Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mantel of Memories

One of my favorite books is Pictures the Heart Remembers by John Trent, Phd. It is a book about Building Memories of Love and Acceptance in Your Family. Included in the book is a 31 day plan for building that blessing into your life. Each and every thoughtful idea I have found to be exciting to put into practice in my own life. The rewards of building family memories through scrapbooks, intangible gifts, books, events and even small gestures have been incredible. Perhaps some would consider it happenstance that I found myself reading the idea for Day 29 on September 2nd, the birthday of my deceased brother Mark. I found it to be a healing experience as I hope to share with you. Perhaps you will feel compelled to honor the memory of a loved one in your life.

On September 2, 1960, Mark Edwin Green was born into our family, the first male child born to Edwin and Betty Green. I was the firstborn and my younger sister Patty came along three years after. I still have a few vague memories of the day my brother came home from the hospital. My maternal grandmother had come to stay with my sister and I while mom was bringing our new sibling into the world. I went off to third grade and my sister must have remained at home with my grandmother. We were terribly excited about a new baby coming and since it was before the time of ultrasound had no idea whether we would be welcoming a brother or sister into our family. The day they brought him home was a happy day.

In Pictures the Heart Remembers, I realized how important our pictures are in helping our minds redeem past memories. If you were to look through the photographs of my brother, you would see three brown eyed, brown haired children, scrubbed and dressed for Easter or enjoying gifts at Christmas. While we have a great stash of pictures, in those days every single activity of life was not recorded as they tend to be today. One of my favorite pictures of my baby brother was the one taken at Christmas in which he was decked out in baby size boxer trunks, wearing a pair of child-size boxing gloves. I have no idea where my mother and father found these priceless reminders of my dad's boxing career. We still possess the trunks but have lost the precious gloves worn by those tiny hands. The obvious pleasure of my father and my brother bring a smile to my lips every time I look on this photo.

Some memories need no photograph to be brought to mind. I remember the day my brother, in boyish innocence decided to crown my sister with the bar that had once served as a handle on our swing set. The blood that came rushing from my sister's head permanently imprinted this memory on my brain and most likely my sister's as well. We were always in the backyard playing together and most probably my brother was not excited about my sister and I lying in the grass trying out the latest exercise moves we'd seen on television.

My brother was an outdoorsy kind of guy. Once when he was a small boy, my mother found a notebook where he had recorded things about birds he'd been watching through his bedroom window. As he grew into a man, he loved fishing and even became quite talented as a taxidermist. He also learned the trade of my father and became a brickmason which meant he had a muscular physique and almost always a healthy tan. I can still remember the white lines on his forehead when he removed the cap he wore while working. As a boy, he had the sweetest grin with a peppering of freckles over his nose and cheeks. He grew to be quite handsome, a guy who loved to laugh and joke around.

The birth of his babies are another of my favorite memories. Seeing my brother decked out in blue hat, and literally covered from head to his shoes with a blue paper like outfit to await the birth of his babies in the delivery room will always be etched in my mind. A proud father is a sight to see, as we all know, and my brother was one of the proudest. A son, Zachary, and then later a daughter named Sydney came into his life, forever changing the landscape of his life and that of my family. Births followed by birthdays complete with birthday parties and family events are the ways families are built. Our family has always found reason to celebrate the special events and our brother's 40th birthday was no different.

On the weekend before my brother was to observe his 40th birthday, September 2, 2000, we gathered at my sister's home to celebrate with cake and candles and lots of laughs as my brother entertained us with his usual banter. Sitting at the head of the dining room table in his blue and white shirt, he blew out his candles and perhaps made a wish. This was the last time I saw my baby brother alive this side of eternity. I'm so happy for the occasion to celebrate his life because 4 days later, I received a call saying he had passed away. For our family, the sudden shock of losing son, father, brother, uncle was devastating. Our belief that we would see him again one day in heaven sustained us throughout our time of grieving.

Day 29---"Honor the memory of someone who blessed  you." How do you honor the memory of someone you shared 40 years with on this earth? I believe it's in the simple act of sharing your memories with others. My grandchildren never met my brother, but they have asked me about the single picture I have of my brother and I as adults, sitting together on the deck at my sister's house for a "family event." It was just another spring day, our family gathered for a cookout and enjoying each other's company. This one memory stands out above all the others for me. Silly, but it's real and runs like a tape inside my head. My brother and I discovered an inch worm on the deck. We began to play around with it and it absolutely froze in a position at the edge of the deck. I still don't recall why we found this so hilarious but we laughed out loud for quite some time as we tried to get this tiny inchworm to move. Everytime I look at this photo and everytime I see an inchworm, I think of my baby brother. If I get still, I can still hear his voice, his laugh, and see the crinkles around his eyes as I bring this memory into focus.

This week my baby brother would have observed his 50th birthday. I picture him in his high chair blowing out the candles on his first birthday cake, captured on camera so many years ago. I see him leaning in to blow out the candles on his 40th birthday cake, just days before he left us for heaven. And then, I frame a picture in my mind of a hgroup of people including my mother, grandmothers, grandfathers, father-in-law and so many others surrounding him as he blows out the candles on a cake there before him in heaven. Perhaps he made a wish. If I were to guess what that wish might have been, I'd say..."Let my family and friends be sustained by the love and the memories until they join me here."
Happy Birthday baby brother!

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