I’ve taken bereavement days the past two days to “process” the death of my brother, David.
David died last Thursday, Aug. 15, 40 days shy of his 60th birthday. David, like so many others in my close circle of family and friends, died from cancer — a disease that ravaged the bodies and minds of too many close to me. Mom in 1980. Dad in ‘89. My best friend, Russ, in 1997. And now, brother David in 2019.
For me, writing about life and death is cathartic. It’s what I do to put it all in perspective. I write about memories, my memories. They may be factually accurate or they may simply be what my mind has painted, but they are mine to hold close when those I’ve lost seem so far away.
With Mom, I’ll always remember pushing her in a wheelchair nearly 10 miles from Archer to Central City, NE, to raise money for hungry people.
With Dad, it was always how strong his hands were — like vise grips. Try to “out-squeeze” him and you paid the price of busted knuckles. I know, I was his victim year after year when I thought I was tough enough to win.
My fondest memories of Russ were centered on what he loved most — baseball. Through contacts, I was able to get Russ full access to the visitors’ clubhouse when his favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, visited Coors Field in Colorado the year he died. He was able to meet Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and other Braves players. The highlight, Russ said, was filling out the line-up card in the visitors’ dugout alongside then-manager Bobby Cox.
As I process my brother’s passing, I’m reminded of a fact of which I’m not proud. In the last 10+ years, we drifted apart. Some of the distance was just that, distance. He lived in Nebraska and me in Indiana. I was guilty of letting work get in the way of family more often than not. Trips home seemed more of a burden than a pleasure.
Despite all that, memories of David are plentiful. Like when he spent a week in Wyoming helping me build my garage. He was always so good with his hands… and his head. He could think through any problem and then solve it. He was a man’s man. Three parts cowboy, one part romantic.
David always led our escapades as children — including the ill-fated riverbed crash on horses. David led on Nick, his beloved black horse, and I followed on Ginger, my much smaller, much slower old nag. I was fortunate that day as Nick barreled through a riverbed at breakneck speed only to run headlong into a barbed wire fence, throwing my brother over his neck and onto the sandy river bottom. Ginger? She just slammed on her hoof brakes and I slid off the side like the awkward, gangly young boy I was. Even in his most vulnerable times, David was bigger than life to me. He was super cool. Super good looking. Super tough.
My best memory of my brother came during a vulnerable time in his life. He was living through a stretch where things weren’t going as he had planned. As a way to clear the cobwebs, he came to visit me for a week. I was in my first professional stint as a journalist and working very long hours. One day, after a particularly long shift, David stopped by my office to take a tour. One of my co-workers jokingly said that I was kind of lazy and not a particularly good worker.
My brother unloaded on him with both barrels. “He’s one of the hardest working people I know. You are (insert cuss word here) lucky to have him.”
I remember thinking, “He loves me. He really loves me.”
David, as he grew older, became less and less social. His reclusive tendencies troubled me because he was always funny and fun to be around. I learned, in conversations with him via phone and texting after he became ill, that he just didn’t like the spotlight. Anonymity was his friend.
A little over a year before his death, David hosted a family get-together that would have made our parents smile. There were plenty of laughs, plenty of food. And yes, plenty of gunfire. My family likes its guns. That fact was on full display that hot and windy June day in rural Nebraska.
That would be the last day many of us would spend with David. I was fortunate enough to have one more day with just David, his wife, Jodi, and my wife, Sue. It seemed fitting. Sue introduced David to Jodi during that rough patch he had all those years back when he defended my honor to an unsuspecting co-worker. We shared coffee cake, hot coffee and casual conversation.
David and Jodi were peas in a pod. She cared for him right up to his death in the early morning hours of Aug. 15.
David always liked mornings. This one turned out to be extra special. You see, it was on that day that he pushed aside all the pain and the burden and his spirit was renewed.
David was proud. He was private. He didn’t like attention. One thing he did, however, was love his family fiercely.
It may not be factually correct or even possible, but since it’s my story, I see David sitting with our parents enjoying coffee cake and sipping on a steamy cup of Joe on a cloudless Nebraska morning. I think he’d like that.
— Bill Hanson is the publisher of the News and Tribune. Reach him at 812-206-2134 and email@example.com.