Two years ago this weekend my life, and that of my family, changed.
Two years ago this weekend, I got a call from my mom telling me my brother was dying. He was about to turn 56, and about to begin writing songs in earnest again, after a long career as a sound designer.
The next 2 months are hard to describe, so I’ll just say they were among the hardest of my life, not the least because my brother and his family didn’t really want anyone else around. (Trying to be diplomatic here…) Keeping everyone away made things harder for everyone, and I am still dealing with that part.
You see, my brother was a performer. I think he became a performer the first time he stepped on the stage when he was 12. He spent most of the rest of his life behind a facade – he was funny, talented, and bright, but he was also arrogant, quick to judge, and profoundly insecure.
He was friends with everyone but close to no-one. Not even, as it turns out, his own family.
Once he accepted the fact that he was dying, he set about planning his final performances. He planned his own “Wrap Party” – to be held a few weeks after he died. He was a performer to his very last day, and beyond.
So long as he was able to control the situation, he allowed a few people to visit him. My mom, who was dealing with cancer herself, got to see him more than most of us – she only lived a few blocks away. I saw him three times. I watched a performance of the last play he’d ever work on (they’re still using his music). It was totally surreal.
Our father was a performer too. He died on October 18 at the age of 48 by his own hand. I was 12, and my brother was 16. I adored my father, just as I adored my brother.
Although my brother harboured a deep and lasting resentment for all the things my father was and wasn’t, he surrounded himself with reminders of my father – he even wore the same cologne. It’s as though he needed to try and keep his father close, while publicly acting as though he didn’t. My brother’s family didn’t know how much of what my brother did and had was connected to my dad. I did.
There is a song I have associated with my dad ever since I first played it on our record player. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6. It is from the movie “The Five Pennies”:
It was my dad’s and my Special Song.
My dad had actually met some of these guys (the actors in the film) in Berlin. My dad was a well-known German actor and performer at the time.
It is also the song that my brother performed for his daughter at her wedding. He gave a lovely speech dedicating this song to her. I almost fell off my chair when I realized what song it was. It was all I could do to hold it together – and NO-ONE except my brother, my mom, and me knew how that song was connected to our family.
I never got the chance to ask my brother why he chose THAT particular song to sing to his daughter, but I can guess.
I still can’t listen to that song without crying, though now I cry for BOTH my dad, and my brother.
They were SO much alike. I suspect that on some level, they both knew it.