5/5/11

Getting the Last Laugh

My only brother, Richard, died in 2003.  He was 56.  This picture was taken when he went to a "dude ranch" on vacation one year.  He had the time of his life there.



He had a terrible headache the day he died.  It was so bad that he went to the emergency department of his local hospital.  They did everything they could for him, but in the end they could find no reason to keep him in the hospital.  I doubt very much that it would have made any difference if they had.  They gave him something for pain, and then sent him home.  That night, he fell asleep on his bed and never woke up.  My sister-in-law found him.  We'll never know for sure what happened.  Stroke?  Sleep apnea?  No one can say.  There was no autopsy.

Richard was seven years older than I was.  When we were kids, he teased me mercilessly because I was younger.  When I was thirteen, he started calling me a bubble-gummer.  I was a teeny bopper.  When I reached age twenty, I was a "tweener" (between drinking age and my teens).  When I reached that magic age of 21, there was nothing to tease me about any more.  He could think of no more nicknames.  And when he turned 30, and I was still a youthful 23, the war was on.  I always called it the "War of the Birthday Cards."

I was ruthless.  I was relentless.  Whenever his birthday came around, I found the meanest birthday card I could find about getting another year older.  One card showed a container being unloaded from a ship.  Inside it said, "Your candles are here."  When he reached his 40th birthday, I found a card that said "You're 40!" on the outside.  On the inside it said, "And I'm not!" 

I once found a card that screamed audibly about getting another year older.  It was great fun.  I sometimes found his birthday cards a year in advance and saved them until his birthday came.  The family gathered round each year when he opened the latest card.  The thing was that no matter how old I got, he would always be older.  I never let him forget it.

When he died,  I spoke at his memorial service.  I told those in attendance about the War of the Birthday Cards.  I said I was pretty mad because it looked as if he was going to get the last laugh after all.  I didn't expect that I would die as young as he did, and I figured, God willing, that one day I would be older than he was.  That day has now come and gone.  As of today, I am 57.  I'm now one year older than he was when he died.

My brother and I were close, and I still miss him.  It is both maddening and strangely consoling that he's finally getting that last laugh.  I salute you, Sir, and I so wish I could hear you laughing.

13 comments from clever and witty friends:

Mimi said...

Thank you for sharing your story - I am laughing and tearing at the same time.

WoolenSails said...

What happy and fun memories of your brother.

Debbie

Jo said...

Well Happy Birthday! That was a wonderful story about your brother. now if I can only find a tissue. I am glad you posted that sometimes it is very important to remember and to share our memories.

Sandi P said...

{{{HUGS}}} and a very happy birthday to you.

501 Quilt Blocks said...

I received a similar comment from my younger sister when I turned 50. But I still take pleasure in every birthday that she has. Today she turns 52. Na-na-na-na-na-na! But yes, I'm still older than she is. Hope you had a good birthday.

Melinda said...

What a wonderful story. It is a great memory of your brother. Happy Birthday!

quiltzyx said...

What a great story that is! And you know what? Don't they say that 'living well is the greatest revenge'? I think your brother would be very proud of you!

Happy Birthday Barbara!

Irina said...

This is such a nice post. Happy belated birthday!

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Happy 57th, Barbara. Thanks for the story about your brother; I shed tears for your loss.

Kathy said...

What a touching story Barbara. I'm sure your brother is looking down on you and knows that you still think of him love
ingly and you miss him dearly. Happy Birthday to you.

quilary said...

Happy Birthday! What a great story and memory to have of your brother. Hope you had a happy day.

LethargicLass said...

Happy Birthday... and thank you for sharing your wonderful memories :) He is probably chuckling away right now...

Quilter Kathy said...

A beautiful tribute to your brother!