Grief softens, taunts us into familiarity, befriends us over time and — though uninvited — comes to settle in with us as a respected companion.
At least that’s my experience from the perspective of having lost five of nine siblings. Today is the third anniversary of my brother Art’s death.
You would have liked him — I honestly do not know a person who did not! Of the six brothers he clearly inherited our Dad’s gracious charm and ease with people. He was incorrigibly kind, generous, self-effacing, optimistic and happy. That was quite a feat given our genetic disposition and his ten-year battle with lung cancer.
Art loved cars as did our dad, his namesake. One of my most vivid childhood memories was his purchase of a sleek, white, 1959 Pontiac Star Chief sedan — it belongs in the Smithsonian! Just having it parked in our driveway gave this nine-year old immediate, and fully exploited, bragging rights.
Art’s fascination with cars endured but also signaled a fundamental shift. No longer needing to flash an icon of a financially flush bachelor, over time Art became quite skilled in car repair. He embraced a new focus, new goals. Modesty and frugality became his obsession as Joyce and their three kids became the locus of his pride and uncontested priority.
Always the financial wizard and astute investor, Art became as selfless as is constitutionally possible for a Burbach male. His many sacrifices and deep reservoir of faith in God and other people has been validated in terrific children with whom I am proud to share the family name.
One last, parting gift endures. Honored to be among my brother’s pallbearers, I was unprepared for what I was asked to carry. Lumbering up a slight incline at Calvary cemetery proved more than I could manage. I buckled under the weight — others had to come to my rescue. Thus, my brother’s legacy continues to work its way with me.
Being the youngest of a large family is a profound gift. Perhaps I learn from some of their mistakes, though plenty of evidence suggests the contrary. Certainly I profit from their example and wisdom. I am growing more accustomed to not being the leader, content — perhaps blessed — to follow.
More than ever, I am coming to appreciate what T.S. Eliot expressed so well:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot’s famous quote is from the conclusion of Little Gidding, the last of his Four Quartets.