12: Brotherly Love Bridges the Gap

12: Brotherly Love Bridges the Gap

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Brotherly Love Bridges the Gap

The great men of earth are the shadow of men, who, having lived and died, now live again and forever through their undying thoughts.

~Henry Ward Beecher

After my father died, my brother George persuaded me to leave South Carolina and attend college in Virginia so he could keep an eye on me. He said, “You know, the eyes are the windows of the soul.” Right—because when I goofed up, he saw through my eyes and through my lies, all the way to my soul. Oh, the sermons he delivered during my liberal-thinking, beer-drinking, buck-naked streaking Sweet Briar College days.

And yet, George was my “Google” before the Internet, my confidant before I had wise friends, and my best cheerleader, whatever the endeavor. Being fifteen years my senior, he showed me the meaning of perseverance, resourcefulness, integrity, temperance, humility, hope, humor and happiness. As the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined, so I learned to enjoy life to the best of my ability from his book: The Joy of George.

I loved my big brother the moment I was born, and I love him now and every minute in between. He gave a meaning to my life that I had no right to expect, that no one can ever diminish. I never knew a world without him in it, and I never wanted to. So even in death, George found ways to connect with me.

I’ve been blessed to hold the hands of many people as they drew their last breaths, but my brother is the only one who continued to communicate after death. I don’t pretend to understand how it happens—whether ESP, or God, or George’s sheer will.

George collapsed while dressed to attend a funeral. My sister-in-law, Margie, performed CPR while waiting for the ambulance. He lived three unresponsive days on a respirator with no brain waves, according to the tests. I couldn’t understand or accept the irony. How could my brother, a neurologist, be without brain activity?

My husband, Ed, and I traveled 500 miles and reached George’s side on the third day of the nightmare. As Margie led me to his room, she told me to talk to him because he could hear me. The sight of my brother with tubes and wires attached sent such a wave of hopelessness through me that I couldn’t speak. Not to George, or anyone.

How could this healthy, slender, seventy-three-year-old man be dying? His cardiologist said he didn’t have a heart attack; his heart just stopped. I asked myself how a man’s heart could be beating, beating, beating — and just stop? Then I remembered.

I’d asked George years ago if he jogged. “No, I don’t,” he said. “I believe a man has just so many heartbeats allowed him, and I’m not going to waste one of them on jogging!”

When the doctor said he could do nothing else, my heart broke. George had made the decision in a living will to discontinue ventilator use, so the family gathered to say goodbye. After the doctors removed the equipment, Margie, Ed and I went back in his room.

He looked better, more approachable, without the wires and monitors. There was no beeping. Margie laid her head on George’s right shoulder and said her last words to him.

I inhaled deeply and leaned up to his left ear. “George, I need you to know how much you’ve meant to me. You’ve been there at every fork in the road, helping me make good decisions. Everything a brother should be, you have been. Your example has made me want to be a better person. All that I am, and ever hope to be, I owe to you. I will miss you and everything about you, and I’ll love you till the day I die.”

With her head down, Margie didn’t see George open his right eye. Thinking it was part of the dying process, I reached over to close it. But he opened it again. When he opened his left eye, a huge tear rolled out onto the pillow beside me. He took one last breath, then resolutely closed both eyes. I gasped and covered my mouth to stifle a cry. Awed, I looked at Ed who whispered, “He heard you.”

George’s action appeared volitional—one last attempt to convey love, one final farewell among the living—and it turned out to be a promise of things to come as well.

•   •   •

Making our way home through the Shenandoah Valley the day after George’s funeral, Ed and I saw a deer standing off the highway — right in the sunshine. Bucks don’t tend to come out in broad daylight, but since George had been a wildlife commissioner and one of our last outings was a hunt, it struck me that this deer could be a sign from him.

After returning to South Carolina, we plugged in the Christmas tree lights. Later those lights went off for no reason, but the electricity never blinked in the rest of the house. It surprised us when the Christmas lights came back on by themselves an hour later.

That evening another enigma astonished us. My daughter brought a piece of paper downstairs that had just come through my office printer: my brother’s eulogy—which I’d written in Virginia. The document didn’t exist on the computer upstairs, but on a flash drive in my pocket. I hadn’t been upstairs since coming home. We still have no explanation.

More events shocked my rational mind that week. George might truly have been communicating with me. So I addressed him in a loud voice, begging him to come to me in a dream if he was responsible for these happenings. I demanded it be that very night, none other.

Never one to be late, George showed up right on cue! He and I were in a small room with our backs to each other. Turning around we both understood we weren’t in the same realm — his spiritual, mine physical. Yet reaching out, we touched. Realizing I could feel his physical body, I wrapped around him like an octopus—as I did when I was five and he was twenty. Knowing it might be our final chance, we said things one rarely says in this life. After a while someone tapped my shoulder. I heard, “Time’s up.” I cradled George’s face in my palms and gazed into the sky blue windows of his soul one last, long time.

Despite my lifelong skepticism of the supernatural, every intuitive bone in my body tells me that George, our Renaissance Man, has discovered yet another field of proficiency—a miracle in my estimation —love strong enough to bridge the gap from The Great Beyond.

~Janet Sheppard Kelleher

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