Losing my brother to cancer

The day we spread my brother's ashes in the Atlantic Ocean

With family and friends on the day we spread Bill's ashes into the Atlantic Ocean, Longport, NJ, September 8, 2019 (I'm 4th from the right)

NOTE: This piece was originally posted on Medium, on August 1st, 2020, one year following Bill's death. I am re-posting it here now that I've built this blog. And I've been thinking about him a lot lately...and missing him terribly.

It was one year ago today that I lost my brother Bill to pancreatic cancer, a most horrid disease. He was 66 years old, 2 years older than me, and my only sibling. We had lost our dad in 1992, and our mom in 1996. Dad was 67 when he passed and mom was 69. Their deaths had a big impact on both of us. But the loss of my brother has been far more painful to me.

I have contemplated writing about this loss for the entirety of the past year. At first, I wanted to document the experience that covered the last 6 weeks of his life, 5 of which I was blessed to share with him. The months went by, we moved into a new house, distractions ensued, but it was always on my mind, as were vivid memories, both fond and difficult, of our last weeks together.

It was only in late June that it hit me, suddenly and hard, that we were coming up on a year since his loss. I remain dumbfounded that it has been a year. Yet not a day goes by that I don't think of him, either with love, or with pain. The days have varied wildly over the year.

There have been numerous times in our adult lives when I've found myself doing something, and literally feeling as if I were Bill. Whether it was something I said, or even a facial expression that I've made. I would have an innate sense of being a deep reflection of him in those moments. To me, it's always been a sign of our closeness, and I can't help but smile when it happens. During the weeks we shared before he passed, whenever I would answer his home phone, the caller would invariably think that I was him, we sounded that much alike. In the months that followed his death, these moments seemed to stop occurring. Then, a couple of months ago, they returned and it's the closest thing to being with him again.

Circa 1960, Bill and I standing outside of our apartment building in Brooklyn.

Bill and I outside of our apartment building in Brooklyn, circa 1960

Bill & Kim's wedding, Atlantic City, NJ, November 17, 2017

Bill & Kim's wedding, Atlantic City, NJ, November 17, 2017

I've been consumed with thoughts of Bill and feeling anxious about writing this to mark the first anniversary of his passing. I don't know if you’ve experienced this, but whenever I've bought a new car (which isn't very often), right after buying it I start to see it everywhere. Something similar has been happening recently as this anniversary approached. I’ll share two examples.

I was about to start doing my exercises this past Monday. I typically listen to a playlist called "workout" in my music app. It's full of fast-paced high-intensity songs. When I opened the app, I assumed that it was set to play that playlist as that is the only thing I've been playing. So when I tapped on the bottom bar to have it continue playing, the first several songs seemed out of place. The first several songs included:

  • Rumble, from the West Side Story soundtrack
  • A Frank Sinatra song, the name of which I can’t recall
  • A Diane Schurr song, again, can’t remember the name
  • Funeral for a Friend, Elton John
  • The Scientist, Willie Nelson

I don't think I’d consider putting these in a "workout" playlist. Here's how they relate to my connection to Bill:

  • We grew up listening to the West Side Story soundtrack (I know most of the lyrics by heart)
  • Bill got me hooked on Sinatra
  • Bill introduced me to the melodious Diane Schurr
  • More like "Funeral for a Best Friend"
  • Bill was indeed a scientist; an engineer by training, but a lover of all things science

Strange, huh?

My wedding, Pasadena, CA, August 7, 1993

My wedding, Pasadena, CA, August 7, 1993

With Mom at our Thurlow Avenue home, Margate, NJ, God only knows when, because I sure don't

With Mom at our Thurlow Avenue home, Margate, NJ, God only knows when, because I sure don't

Here's another example of these recent "coincidences." I'm currently reading the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow. The eulogy by one of Hamilton's friends, Fisher Ames, includes the following statement:

he was "so entirely the friend of his friends…that his power over their affections was entire and lasted through his life."

Now, these are the opening lines of the eulogy that I delivered to honor Bill.

"If you met Bill, you became his friend. Period. It didn't matter who you were, what you did, or where you came from. He was instantly willing to be a friend to anyone he met."

That was Bill and that's what makes it hard to be in a world without him. I am blessed to remain in touch with several of his friends and with his wife, Kim. While we all share a deep grief for the lack of Bill in our lives, we also share that part of us that represents Bill and I know that we're all grateful for these special parts of ourselves. And we all know that Bill would be pleased to see us spread his ashes to the ocean that he so loved.

I re-read Bill's obituary recently; it captures just a glimpse of who he was.

Our last conversation was on the day before he died. He called me from the hospital. I was 3,000 miles away, having just returned home following his first chemo treatment. He clearly felt that the end was near. I asked "Bill, what can I do?" He replied, simply "Love me." I told him "I love you, Bill, and I always will."

Bill, waving goodbye...

Goodbye, Bill!

I want to thank several authors who inspired me to bring forth these thoughts as they have shared a similar loss. Their writings include Coping With the Sudden Death of My Brother, The Sibling Loss Gang, After losing a sibling, searching for the sinkhole, Learning to live without you, and Death, I have life on my mind.

And a final shout out to one of Bill's long time friends, Richard DiDio; we've always called him Skip. Shortly after Bill's passing, I told Skip that I wanted to write a piece about Bill. He encouraged me and even gave me a book about writing, Anne Lamott's excellent book, Bird by Bird. Thank you, Skip.