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  • Nothing really prepares you for when a sibling dies. While you're still a child, you start to realize that your parents are mere mortals, and that one day, you'll be without them. Still, nothing prepares you for when a sibling dies.

    For me, my father's death had brought me closer to one brother, and in a way, cut me loose from the other one. Without my dad there, there was no-one to mend the seams of our family's fabric. Without my dad, there was no-one to pull us all together. Without his gravitational pull, there was nothing to stop us spinning off into our own orbits.

    I loved my brother, but I didn't really like him. Earlier in our lives, he was the social climber that reinvented himself, the man without a past, the man that denied his working-class roots and his family. I hated the fact that part of me wanted to follow his example.

    He was the brother that didn't turn his back on his wife's mental illness, though he probably should have, as it ultimately killed him. Was he driven by love or fear? I'll never know, because Fort Knox would have been easier to break into than to get him to share his feelings, to let others see who he really was, and why he did what he did. I did turn my back on my first wife's mental illness, and I still struggle with that (would I have given up on our marriage if she'd had cancer or AIDS?). With hindsight, I wish that we'd talked about the why's and wherefore's of our respective decisions, the pros and the cons, and whether either of us had any regrets. Despite us taking different paths in life, understanding my brother would have helped me in understanding myself.

    I miss my brother, though if he was still with us, we wouldn't talk and wouldn't see each other. It is knowing that I can't do those things that is hard; knowing the conversations that we'll never have, the inner-most secrets that we'll never share.

    I can count the times that he opened up to me, the times that I got to see behind the curtain. Twice. Just twice in almost fifty years. Once when our father died, and then again about 18 months ago, when his wife's mental illness got too much for him to do the 'stiff upper lip' thing, and pretend that it wasn't so. Both times, the barriers came down for about 4 or 5 hours, and the next day, they were back up; impenetrable, unassailable, impassable. Both times, I wanted to believe the change was forever. The first time, I managed to convince myself, and felt betrayed when my 'real' brother was revealed as the man behind door number 3. If I'd have known then, that 5 hours was my lot, 5 hours was the limit for getting the brother that I'd always wanted, I'd have taken notes. I'd have savored every single moment.

    Towards the end, before I knew my brother was dying, I learned that he was an alcoholic. I didn't know what to do with that knowledge, so I didn't do anything. It didn't fit with my long-term pattern of hero-worshipping him (even when I didn't like what he did, or who he was), and so I chose to ignore it.. pretend that it wasn't so.

    At my brother's funeral, my other sibling delivered the eulogy, talking about the man that he'd known and loved deeply (even though he'd been hurt by his actions, too). I felt cheated, that the gap between our ages had robbed me of those good times. I did, and I do, love my brother. I miss him, and regret all the things that we never had, the words we never said and the experiences we never shared.
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