It was a year ago today that my phone rang in the early morning hours.
"You need to get here sooner than we planned."
"We have time. But you need to get here."
It was freezing cold outside. Al's car had flat, and we had left it in a parking lot. But we needed to get it out of the weather and into the garage.
"You need to get here."
"Everyone is coming... we want to wait for you to say goodbye."
We waited for a touch of daylight so we could change cars and head south.
It's an odd sensation. It was a week that had lows and medium lows. We knew by mid-week that things weren't great. But we thought we still had time.
"We will wait for you. But we will need to say goodbye."
The freezing cold. The quiet ride to my hometown. The cold walk from our car to a hospital room.
"Take all the time you need." "We can wait as long as you need."
The whispered words. The peaceful breathing sounds. The calm. The hushed moments of trying to take in every second. I needed to remember every moment, every sight.
In that last week, many of us couldn't be there with him. So we had made a sign to leave for - when - he woke up, with all of our pictures "You are not alone."
The beeping of machines and continued sounds of a hospital room echoed.
The moments that follow are sacred in my memory. Shared stories. Laughter through tears.
And always the touching of hands, shoulders, heads... the patting. Patting is our thing.
One year later - every sight and sound is etched on my heart. It's a record of a day that I still have playing on repeat.
I have said it before, probably because I read it somewhere, that great grief is the leftover from great love. My brother, he loved well. So we grieve with intensity still. If you were his people, you knew you were loved. He was a fierce protector. He was a big dude but he also had a big heart. He was a mess. But aren't we all? He had a wicked sense of humor. In my mind I can easily hear him roaring with laughter as I did one crazy thing or another. He was my big brother. He was one of a kind. When you're little you think that your big brother hung the moon. When you get older, you realize they aren't perfect but there is still always something special about the person who paved the way for you in the family... in life.
"Take all the time you need."
Ok. I'm still here, taking my time. Still loving you. Waiting until I get to see you again.
Love you big brother.