Friday, September 8, 2017

This Was My Brother

Terrence Malcolm Burpee  1953,  Age 6

This Was My Brother
        by Mona Gould

This was my brother
At Dieppe
Quietly a hero
Who gave his life
Like a gift,
Withholding nothing,
His youth...his love...
His enjoyment of being alive...
His future, like a book
With half the pages still uncut-

This was my brother
At Dieppe
The one who built me a doll house–
When I was seven,
Complete to the last small picture frame,
Nothing forgotten.

He was awfully good at fixing things,
At stepping into the breach when he was needed.
That's what he did at Dieppe;
He was needed.
And even Death must have been a little shamed
At his eagerness.

This poem first appeared in Tasting the Earth, Mona Gould, the MacMillan Company of Canada Ltd, 1943


I first read Mona Gould's lovely poem "This Was My Brother" when I was a young teacher. I came across it in an anthology, and discussed it with my class on Remembrance Day that year. I was teaching adults, and there were a couple of women in the group who were old enough to remember World War II. Seems funny now to think of my twenty-something self in my navy skirt suit and heels, standing in front of a class, teaching women some of whom were old enough to be my mother. We talked of the people the students knew who had been affected by the war. Family who had died in concentration camps, fathers and uncles killed in battle. One student explained how she had quit school to volunteer when the war started. I remember we discussed how moments of very personal loss seem to resonate more than pictures of devastation and horrifying statistics.

And so today, when the news is filled with pictures of the devastation wrought by hurricanes in the Caribbean, I can only focus on my own very personal loss. My big brother who fought his many illnesses and health challenges so bravely for so many years passed away this morning. His death was not unexpected. Not at all. We knew it was coming. In fact I've been waiting for the word for a couple of days now. Texting constantly to my nieces, and my sister Carolyn who drove down to New Brunswick on Tuesday. Talking on the phone to my Mum, and my step-brother. Alternately yearning for news, needing to know every detail of what was happening back home, and yet at the same time trying to distract myself from what was happening back home. 

So. My brother. He was not a war hero. He didn't give his life in battle. He wasn't even born when World War II started. But he certainly had battles of his own to fight. And that poem of Mona Gould's always, always makes me think of him.

This was my brother. Oldest child of four. Only boy. Manifestly adored by his mother and younger sisters. Smart aleck high school drop-out who never forgot the high school principal who told him he'd not amount to much. He says he remembered that every day as he built up his successful business. 

My brother. He loved fast cars, and motors of every kind. When he was a kid he took things apart. Mum says she stopped buying him watches because he always took them apart to see how they worked, and usually had a couple of extra parts left over when he put them back together. He loved fixing things. My niece says her son who as a child knew he wanted to fix cars when he grew up, learned that from my brother, his grandfather. 

My brother. Oldest child syndrome on steroids. Always looking after Mum and "the girls." Mum has letters he wrote home when he left Fredericton at age 18 to seek his fortune in the big city of Toronto. I read some of them last year, and laughed because a couple were half a page long with a big "Page One" written at the top. But they were filled with concern for what was going on at home. Was Mum okay? Did she need anything? Would she tell "the girls" that he'd send them money for their birthdays when he'd saved a little? He was always looking out for us.  

My brother. Husband, proud father, proud grandfather, successful businessman. Joker. King of the one-liners when we were kids. He loved drill-rigs, big steaks, and cold beer. He loved to fish although he hasn't been able to do it in years. He bought me my first fishing rod. 

This was my brother. Unfailingly kind and generous. He inherited his grandfather Sullivan's long skinny legs, and his mother's sarcastic humour. He was a heart-throb in his youth with his upturned collar and slicked-back hair. I remember in grade two being swarmed by junior high-school girls. "Oooh you're Terry Burpee's little sister aren't you?" Yep. That's me, proud to be known as Terry Burpee's little sister. As we all were. I remember when my sister Carolyn was in high school, a girl made friends with her, and inveigled herself an invitation to spend the weekend at our house, for the sole purpose, she later confessed, of a chance to see my brother Terry sleeping. 


