“Oh brother, I can’t get through. I’ve been tryin’ hard to reach you, ’cause I wanna talk to you.” — ‘Talk’ by Coldplay
This past July, my brother Eddie went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Before the fire broke out of the walls and engulfed his home, smoke inhalation kept him unconscious.
Once the flames became visible outside the house, neighbors called 9-1-1. As firemen doused the blaze, medics retrieved my brother from his bedroom. Despite radiant heat burns to his temple and biceps, my brother kept a pulse while his condition remained grave.
Rushed to the medical center, Eddie was pronounced dead on arrival. This all happened on a Sunday morning. The following day would have been my brother’s 52nd birthday.
Divorced and living on his own, no one else was in the house. Once Eddie was identified, the police notified my parents.
My brother and I weren’t the best of friends, but remained close. A bond that other distant brothers could understand. There were no hard feelings between us and I don’t harbor the woulda, coulda, shoulda regrets.
It is what it is — or was. We were different guys and grew apart over the years. That said, once Eddie discovered texting, we reconnected.
Up until his death, my brother had been managing a custody battle. He was also a twice-divorced father with two sons. Edward, 22, from his first marriage, and Enrico, 10, from his second. The week before the fire, Eddie texted me.
Eddie: I’m starting to get Enrico every other Saturday from noon to 5. He wants to see you. Let’s make it happen.
Me: Cool. I’d love to see you guys. Let me know.
Eddie: Good. Now go home and get your shine box.
Me: Ha. They didn’t tell you? I don’t shine shoes no more.
Eddie: Then quit jerkin’ off and find a girlfriend. I’ll talk to you next week.
I knew I’d text Eddie on his birthday and to remind him about meeting-up. Instead of celebrating my brother’s birthday, I sat with my parents and my nephew Edward in a funeral home making arrangements.
In between the funeral parlor and the memorial service, I texted my brother for his birthday.
Even though you were a pain in the ass since we were kids, I’ll always miss you and love you. Oh yeah. Happy Birthday, Brother.
Eddie was a NASCAR fan and ‘Bristol Beneath The Lights’ remained his favorite race. A fun opportunity to nudge him with a text, reminding him of his treasured event.
Know what day it is, big cat? ‘Bristol Under The Lights’. Enjoy the race!
So much has changed and will never be the same. Bristol, holidays, and random texts come to mind. Of course, that’s the least of it.
My mother and sister have joined bereavement groups. My father speaks to my brother while gazing at his portrait above the mantle. My parents are coping without their son, my nephews are lost without their father. Eddie’s friends and colleagues remain heartbroken.
I refuse counseling because I don’t think I need it. I’m hurting in my own way but don’t wish to talk about it.
My parents’ pain only adds to my anguish. As their son, I feel helpless. I can’t imagine what they’re going through — unable to fathom the weight and depth of their loss. My nephews too.
Since my brother’s death, I found texting a way of ‘staying in touch’. A process of connection. Whenever it struck me to reach out, a little extra than just thinking about him.
How’s it going, bro? Miss you, man.
Where you at, big guy? Watching the World Series? I’m all in for Houston, how about you?
During the weeks after the tragedy, I’d find the right lane on the New Jersey Turnpike to ‘let it out’. Behind tinted windows, sunglasses, and light traffic — my downtime to face the grief.
That life switch still powers up and stirs emotions. It’s become less and less, while hoping I’m alone whenever The Long and Winding Road floats over the radio or through my ear buds at the gym.
My brother was a jokester and I like to think he still pranks us. Classic ‘rock blocks’ featuring Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, and AC/DC remind me he’s not really gone. I envision his spirit crashing the DJ booth for kicks and a message to his buddies and loved ones:
Stop crying and start laughing — all’s good in the outer limits.
The week of the previous Super Bowl, I decided to text my brother for old-times sake. I hadn’t reached out in awhile. Depressed, grieving, not in the mood.
Howdy Brother. Fly, Eagles, Fly.
That’s when the person with Eddie’s old cell number fired back:
Them: Who are you?
Me: Sorry, wrong number.
Me: Enjoy the Super Bowl.
Them: thx. go eagles.
This soul has no idea what that exchange meant and still means to me. Instead of a hostile comeback or a menacing phone call, I received what I needed — humanity. Thank you, Stranger.
I still feel my brother’s loss, but coping better than everyone else which brings me full circle and feeling guilty. Much of my pain has lifted, but blue moods remain.
I often yearn for that breakthrough. The landing spot where I’m reflecting on my brother’s humor. Recalling his jokes, comments, and stunts in lieu of sadness.
I still can’t believe this all happened and that Eddie’s really gone. It’s why I write about Eddie, or find an open road to tell my brother how much I love and miss him.