September 27, 2009

With the last breath, life changed forever.

Today she stopped breathing. I wrote that entry on June 23, 2003, the day my mother died. That day is also known as the day life as I knew it changed forever.

My mother used to joke that one day I would have to assume the position of matriarch of the family. She would tell me that I had to keep the family together, that it was a tough job but she knew I could handle it. I would always respond with the same answer: "You can't ever die."

We were so close. My mother, sister and I had a beautiful relationship. We were always together, we spoke or saw each other every day and we liked it that way. My mom was fun to be around. She had a way of lighting up a room when she walked in, of bringing sunshine to crappy days, and of making everything all right. She was loved by her family and friends and by anyone who had the pleasure of meeting the great and wondrous Peg. Our brother was close to us in a different way. Mom used to joke about her "Little Sunshine." She would tell us, "Your brother is different, he's not like you and Gina." On getting old, she once said that if it was up to Steve, she would probably be left on a doorstep. She always knew that I would take care of her and that my younger sister would provide the backup.

I had a different relationship with my brother than my sister. I adored him. I saw him as the polar opposite of our father, which was a good thing. While our dad wore wife-beater shirts and acted like Tony Soprano, our brother wore button-downs, never raised his voice and provided a male-figure that I could relate to. Since Steve was 18 years older than our younger sister and only 10 years older than me, we had more things in common. I liked that he did not act like my father or the Italian uncles and cousins.

I enjoyed hanging out with my brother and have fond memories of growing up with Steve. I mean, how many brothers take their little sisters to New York or to Woody Allen festivals without being forced to? When I was 17 and staying in Northern California with friends, he was told by my father to go pick me up. My father thought I was only an hour away. He drove all the way to Santa Rosa from Burbank (about an eight hour drive) and never said a word. The drive home was filled with visits to Big Sur and long talks about life. I'll always cherish that trip.

As the years went on, Steve and I remained close, but things were different. He married an all-American, Catholic girl. While my sister and I had a relationship that revolved around our Italian family, our brother preferred to keep his distance. We were told how his wife's family "didn't do those things" and he could never understand why we all wanted to be together so often, birthdays, holidays, any days. He was happy being with his wife alone, we wanted to be together. My sister and I used to dread asking him to come to a birthday or a holiday celebration. "Uh, eh, hmm," was the usual response. It always seemed like a burden.

When my mother was dying of cancer, his wife told us that they were not going to continue all this "family stuff" after mom was gone. I had no idea the extent of what that meant.

I remember the first couple of holidays after her death. It felt like a hole was blown through the family. I called my brother to ask him to come to celebrate the holidays with us and he reminded me that he and his wife did not plan to carry on this tradition. I felt as if everything my mother feared had come true, that if I did not keep the family together, it would fall apart. What followed was a traumatic disowning of the entire family by my brother. It made no sense. Only I could make it better. It was my job to make it better.

Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay


Posted at September 27, 2009 7:48 AM

Comments

Though family members might "disown" other members of the family, the love and memories are still there. In time, I'm sure, he will recall the close bond you both shared. Never lose hope that he will return.


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