His daughters came up with a great idea for his 60th birthday gift. They asked family and friends to write down a memory or two about Mark and send it to them via email or snail mail. Their goal was to surprise him with 60 entries and read them out loud at his party in Virginia.
I thought about my brother and what to share. I was surprised at the struggle it was! My memories are of his broad loving smile, his compelling voice, and how he looks you straight in the eye. He kind of walks like a duck with his feet pointing outward and is usually humming something so out of tune it isn’t recognizable. I hear his laugh, but I can’t think of any of his jokes. I don’t have many memories of his actions, gifts or stuff, but rather when I think of him there are more remembrances of feelings and emotions. I feel protected, treasured, and loved but I’m not sure why. After struggling with what kind of memories was I going to write for his birthday, I finally came up with a couple of stories to share that I think help explain my struggle and why I love him so in absence of concrete memories.
When I was little, Mark used to pin me down and get the dog to lick my face until it was full of slobber. I usually ended up laughing my head off, crying, peeing my pants, or some combination thereof. I yelled and tried to escape his grasp and Mom would say “that’s his way of showing he loves you!” Uh, right Mom. But I remember his strength, his laughter, and what a kick he got out of it asking the dog what “Ellie Babe” tasted like and if it was better than her dog food. I think now it was his 14 year old way of giving me affection, but maybe not. Still it was attention and I loved it.
More poignantly as an adult, I remember how Mark gently held and squeezed my hand at our mother’s memorial service. She died after a year of struggling with colon cancer at 72. I was sobbing uncontrollably in the chair behind him in the chapel. He reached around, put his hand out, and left it there for my taking. It was warm and kind. Afterwards, he buried my head in his chest, stroked my hair, and hugged me whispering “she loved you, I love you”.
So to my dear brother, thank you for giving me wonderful and memorable feelings and emotions. They are what stay in my heart between the times we are together. I’d rather have those than random visions of things you did or didn’t do, mistakes you made, or acts that might serve as fodder for others to tease you. I know some of those were your birthday “gift” from other family and friends.
As I grow old and my memory falters, it won’t matter what you did anyway. It’s what I feel and what you mean to me that stays forever.
So to end as Teri often does, this is my wish for you: If you have relationships that are long distant or infrequent, try to leave laughter, kindness and love in your wake. Don’t worry so much about trying to make memories with acts or stuff. Smile, hold their hand, and give them a hug. Some actions will be remembered, and others will not. Focus on sharing your heart because in the grand scheme of things that is what truly will be remembered.