Today is the birthday of my beloved brother George, who occupies a special spot on the highest tier of “loves of my life.” George was three years older than me and my closest sibling in age. He and I were great friends growing up and I felt loved and seen by this dear brother. Though we became emotionally separated over a period of time when he was suffering from alcoholism, once he hit bottom and began recovery in earnest, we were always very much a part of each other’s lives. In fact, I continue to be bonded to him and his memory in a way that demonstrates that love goes well beyond time, place, and dimension.
George died at age 54 of cancer back in 2004 and not having him around every day to share this life has been a profound loss. And yet, by the time he faced, with grace, 18 months of a terminal diagnosis, he had moved well beyond those of us here on earth who were struggling with much lesser trials. I had a sense that he had begun the shift to a higher plane several months before his actual death. Though he was never distant during that time, he developed a level of calm that was otherworldly.
I miss George with all of my heart, but I don’t actually think of him every day as I do other people in my family who have died. I know now as I did then that he had bigger and better places to go, and when he died, I felt a strange sense of acceptance that it was exactly right for him to move on along his eternal journey. I also knew on a deep level that he would never be far away if I needed him, and I’ve found that to be true. I can sense his presence whenever I’m feeling a bit shaky and can hear in my mind the words I know he’d say to help me get through whatever challenges I’m facing. I have lost several siblings earlier than most and have been fortunate to have had a close relationship with each. But George, as the one nearest in age, holds an extra special spot in my heart. He was one of the first people who knew me inside and out and loved me in spite of my flaws. I was grateful for that even as a little child and easily and happily reciprocated his acceptance and love.
I am well aware that not everyone has a George in their lives to provide such unconditional love. I wish I had a magic wand and could supply a special brother for anyone who has not had the gift of that experience. While that’s not possible, I do know through watching George’s life and his dying process that he had developed an abiding spiritual connection. As someone who had been in recovery for almost twenty years at the time of his death, he had learned to acknowledge whatever challenge he was facing, to admit to himself that he was powerless to handle the problem by himself and to turn his life and will over to God as he understood him. He lived those principles every day and faced ordeals that might have sent almost anybody else back to the comfort of the bottle. But not George. He faced life head-on, asked for help, and received the grace that comes from surrender.
I do my best to apply those lessons to my life as well and also recognize this has been another gift from George. After facing his own tribulations, he served as an example for me and many others to never give up hope for those who are living on the razor-sharp edge of addiction. He asked me to deliver the eulogy at his funeral and to be sure and speak of his recovery since “there will be people there who have never seen me drunk and others who have never seen me sober.” Both groups of people did come to honor his memory and many came up afterward and thanked me for telling George’s “whole story.” One former schoolmate told me that George’s recovery had fueled his own since he figured, “If George could get his life straight, then pretty much anybody could.” I had to smile at his words and I knew George was somewhere smiling too.
Thank you, Brother, for living a life that was guided by love, hope, and peace. And thank you also for providing an example that continues to have a positive impact on my life every single day.