Memories of My Brother

Twenty years ago, my brother died of AIDS. I think about him a lot – nearly every day – and for some reason I am compelled to talk about him now. This is probably going to be a ramble so if you don’t feel like indulging me, it’s okay.

He was a funny kid – a bit of a loner. Chubby from day one and always made fun of by the other kids because of it. Looking back on it now, I wonder if he was diabetic, it does run in my family and he was positively addicted to sugar. He used to drink Hersey’s chocolate syrup straight from the can.

Whenever we argued about what to watch on television, he would win the argument by sitting on me. Decision made.

He was an artist. He always could draw and paint and did it effortlessly. And he would draw on anything. The last piece I had of his, was drawn on an old grocery bag – it was a self-portrait – very telling because I could see the resignation in his eyes.

He also was an actor and a comedian and was in countless school plays and skits. His most notable performance was of the father in the musical “Bye, bye, Birdie.” I remember sitting in the auditorium and watching him be so goofy onstage and how much people laughed at his antics.

When he was 21 he married his first and only girlfriend, Ginny. She was a sweet and shy girl. They had a daughter, Rebecca about a year later. Adorable, with big brown eyes with the nickname of Bunky. My parents adored her.

I fell out of touch with him for a while – sending and receiving the occasional letter. He was in Michigan and I was in California. Mom sent me pics of their new son, Andrew and a bit of news here and there.

Then came the letter. He had realized he’d been living a lie and was gay. I was stunned and yet not. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I had wondered about it. Naturally, since I come from a midwestern, blue-collar family, all hell broke loose. My parents ending up divorcing – his ex moved away and took the children. Alan, my brother, stayed in Michigan for a while and then moved to parts unknown.

For years, I interogated my mother about Alan. Did she know how he was? Where he was? How I could reach him? And she always insisted she did not.

About six months before he died, I had a horrible dream that we were both trapped on a tropical island and I watched as two men killed him. I tried to call out but could make no sound. I couldn’t move, I was helpless to help him. I woke and called my mother and asked her if he was sick or if something was wrong. She insisted he was okay but still would not tell me how to reach him or where he was.

In the summer of 1986, my little sister came out to spend the summer with me, my other sister was living in California at the time and my mother was on a cross-country vacation with her new beau. When she landed in California, we decided to all get together for a girl’s night. Which turned into a nightmare.

After a couple of glasses of wine, mom started to break the news to us. Alan had AIDS and was dying. Both my sisters and I were stunned and freaked. Not knowing what to say or do or how to feel. It was one of the most horrible days of my life. Fear and concern for him, regret of all the time I didn’t spend with him, all the laughs we never had, all the forgotten birthdays, the ‘I-love-you’s’ never spoken.

A sense of urgency overtook me and I stayed up all night writing him a letter – telling him everything that was in my heart. Telling him that there were no axes to grind, I loved him and always did and that was all that mattered. And that he shouldn’t worry about anything. He was loved, nothing to forgive. Period. I fed-exed the letter and heaved a sigh of relief when I got confirmation he had received it. I was mad at myself for not having the money to fly out – so broke at the time. I should have found a way, but I didn’t.

I called his ex, who had recently resurfaced with the kids and told her about Alan and gave her all the contact info for the hospital. I called my father and aunt and just everybody trying to find out more information because my mother had just disappeared on her vacation and nobody knew where the hell she was.

The next day my aunt called and told me Alan had passed away. His lung had collapsed and he didn’t survive the surgery. I spoke to his doctor and to his nurses. They were wonderful and kind people and talked to me for hours. For that, I thank them. I also spoke to the two friends who were with him the whole time, to the bitter end – Barbara and Jamie. To me, they are angels. I thank God, that they were there and that he didn’t die alone in a hospital in Boston.

I discovered he received my letter and his friend, Jamie read it to him many times before he died. And that the letter meant something to him. God bless Fed-Ex!

Unfortunately, Ginny didn’t have the time to get to Boston with the kids to say goodbye to their dad – but at least they knew where he was and what had happened to him. What comfort that is for them, I don’t know. And I have tried over the years to be whatever kind of connection I could be for them to him.

He was my brother and I loved him. And I miss him still. The world lost an artist and I lost my first best friend.


8 thoughts on “Memories of My Brother

  1. I can’t imagine how it is to lose an immediate family member, let alone one with whom I’d lost touch….I think it’s fantastic that you remember, and forgave, and shared. I’m guessing it doesn’t get any easier, even after 20 years hey?

    No Kel,

    It doesn’t get any easier. You find a place where you can tuck the grief away but it’s always accessible. Thanks for reading.



  2. This is a moving tribute to your brother, WC.
    Though we’ve talked about Alan before, the overall picture is now a bit more clear to me.
    Glad he got your letter.
    I’m sure it meant the world to him before he died.
    You’ve got a good soul.


    M, I have you to thank in a way for even being able to write this. It’s your bravery in writing about your mom that has enabled me to finally open this door. It’s a bastard, and I know you know that. Thanks, brother.



  3. I only remember him in bits & pieces, but I do remember one X-Mas when he gave me an art set for my birthday….I didn’t possess the art talent though, but it’s a memory forever burned in my heart….

    Love you, sis.



  4. I came here because you signed up for 2,996 and I was just verifying that the link was valid, but I stayed because the subject hit so close to home.

    I know all to well the feelings you describe. This November my father will have been dead 17 years. He also died from AIDS.

    I go through the same guilt you do…I should have visited more, etc., etc. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

    I’m very sorry for your loss.

    D, you have no idea how much your comments mean to me. I too, am sorry for your loss. God bless them both.



  5. You’re a lucky girl.

    If you didn’t go and had a drink with your mother you would never have known what happened to your brother.

    If you didn’t FEdExd the letter, he would never had read it.

    If he didn’t exist, you would never had the best memories of his school play.

    You would never had known him.

    You’re a lucky girl.

    And he’s lucky to have known you, for you write his life on electronic pages that will never go away. A part of his story now thrives all around the world.

    He must’ve liked that.

    Thank you, Roberto for your kind words. I hope you are right.



  6. Sorry for your loss. I, lost my husband to AIDS 13 years ago, and am living with HIV now, and sometimes feel bad because medicines were not as advanced then as they are now.

    I am glad that your brother knew he was loved. My husband lived in fear of being rejected, and I am going to begin fighting against stigma and discrimination.

    Anyway, God bless you..


    Thanks for coming by and your kind words about my brother. I am sorry for your loss as well. It must be so much more difficult to lose a spouse to this disease. It’s sad that there are those still who might attach stigma or discriminate against you because of your illness. I know you take comfort in your faith and am glad you have that and people who love you. In the end, isn’t that all that matters? God bless.



  7. I found people like you to be unique, I can tell you from what I read, you should not have any regrets. You in your power did all that was available to you, how great it is that his friend read your letter over and over?
    Healing sometimes takes longer and that is ok, trust me! take your time.
    God Bless.

    Thank you, Pia. What a sweet thing to say. You speak as though from experience. It’s hard – but best to remember the good things, yes?

    God Bless.



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