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Experiencing A Good Death- Remembering My Brother

(This is a repost from my old blog, I just couldn't write anything better today)

I never really talk about my brother. He was twenty-five years older than me, and he bounced around the country while I was growing up. We are both musicians; we are both realists, we both love our beer- although I've become more of a whiskey drinker- and I find myself sounding like him on more than one occasion.

I rarely speak about Chris because he died from complications due to treatment for melanoma and lymphoma, and it's tough for me to recall him without a lot of joy that balances with equal sorrow. But for some reason, this year, I am needing to write this out. So bare with me, I'm going to be an emotional mess.

It was May 2nd, 2006; I was out at Bachman's floral in South Minneapolis picking out flowers for my then girlfriends mom's birthday when I got a call from my Dad. I remember him telling me that Chris's liver had failed from the Chemo and Chris was not going to pursue any measures like dialysis to prolong his life.

Dad said, "Keep him in your prayers because he will likely pass tonight or early tomorrow."

I wasn't expected to up-end my 21-year old busy college life to sit next to a dying man, but dammit! He's my brother, and I love him! So I dropped off my passengers and went to the hospital to be with my family.

By the time I had gotten to his room, Chris was pretty doped up on Adovan. He was making up songs about the tree we could see from his hospital room window. He was speaking nonsense most of the time. But I remember him being clear for just a brief moment when I arrived and him looking me in the eye and saying, "I love you."

Then it was back to the nonsense.

As the hours passed, more and more of my family arrive to be with him. Eventually, all us brothers and sisters were there by his side. Hard as it was, this was one of the most beautiful moments I'll ever experience. When Chris' breaths grew shallow, and you could see that his body was ready to give up, our family, being the praying kind of group, grabbed hands, said a rosary, and stayed with him.

I distinctly remember how we went around the bed and each said our goodbyes and our favorite memories. The last two folks in the circle around Chris were Mom and Karen (his wife). The words my mom spoke are seared into my heart, and they will forever give me peace. She said,

"Christopher, I am your mother, and you know that you have been loved since before you were born. You've been loved your entire life, and you will continue to be loved after all of this."

Oh, My heart!

After Karen said her, "I love you(s)" and "goodbye(s)" to her husband it was just a few moments of silence when Chris tried to sit up, coughed a deep cough, and let go.

Friends, this is how death is supposed to be. Surrounded by love, hearing that truth of the love that brought you into the world. Knowing that as you sluff off this flesh and bone to be one with God again, love is the thread that weaves everything together.

It's not an easy thing to admit, but there is such a thing as a good death. My brother had one. I've known many others in my line of work who have experienced the same. And each time I sit down with a family to plan a loved one's funeral, I think about how much pain I still carry, and remember to be compassionate with those mourning.

I find myself wondering, 12 years later, how life would be so very different had this experience not happened. Would my daughters know their grizzly teddy bear of an uncle well? Would we have a family jam session now that I'm a bit more skilled in my musical talents? Would there be more folkie-bluesy Rock 'N Roll Albums?

That's a world we don't know, and if that world existed, I might not have the perspective I do on death, life, and joy.

So, before you log off this blog, I wanted to leave you with some music of my brothers. He was a pretty good song writer, and had alot of musical talent. This is the time of year when I dust off his CD's, (actually I pull them up on my computer) and enjoy hearing those stories in song from him


My Life - This was the song I arranged for piano and sang at the end of my college senior recital program. We played this recording at his funeral. I feel this is an essential song of Chris.

Three Finger Blues - Chris lost the end of his left hand ring finger in a band-saw when he was in college. The story includes sifting through saw dust to find the end of the finger in hopes of re-attaching it and riding on the back of a motorcycle to the ER.

The Blues Caught Me- This tune tells a the story of his life in Chicago while he worked on the tech side of the Chicago Tribune.

Uptown- Chris lived in Uptown Minneapolis for a lot of his adult life. I think this is when he really experience the most of his life until he built the cabin in Wisconsin.

Apathy- My brother, while a romantic in many ways, didn't invest too much time in the mushy stuff. At least that's how I perceived him. This song is how he feels about love songs (even though he's written plenty!). Hearing this song is likely why I love "Love Song" By Tantric so much.

Lastly, I have to share Warren Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart For a While" because this was the final piece of music I have attached to my brother as it was the last music used at his funeral. We played Chris' cover of the song, but I can't get it to upload to my blog, so you get the real deal from Warren.

I miss you, bro! Be with me as I continue to make music, and I'll keep you in my heart for a while.


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