It was early so we poured another cup of hot coffee after the mayhem of opening Christmas presents. My husband began to prep for the afternoon feast and the boys had gone into their rooms to rejoice in their abundance. As my brother Andrew looked off in the distance, I quietly wondered what he was thinking.
Did he like the comforter I got him? Or was it lame, like the do-it-yourself presents I used to make him when we were little? Yes, he’s a bachelor, but perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten him so many useful household items?
He smiled to himself, then said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if on Christmas, we could bring back someone we lost?” My chest tightened as I thought about the possibility. “Who would you bring back?” he asked, “Dad or Tom?”
Our oldest brother Tom passed away ten years ago from a recurrence of melanoma. He was 47. When he died, my large Irish Catholic family crumbled like a beautiful, resilient lighthouse falling after it’s light went out.
It happened so fast. We weren’t ready. He was…gone. All of a sudden, my family had no structure, no navigation, no illumination. We were lost. We couldn’t make sense of how to live without his humor, kindness, guidance, honesty, and originality. Despair cloaked our joyous ideology.
When our dad died six years later at 81 years old, the pain was different. Familiar. He had lived a valiant life and loved my mom and all eight of us profoundly. He was a spectacular dad and human and the memories tattooed in our hearts confirm it. Dad was older. We had time to prepare.
“It’s a hard decision,” Andrew said as we both considered what we would do. “Dad or Tom?” Andrew asked again. I thought about it. Then I said, “Tom. I’ll bring back Tom and you bring back Dad,” and we laughed, enjoying the idea.
“I would do anything to have Tom back for a day. I’ll take a few hours, a few minutes...I don’t care. Just to see him again.” I said, as the deep-rooted sadness of losing him reawakened like it was yesterday. I know it would be as if no time had passed. I would hug him around his waist and then watch him engage the boys, and witness their delight in their uncle who I’ve spoken fondly of for so many years. I would gaze upon him with wonder like I used to, relish in my hero-worship, and celebrate having him for a brother. I wouldn’t leave his side.
I would ask him what it was like in heaven? Did he hear me asking to send signs that he was okay? Are you okay big brother? Is he watching over the boys as they grow up? Tommy, my youngest, mentioned that when he’s on rock-climbing walls, he “feels safe because he pictures Uncle Tom at the bottom, there to catch him if he falls.” Was he really there? Could he see how his nephew loves to rock-climb just like he did?
Andrew and my dad were close. My dad was so proud of him! I always tease Andrew about getting all the attention and honestly, I think he knows he got a little more than the rest of us. I can only imagine Dad and Andrew would spend Christmas with my dad telling jokes, and my brother laughing hysterically. I’m sure Andrew would want to know if he was still proud of him? Could he see how he looks over mom now, with such sweetness?
Andrew and I talked about how glorious the Christmas wish would be. How, if we had to bargain, a few fleeting moments with our beloved is all we would need. A glance, a smile, a hug, a nod that they are still here, somewhere. An opportunity to tell them that we haven’t forgotten them and hope they haven’t forgotten us either. A chance to tell them life would be so much sweeter with them in it.
If only for that one Christmas wish. It truly would be amazing…