My beloved brother, Brian, dropped his body yesterday after an extended period of one illness after another. Even though the doctors and nurses called me regularly, (I live in northern Arizona and he lived in Sturgis, S. Dakota) to give me updates on his condition so that I would be prepared, the ending ripped through me like an earthquake. For days I had run the gamut of, “He’s back in the nursing home and doing well,” to “We had to rush him to the Rapid City Regional hospital as his oxygen level was at 50%, to “We need your permission to disconnect him from his life support system,” to me making the actual decision a few hours later. After checking with other nurses and doctors and one of his friends, I found out that he had repeatedly said that he did not want to be kept alive under any artificial conditions and definitely did not want CPR. For days, I had sobbed my way through daily chores, taking phone calls from the hospital on a sometimes hourly basis as they gave me medical information regarding his status: his blood work, his pain level, his oxygen level. Some days I wanted only for it to be over. He would have been 75 in November and he has battled lung cancer, COPD, alcoholism and more surgeries and hospital stays than I can remember. Fifteen years ago I received a call saying he was on life support after a surgery and that I should come to make my goodbyes. I flew to South Dakota, stayed at his bedside for several days and finally, after giving him an “I’m your sister and I want you to do what I say,” lecture telling him he must fight back and he must not die. Two days after I returned home, he was back in action and ready to leave the hospital. Now he’s gone for good and another light has been turned off in my world.

To me, all those I love, and there are many, are lights in my life and every time I lose one, my world grows dimmer. I told my daughter that from now on I’m going to make sure all my new friends are at least 20 years younger than I am so that I can keep my world filled with light. Maybe that’s why I started the Lamplighter Movement.

Death must come to all of us. Some leave in a comfortable way; some die savagely. What matters is what you do with the years in between birth and death. Brian never had a chance. With sexual abuse at the hands of his mother at a young age, he was alcoholic by the time he was thirteen. At eighteen, he joined the navy and spent 15 years as a medical corpsman, mostly in Vietnam. His drinking worsened. Somehow he managed to find work during the years after he left the Navy, sometimes menial, just enough to keep him in drinking money. He smoked obsessively. But somewhere inside that damaged body and soul lurked a kind heart, a hard worker, a man who would give you his last dime and the shoes off his feet. He was a trusting soul, incapable of telling a falsehood and so he couldn’t recognize any in others. He was bullied; he was made fun of, sometimes by those he thought were his friends. He was child-like without being childish. He was a talented artist and sent my husband a wonderful painting of a horse for his birthday one year. He loved his God but at times feared his fellow man. He was complex; he was unique; he was my brother and I saw in him only the good and raged against anything my parents did to him that made him a lonely tortured alcoholic. He started every letter to me with “My dearest sister Margie” and ended each with “May God keep you safe, your loving brother always, Brian.” My brother Scott said to me once, “Can you imagine sis? With my singing talent, your writing talent and Brian’s artistic talents what we could have turned out to be if only we’d had parents that were good people and instead of abusing us, supported our talents and loved us?

Yes………..I often wonder…………..

Cherish your children.

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