On the afternoons that I stayed with my brother Don in the final three months of his life, I found myself on many occasions answering the phone. Some of the calls were from solicitors who said they would call back later. Other calls were from family members, or friends of Don’s, who usually recognized my voice, since they were aware that I was often spending time with him. When I answered the phone I would simply say, “hello,” until one day when Don’s mother-in-law almost had a coronary, thinking that Don had not only regained his ability to walk to the phone, but also his speech. Henceforth, I answered the phone, “hello, this is Mike, Don’s brother.”
So in the summer of 2012, it became very natural to refer to myself this way. After all, most people at various times use an appositive in reference to themselves. I already was the dad, the husband, the son. I also had been the teacher and the coach. At other times I had even been Mike, the runner and Mike, the hiker. But during those hot summer days of 2012, none suited me like my role of Mike, Don’s brother.
On the evening of the visitation prior to Don’s following day Memorial Service, I lined up with the rest of our family to greet a multitude of visitors who had come to offer their condolences as well as to show their respect for my brother. Many were friends of the family or members of our church that I already knew. Some, however, were people I had never seen before that evening. So when gentlemen in dark suits or casual attire introduced themselves as having worked with Don, I stated, “Thank you for coming; I’m Mike, Don’s brother.” When others stated that they had been in a hunting club with Don, I thanked them and said, “I’m Mike, Don’s brother.” When some said they had fished in tournaments with my brother, again, I offered my appreciation for their coming, followed by, “I’m Mike, Don’s brother.”
The line of visitors wound down the hallway of the mortuary, out to the parking lot, and around the building, I was told. Those who had played on a softball team with Don, one even in uniform, offered their remorse, and I accepted after telling them that I was Mike, Don’s brother. Over the three hours that I, along with members of our family, greeted the many who had stood in line to express their love, or respect, or to tell us how much they already missed my brother, I must have identified myself dozens of times as Don’s brother. And each time I said it, I became even more proud of indeed being Don’s brother.
So as I set out from Springer in March for what I hope will be a five month journey to Katahdin, I’ll carry the memory of my brother Don with me every step of the way. I’ll admire a fishing pond and think of Don. I’ll watch a deer feeding under a budding tree, and I’ll remember my brother. Don won’t just be in my mind. He will be with me. As I embark on this journey, this fulfillment of a dream, this undertaking that will require all the physical, mental, and emotional strength that God grants me, I will travel toward my destination, proudly, as Don’s Brother.