Thinking about a brother and a mother

Jonny and Barbara in Belize

It’s hard to write a post like this when your thoughts are jumbled. I suppose the ramblings below are meant to:
– Acknowledge a challenging time and make a call to move past that period for me
– Share gratitude for my family, partners, and friends that supported Barbara/me during this time

The last three years have been challenging for many reasons, not least of which Covid changing the way we work, live, and function as a society. It’s been a time…but I feel like that period is ending and we are finally moving on from a very intense period that will do down in history. For me, this was bookended by the passing of my brother, just before Covid began, and the passing of my mother, this summer.

Yesterday would have been Jonny’s 43rd birthday. And tomorrow, he died 3 years ago. One of the reasons that his passing was so intense is that it was outside the normal order of things. He was the younger brother and son that was supposed to outlive all of us and take care of our mother as she aged. When he died, my mother was understandably emotionally fraught and I had to step in to carry the load that comes with someone’s passing. It was a lot to absorb and I still have some grieving to do that was put off in the urgency to act. I suppose I’ll always think about him this time of year. I don’t want to make this post an annual tradition or some sort of “mopefest” for I know that it will eventually become a happy thing, where you remember the good memories more than anything else.

I’ve thought about Jonny a lot over the last six months. I really could have used his help as I navigated another intense period. My mother, Barbara, was diagnosed in March with advanced pancreatic cancer and we knew that she had a limited time to live. The statistical average is something like three months. She made it four. She passed on July 16th.

In the last few months of her life, I was lucky enough to be able to strip away much of the day-to-day and spend a lot of time with her in Texas. It was actually wonderful to get time with just the two of us and to be “home”, driving around in a city that had changed a lot but still evokes such memories and stories of your own childhood. Much of the time right after her diagnosis was spent between work calls/zooms. It was the ultimate bit of context switching. I would go from work mode to just sitting on the back porch, watching the familiar birds. We did have some important conversations but much of the benefit was just being present in the same space. Two or three times a day, something important would come out. The kind of things that don’t come out unless you give them space. Maybe it was the Texas heat that seemed to slow time down. Maybe it was the emotional intensity in the knowledge of death. I do know that I’m grateful for every minute, every conversation, and every story.

As her news spread and her health declined, I was amazed and grateful for the number of friends and family that stepped in to help. She had a lot of friends and they all came to help but I have to call out:

– My family, particularly Melissa, who turned me loose to focus on Barbara while she held our life together in Boulder. She also helped me clean out the house for the two weeks we were supposed to be on vacation this summer. That was really hard and we are overdue for a good holiday. My kids, who have experienced Jonny and Barbara passing with the resilience and trust of love and youth.
– Her brother and my uncle, Tom, for alternating weeks with me on the flight from Boulder to DFW. I’m glad she had time with her little brother in the end.
– Her partner and friend, Steve. He was incredible in his devotion to her and took on more than I could handle in those last few weeks. I’m so happy she found Steve in the last few years and only wish they had more time together. I don’t think Barbara could truly love until Jon passed (you’re only as happy as your least happy child) and Steve came back into her life at the perfect time. It was beautiful to see her find love and happiness at the end of her life.
– Her best friend, Vicki, and Vicki’s husband, Don. Vicki was her exercise buddy and her adopted family. Vicki provided key referrals and support to all of us even while grieving herself.
– Susan Cutts, who consistently came to visit and hung in there until the end. It makes me smile that she and Barbara became such great friends as I and her son have been as well.
– My partners at Foundry who gave me the space to turn off work and focus on family. I’ve been bumping along the bottom for a while but I’m just beginning to rally.
– Her caretaker, Linda, was an angel for all of us. If any of our friends in DFW need help for their aging parents, please reach out for her contacts.

A funeral is supposed to be a fitting send-off and celebration of one’s life. I loved seeing friends from all parts of her life. Her high school friends, her TCU friends, her First Hurst (church) friends, her grief group (GGs), her yoga instructor(!), and even a few of my father’s friends. The surprise for me was that I didn’t expect so many of my friends to show up. It was great to feel their love and support as well. Our cousin, Neil, delivered a wonderful eulogy and our friend, Jason, led some beautiful songs. I think Barbara would have been pleased. The reception afterward was so enjoyable that it produced the common lament that it takes a wedding or a funeral to pull together those you most love.

As I sit here on Sunday morning, there are so many more thoughts rumbling around. Perhaps some that I’ll write out to share as time and space allow. For example:
– Grief that takes a “month of Sundays” to show up and begin to process
– Embracing your role as a child, as a caregiver, as an executor, and some of the learnings I’ve been sharing with my friends that will have to walk this path
– Our place in this generational transition. AKA, we’re becoming the old people and that creates a change in perspective. Our role as the sandwich generation is hard, what does growing old look like?

All for another day. It’s Porchfest today in our neighborhood and I’m going to go celebrate life with friends and family.