It has been over a month since my younger brother passed away quietly in his sleep.
Once I would have thought that sentence might have been written when I was in my seventies. Old people die peacefully in their sleep. Young people get devastating diseases or have horrible accidents. When you're 33, you are not "supposed" to just go to sleep and not wake up. Although, I'll grant you, Kevin was not one for doing what he was "supposed" to do anyway.
When I took the call from his roommate (who was also one of his best friends) I don't know what was going through my mind. I don't know that I reacted the way I was "supposed" to either. No crumpling on the floor in a heap. No wailing and gnashing of teeth. All I could think to do was the next thing in front of me. So I did that thing, and then the next one.
I did put off packing that night. I think somehow I thought if I just didn't do it, that someone would call and tell me there had been a horrible mistake, even though I knew in my heart that wouldn't happen. Kevin had said, over and over, ever since our Dad died, that he never thought he would live to get old. I'd tell him to just take care of himself, and he would live to a ripe old age (or be taken up in a whirlwind, a la Elijah, which is my preferred method of shuffling off the mortal coil.)
But now, he's gone. We packed up his room that Friday, sorting through clothes and books and music and eleven thousand red BTU/Shiloh matchbook cases. We found the pale pink pants he wore, and the pale pink tie. We found an album he'd made during a trip to Chattanooga, put in a photo album with his name and birthday written on the inside cover. We found the hard hat that belonged to my Dad when he worked at the coal mine.
We cried that day, we laughed, and we took the physical things that remained and found new places for them. With the exception of a few special things, all his clothes went to Brother Bryan Park, and to his friend Russ and the SunDaze program they were working on to help homeless people on Southside in Birmingham. His cat came back to Houston with John, Sarah, and me.
That Saturday, we said good-bye at the funeral home. He didn't want an open casket (and for the record, neither do I.) We left it open for a bit, and then closed it quickly when more people started coming up. His friend David read a blog post he'd written, and then one of the pastors at my mom and bonus dad's church spoke. We did all those things that you're "supposed" to do when someone passes away.
We've gone through this so many times before - all my grandparents have passed, my Dad passed nearly ten years ago - and this time it was different. Because Mom lives so far from the farm, there was no rush of people coming back to the house to eat afterward. There was no need to clear out the fridge and make room for Tupperware containers, cake plates, and the like. Mom and Zane's church friends brought food, in aluminum pans that could easily be tossed (which is a huge blessing, by the way.) But all the family out in Corner went back home. Kevin's friends from out of town went to their hotels and did their own thing. We went back to my bonus sister's house with family from out of town and watched the Auburn game.
It took Kevin passing for us to put together pieces of who he really was. No one really sat down and listed all the things he was involved in until we started writing the obituary. I had person after person come up to me, telling me how Kevin helped them. How he loved them and didn't judge even when they had made awful choices or done something they thought was unforgivable. He helped where he could, it seemed without question.
Kevin was far from perfect. He made decisions that had me rolling my eyes, wondering when my little brother was ever going to grow up. But he lived his dreams. This spring, he went to the Indianapolis 500 as a journalist. He met racers and talked with them. He took a picture of Chris Economaki's typewriter and reserved spot in the media center. He got to kiss the bricks and stand in front of the pagoda. Doug made a picture of him there, in the pre-dawn hours, looking for all the world like the proverbial boss.
The outpouring of love and remembrance continues. Just the other day I had an old friend from high school tell me he was thinking of Kevin during a NASCAR race at Phoenix.
I think of him when certain songs play on the radio, or when I watch a race on television.
I remember the little "bother" who used to run around the yard, pushing his bike because he couldn't ride yet, but he wanted to keep up.
I remember him making signs for everything, and digging a giant hole beside Daddy's workshop.
I remember putting the cats in buckets and pulling them up into the treehouse.
I remember the redneck swimming pool we tried making every year out of cement blocks and blue tarp.
I remember sitting in the back seat of the car when Daddy would announce we were going "around the block" and we'd spend all Sunday afternoon just driving around.
I remember the time we tied his GI Joes to the ceiling fan and turning it on high to see how long they'd hang on.
I remember playing with GI Joes, Barbies, the Little People farmhouse, and whatever other toys we pieced together, making up stories about wars and invasions... the "occupation" of the Little People's farmhouse was always rather "Red Dawn"ish now that I think about it.
And now I remember him when Sarah gets out her My First Bacon or her My First Ninja. Or when I look at John and think about how they both finally got that brother they'd always wanted.
I choose to remember the good things, and to honor the memory of the man he grew up to be. The imperfect, sometimes hard to understand, but loving, forgiving, understanding, kind man he was.