And so dear brother, I hope you're sleeping well now. The long battle is done. We're all bereft. We will miss you every day. But as Mum said yesterday, there'll always be the memories. 





I debated about writing this post. Was it self-indulgent? Wallowing? Was speaking publicly of my brother's death somehow in poor taste? Maybe. But writing it has been calming. Helpful. Cathartic, even. I wrote it this morning and let it sit it all day to see if I changed my mind about posting it. Since you're reading this, I guess I didn't. 

62 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss, Sue. Although it was expected, that doesn't make it any easier for you and your family. My hugs and thoughts go out to you, x.

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  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. Always a reader, rarely a commenter, I just wanted to say I'm glad you decided to write -- and post -- this remembrance of your brother.

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  3. Sue, what a lovely tribute to your brother. I lost my father last week after a long illness, and I share your reluctance to publicize your grief. Ultimately we need to do whatever feels right to us that does not dishonor wishes of our loved ones. My father was a private person and so I have not posted anything publicly, but I have reached out to my community of friends for support.
    I suspect Terry would still be proud of his little sister.

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  4. I'm glad you decided to share this lovely tribute with us. My sincere condolences to you and your family -- wishing you strength and comfort in the days ahead. (Denise L.)

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  5. Dear Sue
    My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.
    Thanks for letting your blog friends know. I've often wondered how he was.
    Take care!
    Sincerely....Robin T

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  6. Beautifully written; thanks for sharing. Sending sympathy during this difficult time.

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  7. Oh dear how sad; I remember from earlier posts how concerned you were for your brother. Many condolences to the entire family. I'm glad you decided to let us know what you are going through. Perhaps later you will feel like sharing happier memories.

    ceci

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  8. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

    What you wrote was very moving.

    Suzanne

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  9. Oh not even remotely self-indulgent. I think we are facing, online, a time of life that's unexplored. I am sorry your brother is gone. I am sorry for the loss you must feel. And I think that by writing your feelings here, you are adding to our shared project of understanding this time and this age. Hugs to you Sue, if you want them. xoxox.

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  10. Loss, it's something we all share and understand, however reluctantly. Those who have the words write what we all know. Life is short, love endures. So sorry for your loss.

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  11. So sorry to hear this. My oldest brother died 8 years ago at the age of 46 and I know how difficult it is to watch your mother bury a child and his children mourn that loss. I just had a birthday and still miss the phone call and card that never comes. I think year 3 was the most difficult for me. You and your family will be in my prayers and thankful your brother is at peace. This gave me comfort when I lost mine. I appreciate your sharing. Our big brothers play a special place in our lives.

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  12. What an eloquent and heart-felt tribute to your big brother and the active role he played in your life. It was a privilege to read of his rich life...and of your "little sister adoration and great love" for him. I am so sorry for this loss for you and for your family. Thank you for sharing.
    Charlene H.

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  13. Not even close to self indulgent. Thank you for sharing your real life with us. My deepest sympathies to you and your family, Sue. We all have family and tragedy and loss. I can't imagine losing my big brother. Sending hugsxxxx.

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  14. Sue, I'm so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing with us a little piece of who your brother was - the world is obviously a poorer place without him.

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  15. Sorry for your loss but I'm sure it helped to write about him and you have lovely memories. It is not easy even when you know it will happen.

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  16. Thank you for sharing this. I feel the loss and love in your words. My condolences.

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  17. Sue,I'm so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful poem and memories-you were so happy and priledged to have one another.
    Yes,there'll always be the memories...
    Dottoressa

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  18. I'm so sorry Sue . Hope it has helped to write this tribute . I'm sure I'm not the only one with tears in their eyes for someone they never met . He sounds a lovely man . Wish I was there to give you a hug
    Wendy in York
    X

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  19. Thank you Sue. I didn't know the poem and I am grateful that you have shared it and trusted us enough to let us share a little of your life. I am so sorry to hear of your brother's death and wishe you strength for the coming weeks and joy in your shared family memories.
    Ceri in London

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  20. well done and well said. my condolences to you and your family.

