Monday, April 11, 2011


My brother's name was Jay. He died last week, April 1, 2011, far too young. He was 24 years old. 

My brother and I have not always been on good terms. Though we were very close as children, in the past few years we’ve had some knock-down, drag-out, hit-below-the-belt fights, mostly over things that don’t seem so important now.

I moved back to Charleston, SC in August of 2010, shortly after graduating from law school in Tuscaloosa, AL. At that point, Jay and I didn’t have much of a relationship. While I was falling back in love with Charleston, Jay was stumbling into bad situations. In January of 2011 he realized he needed a new start in a new town, so he asked me if he could move to Charleston. Because of our troubled past, because I didn't trust him based on his past behavior, and because I felt protective of my life in Charleston, I almost said no.

At my best moments, when I'm thinking clearly and long-term and am able to separate anger from fact, I have a life philosophy that goes something like this:

When I’m old and frail and I look back on the many times when I made the wrong decision  and everyone is wrong once in a while  I hope my wrong choices will have been wrong on the side of being too loving, too open-minded, too gracious, too kind, too trusting, too generous, or too forgiving. Since we're all human and we all fail in ways big and small every single day, being right all the time isn't the alternative. The alternative is having erred on the side of hate, bigotry, mercilessness, selfishness, pessimism, and greed. That's not the life I want to live.

With that in mind, how could I refuse to help give my brother a new start, no matter what had happened in the past?

True to form, Jay made friends in Charleston faster than anyone I’ve ever met. Within a week, I had to call Jay to find out what my own friends were up to.

Jay & Cinnamon, clearly in love.
Jay convinced a waitress at Waffle House named Cinnamon that he was going to ask for her hand in marriage. Jay, my roommate Chandler and I took walks to the battery, through the beautiful wealthy neighborhoods in downtown Charleston, and made a game of guessing how much each mansion cost.

My neighbor, who we nicknamed “Cousin Curtis,” is an eccentric old man with several dozen birdhouses strung from the tree in his front yard. Jay and I spent hours making up a fictitious background story for Cousin Curtis. In our lively imaginations, Cousin Curtis' alarmed storage shed in his back yard was obviously a meth lab... But only until we saw The Onion's "Justice Shed" report. From then on, Cousin Curtis was a patriot hero; he'd obviously built his own Justice Shed.

Jay started a running joke. When we were out in a group, he'd get everyone’s attention and say “Hey guys, remember that time when I…” and fill in the rest with something endearingly ridiculous. “Hey guys, remember that time when I invented windshield wipers?” “Hey guys, see that huge fish mounted on the wall? Remember that time when I killed it with my bare hands?” Once during March Madness he announced "You guys, remember when I invented basketball? I had NO IDEA it'd get this big!"

Tara Reid (titled"Dirty Martini," by Peter O'Neill)

In one of our favorite restaurants in Charleston there’s a painting by an artist named Peter O'Neill. It shows a nondescript blonde woman in a black evening gown looking over her shoulder. Jay decided she looked like his crush, the celebrity Tara Reid, and had us laughing for 10 minutes when he declared “Hey guys, you’ll never believe what I had to do to get Tara Reid to pose for that painting.”

Although Jay’s life didn't play out like we all wished it had, I’ll always be tremendously grateful for the two months that he lived with me in lovely, familiar, healing Charleston. I had some strangely merry, revealing, restorative times with Jay, my brother who I'd grown up with; the only brother I had, who I fought with and fought for with equal ferocity. Until he moved to Charleston, I hadn't seen my brother  with his true, untouched-by-drugs personality  in four or five years.

For far too short a time, free from the things that dragged him down during the last years of his life, I got my brother back.

*Added at a later date: If this had to happen  and I do not accept that it did, I do not believe it should have happened  but working with reality, knowing that it did happen, I am so, so grateful for my time with Jay in Charleston for the few months before he died.

Knowing that I truly did the right thing even when it was incredibly hard, that I did more than most reasonable people would've done, has saved me from spiraling into a depression I'd never survive.

Jay, in a way you saved your older sister. Just like I tried  and wish so much that I'd succeeded in  saving you.


Legally Fabulous said...

I am so so sorry about the loss of your brother. Hugs.

E. McPan said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. Jay was lucky to have a sister like you who cared so much.

Sharon said...

I tried. I tried like I'd never tried hard at anything before.

I failed.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, you did not fail your brother...our days are numbered by Another...Psalm 139.

Ravi Krishna said...

Was surfing around and flew to your blog. Sad to hear about your brother.

Its always that when our loved ones are near to us, we dont have that much value, but once they are far from us, so far, that we are unable to reach our hands to them, we then start knowing the real value of them.

I think the way you realized about yourself, I believe, if you could ponder more, you can change your life more beautifully and also change the lives of the people around you

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear this. 1st of April sometimes is no joke....

BelloftheWeb said...

This is a beautifully written story. I am very sorry for your loss. I can't begin to imagine what emotions are running through your body. Thank you for sharing with us during this time in your life.

Sez said...

I am new to blogging and stumbled across your blog. I found your story really touching and I am sorry for your loss.
I think if anyone who reads this who abuses drugs will hopefully make them think twice about the effect it has not only on them but their loved ones around them

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss.....My brother passed away 20 years ago On Dec 19th....We had a troubled relationship due to his alchoholism and 10 year difference in age.....the evening he passed away we were getting along better than we had for years and we were enjoying each others company, he was also sober for a long time, then suddenly a freak car accident happened and he was took a long time for the sadness to creap away, but it did....sometimes it still grabs me.....the one thing that brings me to tears is that I can't remember his voice, or is it just that I can't visualize it anymore in my mind....There is really nothing I or anyone can say to ease your pain.....very sad.....but we still have our life and memories no matter how faint or must not forget that.
Your smile is radiant.

alcoholic mommy said...

so sorry to read your story and learn about the loss of your brother. my sister is heavily into drugs and i worry constantly. my heart and my prayers go out to you.