Friday, January 10, 2014

What the Dead Do

It's been four months since losing my brother to suicide and I have just spent an amazing week with my eldest sister - she and I alone. Because she is 18 years older than me and our brother was 14 years older than me, I did not have much 'we' time with my sister over my lifetime. She married young and started raising a family while I was still learning the alphabet. My brother, however, seemed ever-present and a companion in good times and bad. His loss, as readers of this blog know, has been particularly hard on me.

Yesterday, my sister and I went on the Silent Cities tour at Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina where I own a condo. Besides being bounced around like balls in a Bingo barrel, we didn't fully realize where we were headed for the two-hour-tour. We visited cemeteries in this 4000-acre plus plantation, gardens, and sculpture fantasia - one erected by the original European owners in the 1700s and another cobbled together on owner-donated scrub land by the African slaves who had worked the richest rice plantation in America pre- and post-Civil War.

Some of the Africans were enslaved when born and free when they died. Many were children in both. Understandably, the customs of each were vastly different, mainly due to economics. The European-Americans erected large rectangular monuments using marble and lengthy engravings about how one lived and died. The slaves would mark a loved one's grave with a shell or a rock or a hardened bag of cement. Some fashioned headstones and engraved them using a nail. Particularly touching was a child's grave with ancient toys placed all around it; untouched as is the custom. Anything placed on a slave grave stays at the gravesite and Brookgreen staff make sure to honor this tradition.

A slave grave marker created using a bag of cement. 
So stepping lightly among the barely visible 'head' stones and the larger more prominent ones, I realized that my sister and I were visiting cemeteries on the date our father died in 2002, January 9th. I thought about this and teared up thinking how ironic it was that we were there on this day and, also, visiting the Silent Cities while still seriously mourning our brother.

Because of an enigma that occurred on the day he died, our sign that my brother is near is a soaring eagle so we kept looking for one to no avail. However, on the way out, we were struck by the beauty of an eagle sculpture crafted to appear in flight. There was our eagle.

Finally, I realized that our father and brother were busy arranging all of this - bringing my sister and I together, closer than ever before. We vowed to repeat a trip yearly. This never would have came about if our brother hadn't passed away.

The dead do things we don't expect. Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, Steve.

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I would be remiss if I didn't mention my two other living siblings who I love dearly and grew up with in an unusually blended household as described in my book DYING TO LIVE: Running backwards through cancer, Lupus and chronic illness. I always know they are there for me and I treasure our times together past and present. 

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