|Terrence Malcolm Burpee 1953, Age 6|
The one who built me a doll house–
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.
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.