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  21. I'm sorry about your brother. I like the poem too and will keep it to teach to youngsters for whom Dieppe is a story. Take care of yourself.

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  22. I'm so, so sorry for your loss. And I'm so grateful to you for posting this - as a blogger of a certain age with followers of a certain age, death is all around us and it's important to connect with others, even in the blogosphere, as we process the inevitable losses at this stage of our lives. Peace to you and your family. Lianne

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  23. You are so lucky to have had such a wonderful big brother, full of love and spirit. I'm so glad you shared. The poem is very beautiful. Hopefully,going forward,the good memories will help offset the pain of his loss. My sincerest condolences to you and your family.
    Take care of yourselves, Beth

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  24. A very fitting tribute. Big brothers are great. Be peaceful in the coming difficult times.

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  25. Writing down and sharing these stories is so important. I am sorry for your loss and I remember my own loss in your words. Sending light and love to you and your family.

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  26. September 8th is the anniversary of my wonderful Dad's passing. My thoughts were about him, our family, our memories. So I appreciated reading your poignant words about your beloved brother. It made me realise that we all grieve, we all mourn the loss of ones so much a part of us. Thanks, Susan, for your insight and eloquence.

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  27. A beautiful and obviously well deserved tribute, Sue. So sorry to hear this news and no, not at all self indulgent to share this with us all. I'd been wondering how things were, having read a recent comment on Frances' blog.
    I lost my eldest brother about 15 years ago, so I can understand how you feel and how very hard this will be for your mum. She's right though, good memories are so important as is family to share these memories with ...as I'm sure you will.
    Take care, thinking about you.
    Rosie

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  28. Thank you for sharing your brother's story. Writing can help. Thinking of you and your family with sympathy...

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  29. My deepest condolences. Not self indulgent in the least and I agree so much with what Lisa said. A part of the "aging" process that doesn't get discussed much.

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  30. So sorry for your loss Sue. What a lovely tribute to your brother and all the better if writing It in has in some way helped at this very difficult time. Sincere sympathies. Iris

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  31. Sorry for your loss Sue. Beautifully written and it's very clear that you and your family are left with wonderful memories of a great son, brother, father and grandfather. Wonderful tribute, hugs to you.

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  32. I am so sorry he is gone. I love his smile and your writing made my morning. I read it to my kid because I enjoyed it so much. Hugs and peace.

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  33. I can't respond to each of you individually at the moment. Just wanted to say I'm a bit overwhelmed at the response. And I wanted to thank everyone for the lovely comments, condolences, and good wishes. Terry would be tickled, I think, that so many are reading about him. And he'd probably say something sarcastic, and self-deprecating, and tear up a little. He was a great big softie for all he tried to hide it:)

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  34. May you and other loved ones rest easy.

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  35. What a beautiful tribute to a much loved brother. So very sorry for your loss.

    --Laurel

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  36. Sue, we have shared your holiday adventures, canoe trips, books read and wardrobe additions
    Now we can share your sorrow at your brother's death and also your proud and happy memories of him. Thank you for sharing. Jenny.

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  37. I'm so very sorry for your loss. We are never prepared even if we know it's going to be just a few days, weeks or months because of a diagnosis. It's never, ever easy. I wish you healing and all the best to you and your family.

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  38. Sue, I never had an older brother....I have always wished that I had one. In my imagination he would have been just like you described. Protective and caring depending on the situation...also with the teasing.
    I'm so sorry for the loss to your family...the memories live on.

    Ali

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  39. What a beautiful tribute. Hugs to you and your family

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  40. Sue, thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute with us. Love to you and your family. -Linda

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  41. I'm so sorry for your loss. May your brother rest in peace, and may memories of him be a comfort to you and your family.

