Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Photos from my brother's funeral, and other thoughts

About mid-afternoon today the boys were playing a video game together, and getting along pretty well doing so, so I took a chance and sat down at my computer. I opened up Lightroom, and remembering the pictures I had taken at my brother's funeral, almost 3 months ago, but had till today been avoiding doing anything with, I went ahead and opened those up. It was bittersweet, remembering that day and seeing the sadness in everyone's faces captured in the photos. I didn't take many, but at the time I felt a strong urge to capture the moments and was trying to do at least a bit of that. Most of them, of course, aren't of the actual funeral, but of my family setting things up at the church beforehand-- putting up pictures, and the kids running around as a welcome distraction and reason to smile here and there.

I think I have a nearly identical shot from our wedding, which was held at this same church. 

JC's birthday came and went last month, the 20th of August. He would have been 40 years old. The boys and I re-watched Star Wars episodes 4 and 5 together, in his honor (I finished up with Return of the Jedi after the boys were asleep). Tears came and went throughout the day, but overall it was ok.  A few friends left sweet birthday messages on his facebook wall, mostly imagining him celebrating his birthday up in Heaven. I don't share their views of Heaven as a place or what happens to us after we die, but I still found their words comforting as the love they had for him shone through. One of the hardest parts for me is thinking of the missed opportunities, watching Dono get so into playing Star Wars games and trying to make his own movies, how much they could have bonded over those things in the years ahead. D reminds me a lot of him, actually, in small ways.

A few weeks ago my dear friend Jeremy, who so often seems to know what it is I need to hear, referred me to a song by the Avett Brothers called Murder in the City. I had heard the song in passing before, but never really listened to the words. So I pulled it up on spotify and listened to it, and instantly felt like it was speaking right to me.  There's the last verse about the love shared among siblings, that I can't stop thinking about. But also at the beginning, the song starts out with If I get murdered in the city/ Don't go revenging in my name. The best explanation we got for why he died was that it was long belated after-effects of the brain tumor he had battled and beaten something like 15 years before, but had left behind enough damage in his immune system and finally did him in. I had been feeling so angry at cancer, that insidious bastard that somehow still managed to kill him, but when I heard that line of the song it's like I could hear JC telling me to let that go, that it's no use being angry. To not waste my energy on being mad at things that can't be changed but instead to "pay attention to the list," to the way he lived life and things he found important-- family, community, making other people's lives better in whatever ways he could-- and do the same in his honor. I've been listening to that song a lot lately, and the Avett Brothers in general. I fear they are doomed to be one of those bands whose music becomes forever associated with a particular point in my life, where it may later on be difficult to hear that music on its own (or maybe not... maybe that connection will always be bittersweet with a slight emphasis on the sweet over the bitter), but there's just something about them that feels soothing these days. 

There are so many little things that just feel so strange now. Like there was an email going back and forth among my sisters and mom and I, and when I looked at the address field it seemed so short, his email so obviously missing. Our family just feels so much smaller all of a sudden. 

We spent those days leading up to the funeral looking through all our pictures, new and old, for good ones of JC to share and display. We all know the joke of how our generation has so few pictures from our childhoods because film was expensive, but I was impressed by how despite the cost of film, and despite a global move where so many other things were lost or left behind, we still had a plethora of family photos to look through and re-discover. We even found a bunch of photos JC had taken himself, as a kid, of his action figures posed around the backyard in different fight scenes (again, so many similarities with my kids now). We filled that sanctuary with JC through the ages. There were so many different sides of him present that day, as each of us-- his family, new and old; a few of his childhood friends who attended; all his church friends who knew him as a adult and through his involvement with the child programs and the audio equipment; etc-- we each knew a slightly different version of him, and were able to give the gift of sharing our knowledge of him with each other, to broaden each of our understandings of just who he was. 

And lastly, there is one of my favorite pictures of the day-- JC's funeral portrait, with a running Quinn photobomb. He would definitely have smiled at this picture.

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