For Brother George on What Would Have Been His 73rd Birthday.

Today is my late brother George’s birthday and I can’t let it pass without writing about him. George died back in 2004 at the age of 54. He had esophageal cancer that metastasized to his lungs. He was given 17 months to live and a second, third, and fourth medical opinion confirmed that initial prognosis. He actually made it to 18 months rather than 17 and saw that as a victory.

Earlier in his life, George had battled both alcoholism and jaw cancer. He always said that going into recovery when he did was instrumental in saving his life, both from substance abuse and cancer. Only a few months after he got sober through an in-person treatment program and AA, he discovered a sore spot in his mouth that wouldn’t heal. He said that had he still been drinking, he would have ignored that spot until it was too late. As it was, he underwent radical jaw surgery at MD Andreson very soon after the cancer diagnosis and also had radiation treatment. That treatment extended his life for another twenty years, during which time he maintained his sobriety and also never smoked another cigarette. George used his hard-won experience to help others by becoming a Licensed Drug and Alcohol counselor.

My brother evolved into one of the most clear-headed and grounded people I have ever known. He understood the role grace had played in his life and was a great believer in living in a state of gratitude. He and our younger brother Sam went into the dueling piano business and opened Big Bang bars in Tempe, Arizona, and St. Louis, Missouri. George deeply loved his wife Sandra and all four of his daughters, Casey, Leslie, Katie, and Mahlon. After being diagnosed with a second type of cancer (esophageal) in his early fifties, he retired from the business so he could spend his remaining days with his family.

My brother and I were best friends and he asked me to deliver his eulogy at his funeral. “Tell them my whole story, Len,” he said. “There will be people there who never saw me sober from my mid-teens on. I’d like them to hear about my recovery. And for those people who have never seen me take a drink, I’d like them to better understand why.” I did my best at George’s funeral (one of the hardest things I’ve ever done) and I had several people come up and say that George had inspired their own road to sobriety. One fellow said, “I figured if George could do it, then I could too.”

Happy birthday, dear brother. I love you from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I hope there will come a day when I see you walking toward me with your arms wide open. I will gladly step into your embrace and feel happy to finally be reunited with one of the most important people in my life. Until then, please know you are always in my heart and never far from my mind.

Sam, Len, and George

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