Friday, November 9, 2007

My brother (by Beth)

I am sorry I can't be present for my brother Alan's memorial service, but I am with you all in spirit. I want to give you my view of Alan, born 12 years before me and thus at some remove. You may or may not recognize the person I describe! but perhaps my experience of him will round out your own.

Our father, Daniel [middle name, last name], was an Irishman who emigrated to the US at age 20. His subsequent academic honors, achieved on the basis of a 6th grade education in Ireland, had almost mythic status within our family.  I believe that neither of his sons ever felt they could be the heroes of their own stories in the way he was of inadvertent burden he passed on to them. Also, being a man of the Old Country, he only learned as a grandfather how to share his tenderness with children. His sons, in
particular, did not experience an engaged father.

But--the brother I remember became a man of music and art.  Playing everything from Scott Joplin to Bach, he once told me he had to drop out of law school because its demands interfered with his piano lessons!  When my progressive deafness was diagnosed in the 1980's, he treated the 2 of us to a trip to the International Bach Festival on the island of Madeira, "so we can listen to Bach together before it's
too late." Around that same time he sent me a letter, accompanied by a tape recorder and speakers, in which he mentioned how happy this gesture made him and said, "I am finding it truly is more blessed to give than to receive."

The brother I remember chose beautiful and stylish jewelry, purses, scarves and pottery for the women in the family, seeking out artisans at local craft fairs and making a personal connection with them to add to the meaning of his gifts.

The brother I remember was a calligrapher, sketcher and watercolorist. He especially enjoyed drawing lighthouses. His favorite color was blue.

The brother I remember had a wicked sense of humor and, like his Irish ancestors, a love of the spoken and written word. An avid reader, one of his favorite authors was Thoreau. I have a letter from his brief time in Maine where he says he is aspiring to be the "family Thoreau of the North." One way he lived out his 'Thoreau nature' was through hiking, especially along the C&O Canal.

The brother I remember loved all things Irish, even though he never traveled to Ireland in his lifetime. He chose photographs, books,music and memorabilia that were Irish to enrich his life.

The images I hold in my heart of my brother span the gamut of a human life--expansive images of humor, generosity, artistry...and also images of roads not taken, or taken wrongly. He was not a 'perfect' man, but he was a beloved one.

Hold him gently in your hearts this day. Perhaps if he could he would say these words from the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh:

"O commemorate me where there is water,
canal water preferably, so stilly
greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
commemorate me thus beautifully,
where by a lock Niagarously roars
the falls for those who sit in the tremendous silence
of mid-July. 
A swan goes by head low with many apologies,
fantastic light looks through the eyes of bridges--
and look! a barge comes bringing
from far-flung towns mythologies.
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
tomb--just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by."

Elizabeth [middle and last name], Seattle


Blessedly, I did have these words to read at the official service.  Beth is a skilled writer who knows how to paint the picture and express herself.  My dad and her were the more gentle of the four children.  I'm happy she had input, yeah, I needed it, anyway, yet also thankful for it.  Then while I'd rather just observe and support, as the eldest and only one present with any potential words to say, I blundered through some not yet organized thoughts.  Ah, well, tis done.  I even pronounced "Niagariously" decently:)


  1. Such a moving and loving tribute, it reflects beautifully on the man that your dad was to inspire such words.--Sheria

  2. Beth did a beautiful job, and thank you so much for sharing it with us.


  3. This is lovely, you are right..she is a very good writer.  Very nice.

  4. What a wonderful tribute to her brother....June:)