Two words as intertwined as a caduceus, as inseparable as bacon and eggs and as insuperable as Everest to a toddler. Families are what they are and there is almost nothing we can do about it.
My brother died a premature death on Tuesday, aged fifty-five, a brilliant man and a tragically wasted life. I have not seen or spoken to him in thirteen years and cannot imagine what harm I, or indeed my sister, did to him that he cut us so entirely out of his life.
I found out about his death quite by accident and have been, understandably, in a bit of a blue funk since hearing of his death. I have subsequently found out that he had, in that time, divorced, remarried and divorced again. And all the while, ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics is going through my mind.
I live in Alberton, he in Linbro Park and we had not seen, or spoken to each other in thirteen years. I telephoned, left voicemail messages, e-mailed and SMSd him, as did my sister in Cape Town. To no avail. He died all alone and, by the sounds of it, slowly.
When we were younger (there was a five-year gap between us) we were as close as twins. He was, until I met my wife, my best friend. I would rather spend time with him than anyone I could think of. I bought him his first real cricket bat; a Grey Nichol Cambridge. I was already working and he was in matric, so it was a fitting gift from one cricket nut to another.
When I got married, he hitched up to Joburg to be my best man, and was an instant hit with my sisters-in-law, who set their caps for him in a quite obvious way. He had a streak of stinginess a mile deep and overcame it to become a truly generous person, although every now and then his true nature would surface.
I’m writing this for a reason.
When I married, my in-laws treated me like the son they never had and, because my father was the old-fashioned kind who believed that you showed love by supporting your family, I made sure my wife and sons are never in any doubt as to how much I love them. I tell them. All the time.
And it bears dividends. When my oldest son was about four, he was sitting on the carpet, watching TV, and he turned to me and said, ‘Love you, daddy,’ and went back to watching his show. He is now thirty-four and my younger son twenty-five and we still kiss.
I’ve been agonising over what more I could have done. My wife says I did everything in my power, but that’s not true. I could have gone to his business and confronted him. I could have gone to his home and waited for him and confronted him. I did none of those things and now I never can.
Family and friends are precious and we cannot afford to let breaks occur in any relationship and let it go until we’ve tried everything in our power, even if it includes crawling. There may be embarrassment, but no shame. Loss of pride is not loss of dignity, but far too often we confuse the two.
If you have a family member with whom you have nothing to do, or if the rift between you is too great to repair, please take my advice and crawl. Crawling may be uncomfortable, but it is nowhere near the discomfort of ‘what if?’
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