My sister-in-law, Sally, passed away suddenly this month and my eldest sister and I flew to Arizona to be with my brother. It was a short trip just shy of three full days, and we packed more into that time than I would have ever thought possible. We honored a lovely wife of 48 years, a mother who had compassion and wit, and who was a “Grandma” to many, not just her own. I watched my nephews mourn, and their children weep. I heard them speak Sally’s praises and laugh while telling stories about her. And I watched my brother.
Every memory I have of my brother is one of a calm and collected dude. (His sons, my nephews, may have seen him differently as a father.) I cannot recall a time that I have ever seen my brother lose it. More than any other male figure in my life, he has been my rock, our own father dying when I was just 18. I watched my brother graciously greet and welcome everyone who came to the services for Sally Kay Alford. My brother was a study in grace and gratitude. My sister Elizabeth and I later talked about that in the hotel room, feet up on pillows, shadows of the big and little sisters that we used to be when I would sit upon her bed and talk so many years before. Elizabeth and I sat in exhausted awe of this man who we called brother.
My brother took us around Phoenix, showing us the sights and allowing us to spend more precious time with our nephews and their loved ones. I met my great-nephews and nieces and found joy when the youngest ran into my arms to hug me. At my brother and Sally’s home, we sat around the kitchen table reminiscing. This was something we always did at home growing up, and we realized the table we were around was our Mother’s. We were only doing what came naturally. In a time of mourning, my brother was making us feel at home. In a time of sorrow, he was making new memories for us. In that time he was honoring his love of so many years with the comfort, caring and sharing that I believe Sally would have given others.
My brother’s chin wobbled only for a few seconds in the kitchen of his home. Wondering how he would handle the coming days. To me, he seemed even more of a rock, big softie that he really is. I don’t want to imagine a future without my husband. It is not habit that I reach for his hand and find it there. It’s a conscious choice to stand with someone you love, even on the awful, icky, if-I-look-at-you-I’ll-scream, days. I couldn’t fathom how my brother was coping, and in a moment of sharing, I saw a strength that took my breath away. What I saw was a kind of knowing that although the hand is no longer across the table from you, you still hold fast.
Most of the time we were at my brother’s, we spent in laughter. I sat in the back seat of the car while my brother and sister sat in the front, driving to dinner with the family. There was a comfort in that, a memory of days spent in the back seat listening to my older siblings and knowing that somehow, no matter how the road twists and turns, we’ll be alright.