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  42. Beautiful words. So sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  43. I am so sorry for your loss! What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing it. May you and your family continue to find comfort in beautiful memories.

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  44. I am so sorry for your loss. What a lovely tribute.

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  45. Sue, this was such a beautiful, heartfelt post. I am crying as I write this. Your love and admiration for your brother shines through in every word you've written here. Thank you for sharing these memories with your readers. To me, your brother is truly the personification of a hero - a person who lives their life quietly with love, courage, humor, compassion and strength. My deepest sympathy to you and your family but your Mum is so very right - you have the priceless gift of memories. They hurt now when the loss is so fresh, but as I know so well, they will be a comfort as time passes. You really will be able to remember hilarious times and laugh. You are so fortunate to have had such an remarkable brother and he was so lucky to have had a family who loved (and love) him so much.

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  46. Sympathy to you and your family.

    Lilibet

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  47. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. My heart feels for you and the other family members who have lost this very cherished individual who lived his life with dignity. It is a very difficult time for all who knew and loved him...a lovely, touching tribute to your brother and may many happier memories help to sustain you in the days to come. Sincere condolences, Alayne

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  48. I'm so very sorry for your loss, Susan, although I know you will also feel some relief for your brother, his suffering over. I know you're a close family and will be taking comfort in each other and in your memories, but what a tough time. Do be gentle with yourself. . .
    I must say I was surprised and delighted to find the Mona Gould poem here, in its entirety. I memorised that poem in Grade 7, and it's always stuck with me, phrases bubbling up unbidden from time to time.

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  49. So very sorry for the loss of your dear brother. Both of mine have passed, I feel their loss keenly. It is always too soon. Your selection of poem was perfect. Funny how a poem can express our exact feelings even if the settings are not identical. I wish you peace.

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  50. Such a lovely and heartfelt tribute to your brother. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  51. My heart goes out to you, there's nothing like a big brother. I offer these words from the Jewish tradition, knowing that they are already true for you and your whole family: May his memory be for a blessing.

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  52. I so sorry to hear about your brother. My heart goes out to you. What a lovely column you've written. I'm happy you chose to post it. I have an older brother too and it sounds like our family arrangement is somewhat similar.

    I'm sorry for your loss, Sue.

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  53. What a lovely poem and a wonderful tribute to your brother. What a gift to know how much he cared for his family. Thank you for sharing this with us in you time of loss.

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  54. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & memories of "your big brother" with us - not self-indulgent at all; more wise and trying to accept what is not really acceptable! What sad and tough days for your whole family, especially your Mom. My sympathies to all of you; I hope your brother is sleeping well.

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  55. Not self-indulgent at all. Thanks for sharing a little of your brother with us. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  56. I discovered your blog last spring and I've been "lurking" since. Love your thoughtfulness and insights. I, too, am sorry to hear the news of your brother. I had to finally write to tell you that the photograph of your brother that accompanies the story is adjacent to your profile picture; you are definitely related! From the mischievous twinkle in your eyes to your cheeky grins, from the growth patterns of your hair to the shape of your faces, you are connected. When you miss your brother most, look in the mirror, and he will be there.
    Wendy

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  57. I also have discovered your blog recently and absolutely love to read it. I have never written before but today I felt the need to express my sorrow at your loss. I have lost my big brother a few years ago and I know how you must feel. You have written a very moving and lovely tribute about your brother, he must have been a great guy. I wish you and your family all the very best .... Ursula from Germany

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  58. He will be missed, but what a legacy, what memories, what love. Such a perceptive and loving appreciation of a remarkable brother.

    Sue

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  59. Oh Sue, so very sorry for your loss. --Catbird Farm x

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  60. I am so sorry for your loss. Sending thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing him with us.

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  61. What a beautiful tribute to your brother! My heart goes out to you. Losing parents is hard enough; losing a sibling is another degree of loss.

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  62. How touching. Thank you. I was moved by your words and your brother.

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