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Thoughts on the Death of my Brother-in-law

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(In September of 1999, my eldest sister’s husband died. I wrote this story a few days afterward to detail the shifts in frame and values I experienced.)

Last Saturday, at 6:30 PM, in Christiana (Delaware) Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, my terminally ill brother-in-law drew his last breath. Three weeks of suffering ended just like that. He was only 54 years old. He left a wife, three children, nine grandchildren, and a multitude of friends.

I visited him once in the ICU. He looked every bit the part of the terminally ill man. Christiana’s a good hospital from a technical standpoint, so I figured his odds were even. When he died, I wasn’t sad… partially because I knew he was suffering and needed to go, but mostly because I believed I hadn’t lost anyone.

Donnie and I weren’t close. We each knew who the other was, but that was about it. He worked a lot, and when when I was a kid and we visited it was for musical purposes and they were busy so I stayed out of the way and stayed quiet as I could. When I got older, I went my way and I worked a lot too, and he and I never got to know one another. So he and I weren’t involved in one another’s lives at all.

Yesterday, I went over to my sister’s house to meet up with the rest of the family so we could all go together to the funeral home for the viewing. She (my sister) walked into the kitchen and I looked at her, and I asked her, “when did you start wearing glasses?”

“About four years ago,” she responded.

My sister has been wearing glasses for four years and I just noticed.

Well, we went to the viewing. I knew nearly no one there. Lots of people poured through, lots of people… and almost all of them I didn’t know. Probably a few of them were there out of filial duty, but it was obvious Donnie was well-loved and well-respected by an overwhelming number of people.

In the casket was a picture of Donnie and Linda, my sister, in formal clothing. It looked way too recent to be a wedding photo, but I asked anyway. Linda told me it was when he was being honored for bravery. He and a co-worker rescued a man and his family from a burning house about eight years ago. Went in, woke them up, got them out, hooked up a hose, and by the time the fire company got there Donnie and his co-worker had put out the fire. And I didn’t know this.

When I got home, I figured I’d post something on the newsgroup about Donnie’s death. Donnie was a part-time radio DJ who played old-time country music, and the musical group he and my sister and my parents formed are fairly well-known among people who appreciate old-time country music. When I got there, though, I found someone had beaten me to it. It hit me then that he was important to more than just the people who attended the viewing; he was important in some way to thousands of people all over the world.

So now I’m wondering what else I didn’t know. I’m thinking of all those people and what they knew about him and the people who were touched by his art. And it’s dawning on me that I was wrong when I thought I hadn’t lost anyone. There was a guy whom I could have spent time with, whose company I could have enjoyed, whose interests I could have shared, and with whom I could have made music.

You bet I lost someone.

I didn’t lose him Saturday, though. I lost him all my life.

Written by Michael DeBusk

December 17th, 2007 at 2:08 pm

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