|Left to right: Charlie, Mom, and Mike celebrating Hallowe'en|
We seek, we search, we look in all of the libraries and archives, the places in which we know we might find the lessons of the past. However, sometimes the lessons we can learn about family are not to be found within a text or a document. The people who can teach us about who we are as human beings are standing right before us, although we may not have taken the time to learn from them.
Over the last few weeks I have learned life lessons from observing the way in which my brother has conducted himself in dealing with another loss of enormous magnitude, the loss of his closest friend Charles, 'Charlie' to all of us.
Mike is a nurse in the highly specialized field of Nephrology, the branch of medicine that deals with diseases of the kidneys. Over the course of his career he has also worked in Critical Care and Cardiology, and has seen more tragedy than most of us will ever see in a lifetime.
His closest friend had an 'episode', as Mike described it, an episode that caused stroke-like symptoms which resulted in a major bleed in the brain. Mike's closest friend, Charlie, the man who has been like an older brother to him for years, fell into a coma and never again opened his eyes.
Although I am sure he knew his best friend Mike was there for him, Charlie was not awake to see Mike at his best. He did not see Mike explaining to Charlie's sons and siblings what had happened to their father and brother. Charlie did not see Mike standing next to his bedside for all of those days, waiting and hoping. He did not see Mike answering all of the questions Charlie's family had about their loved one, all the while trying to temper their hope without destroying it.
Charlie was not awake to see Mike in 'Nurse Mike mode', as he calls it, talking to the doctors on behalf of the family. He did not see his best friend support his children, as the the life support equipment was turned off last Wednesday. Mike calmly explained to them that their dad would peacefully fall into a deep sleep, and then the endless sleep that is death. Charlie was not awake to see the courage and the strength of his closest friend, who set aside his own feelings while guiding Charlie's family through this terrible time.
128 hours after being removed from life support, Charlie died. Mike could have fallen apart. He could have folded up into his grief, but he didn't. Without deliberation, he just knew Charlie's sons needed him to be strong, needed him to help them through the rest of this terrible time.
At the funeral home, Mike was there for all of the visitation hours, over a period of two days. He was there to talk to family members and friends, to talk with them and laugh with them, and remember his beloved best friend. He moved through it all with a single-minded determination, and reminded us many times how great a friend Charlie had been to him and to our family. Although there is no bloodline to prove connection, Charlie was like a brother and a son to us.
After our mom died, Charlie took Mike on a fishing trip. Charlie was an avid sportsman who loved to fish, and although Mike had been fishing with Charlie on many other occasions, he didn't have much luck catching fish. On this last trip Mike finally caught some fish, eight in total. Little did these friends know, they would never again go on a fishing trip together.
While Charlie was a fisherman, Mike is a life long runner. Mike introduced Charlie to the sport of running, and every spring the two men travelled together to compete in races at Berwick, Pennsylvania. Laid next to Charlie in his casket are the two medals which he earned running with Mike. Next year, Mike will carry on the tradition as Charlie's eldest son, Charles Junior, will travel to Berwick with his father's best friend.
Yesterday at the funeral I stood in the church with my husband and our sister-in-law, Mike's wife, and watched as my brother rose from the pew and walked to the altar to deliver a reading chosen by the family. Mike paused next to the casket of his beloved friend. Without a hint of self-consciousness, Mike placed his hand on the casket, bent over and gently kissed it.
Mike has a form of dyslexia, which means it is difficult for him to read; however, at the funeral my brother stood on the altar of the church, and read aloud that biblical reading in a clear and measured voice, without a single awkward pause. I imagined Charlie standing next to him on that altar, saying 'You did good Mike'. I wanted to clap for my brother, and cheer out loud for both of them.
Through all of this whenever anyone has praised Mike for the way in which he has handled everything, he has dismissed the praise saying, 'It's easy to do anything for Charlie, because he is my best friend'.
Words cannot adequately express my love for my brother, and how very proud of him I feel for the way in which he has dealt with the loss of his closest friend. I have seen him weep openly, while embracing others and taking on the pain they are feeling. I have watched Mike show an extraordinary level of selflessness, and a deep compassion for the family and friends of his closest friend.
Without realizing it, Mike has conveyed life lessons in his actions, lessons about openness, selflessness, acceptance, and true compassion toward others. None of these lessons was learned in a book or at an archive. All of them are about living a good life within our human family.