A few weeks ago cousin Mitch came out to California for a visit and shared a memory. That afternoon you and he were nine-year-olds in the woods near our house, while I was busy with sports and band and clubs a mile away at high school.
“I’m gonna die before I’m 60,” you told him.
“How do you know?” he said.
“I know,” you said.
50 years later brother Paul and I stood by helplessly, as you lay unconscious on a hospital bed in Florida, watching the moving lines on the monitors drop as lung cancer squeezed the last life out of you.
When I was able to get on a plane and visit you at Merriment Manor, I tried to persuade you to stop smoking.
“It won’t work,” the therapist said.
“Why not?” I said.
“That’s what schizophrenics do,” he said. “It’s one of their few reprieves from the crushing anxiety.”
Every week when I phoned, you always ended the call by saying, “You know I love you.”
“He told me the same thing,” Paul said in the hospital room as we watched your last sputtering breaths. So we started singing:
I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care ….
And we kept going, over and over and over as you left this world.
It’s taking me a long time to forgive myself. What if I had paid more attention, and stayed closer?
Have you forgiven yourself?
“You’re the older brother,” Mom used to tell me. “You have to set the example.”
What if we can both forgive ourselves and each other, now and forever?
“We are God’s teachers,” Rabbi Nachman said. “We set the example. If we forgive, God will forgive too.”
May it be so.