16: Jimmie

16: Jimmie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Jimmie

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk.

~Susan Scarf Merrell

When my dad passed away, I was saddened of course, but I felt a sense of peace. I knew in my heart we had spent quality time together. I couldn’t think of anything I had forgotten to say to him. He knew I loved him, and I knew he loved me. However, when my brother, Jimmie, passed away unexpectedly in May 2000, I felt an emptiness and guilt I had never experienced before.

My brother and I were close growing up. When I received a doll carriage from Santa, Jimmie asked Mom for a doll, too, so he could play with me as I pushed that carriage up and down the sidewalk. He named his doll Billy Boy. And we spent many mornings back then chattering as much as a five-and-a-half-year-old and a three-year-old could, while our dolls lay side by side.

One Christmas, when we were in grade school, my dad took us ice-skating. I would always show off my skills, skating backwards and doing figure eights, while my brothers would play hockey with their new sticks. That day, the ice was clear and smooth except near the edges. Jimmie stopped knocking his puck long enough to dare me to skate by a hole, seemingly about eight feet from the edge. It almost had a mirage-like appearance. I gave him a dismissive hand gesture as if it were a simple request and started gliding toward it. But as I approached, the ice cracked, and I fell through waist-deep. Jimmie’s chuckles quickly turned to screams for help. My dad was able to pull me out from the other side of the hole, but Jimmie felt bad. He never again dared me to do anything dangerous.

After I got my license, we started Christmas shopping in Boston the day after Thanksgiving. It became our tradition all the way through college. We’d get lunch and then we’d laugh and talk as we hustled from one store to the next.

When my children were young, my husband’s job took us away from our hometown. I missed that face-to-face contact with my brother. We saw each other at family gatherings, but it was always busy, especially at Christmas.

My brother and I would try to connect every week by phone, but then we’d get caught up with our jobs and our kids and we’d forget to talk. So when I got the call that he had died, at fifty-one, I felt guilty and stunned. It had been six weeks since we had last spoken on the phone, and I kept asking myself why I hadn’t called him.

As the days went by, and the seasons transitioned from one to another, the Christmas holiday crept upon us again. I was not looking forward to going home that year. I wanted Mom to come to my house, to get away from all that was familiar, but she didn’t want to travel, and my brother Eddie was in the area, too. Mom missed her youngest son fiercely, and I had to think of her, not myself. I didn’t want a tree that year, but I was glad to see Mom had put up her small one on a table near the familiar manger scene that Jimmie and I set up each Christmas. I so wanted to hear his voice right then.

I remember sitting in my mom’s kitchen. We were waiting for my son, also named Jimmy, to arrive. He walked in loaded with presents and gave me mine right away. He then turned around and walked out of the room. Nothing said.

I opened my gift. It was a framed letter. I thought it was from my son, but as I read it, I realized it was from my brother Jimmie. He apologized for leaving so quickly. He wanted me to know that he loved and admired me, and was so proud of me. He wanted me to comfort our mom, but he wanted me to comfort myself as well. He said he could see me when I cried. He assured me he was in no pain and that he was with our dad. He also recalled all the fun we used to have Christmas shopping when we were younger.

I found my son sitting on the couch in the living room in tears, and I quietly asked him how he got the letter. At first, he couldn’t explain what had happened, but then he told me he was watching a football game the Sunday before when, all of a sudden, he was drawn to his computer. He said it felt like his favorite uncle was standing behind him, dictating one word after another with no break. He couldn’t see my brother, but he could hear him loud and clear. And he didn’t stop tapping the keyboard until his uncle stopped talking. My son wrote things in that letter that he never knew about my brother and me.

The letter ended with, “Even though Christmas will be a little different this year, I want you to have fun because I plan on celebrating, too, and I need to know that you are comforted by the joy I plan on delivering to you over this holiday season… You are so special to me and I love you.” And he told my son to sign it… “Your brother, Jimmie.”

To this day, I have the letter hanging on my writing room wall. I didn’t think anything could cheer me up that Christmas, but my brother’s message from heaven certainly did.

~Elaine D’Alessandro

More stories from our partners