90 and my mother 89, which made it easier for us to process. You expect your parents to die if they’ve lived long lives. It’s shocking to deal with the death of a sibling who passed away so young.
When I heard about my brother’s death, I immediately developed a rash on my legs that lasted for two days. My hands froze up from the stress and I couldn’t move them for over a week. It also didn’t help that I was also walking on two sprained feet.
As Baby Boomers, it’s a given that we’ll deal with the death of our parents, but it’s also part of life to have to deal with the death of a sibling, spouse, relative, friend or, God forbid, a child.
What’s maddening, is that his death was alcohol-related and could have been prevented. After the funeral, his “friends” set up a tribute for him in a bar he used to hang out in. Both of my other brothers attended. I was told his friends praised his intelligence, talent, and viewed him as their personal life coach. Afterward, his twin joined the group at someone’s house for a bonfire tribute. After an hour, he called my other brother to rescue him because the group had become intoxicated and weird.
The day after the funeral the three of us went to clean out his room. He shared a house with 2 other roommates who genuinely cared about him. We found empty vodka bottles in one of his drawers.
I’ll never understand why people hang out in bars. It’s a sad environment filled with sad people. I worked as a cocktail waitress in my twenties. It was a nice restaurant but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. There would always be the same people sitting in their regular bar stools night after night drinking themselves into a blur until they were either cut off or it was the last call.
“Cheers” may have been a TV comedy but in real life, it was a tragedy.
The day before I left Napa we all went sailing on my brother’s 42-foot sailboat in the San Francisco Bay from Sausalito. It was a beautiful day and was a much-needed way for us to relax after so much trauma. An airshow flew over us with Blue Angels and stunt pilots. It was our way of coping.
The death of a sibling is hard but you get through it
Each of us makes choices in life and sometimes they aren’t so bright. If my brother had woken up, his doctor would have given him an ultimatum. Stop drinking or have a case of beer. Unfortunately, some people choose beer. We feel guilty that we couldn’t help him, but in the end, it was his decision. It didn’t have to end this way, but it did and now we have to deal with the grief. We will miss him terribly, but we have each other and that’s what will get us through.