Saying Goodbye to Alex

About the time this post hits the Internet, I will be airborne on my way to Detroit. There I will get in a rental car, drive to Flint, and check in to my hotel. I don’t see my older brother very often — every few years — and this will be the first time since November of 2011. The mood will be more somber than usual. People are coming in from around the globe to say goodbye to his wife, Alex, who passed away on the morning of June 20th, of metastatic breast cancer.

I never met her, pre-diagnosis. I had hoped to meet her at my wedding, but that didn’t happen — her cancer had spread to her brain by then, and travel was a bit of an unknown as they started throwing around words like “gamma knife” and other obscure medical terms. The first time we talked face-to-face was in February of 2011, when I was passing through Detroit on my way home from my grandmother’s funeral, and I could see immediately why she and Reed clicked as well as they did. We stayed in-touch via Facebook and when she would routinely slaughter me at Words with Friends, and she and Reed stayed with us when they came to visit for Thanksgiving. We didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time we’d see her.

Life got in the way of death. But not in the way you’d hope it would.

So now, I’m winging my way across the Midwest, headed for Detroit, to say goodbye to a sister I wish I’d known better, and wish my boys had gotten to know (I think they would have loved her). I need to find a way to support my brother, and I don’t have the words. What do you say to a man in his 40’s who just lost his wife? How to tell a brother I’ve always looked up to, that I am here for him, even though I cannot even remotely fathom the loss he is enduring?

I don’t have answers to these questions. Nothing I can say will take away any of his pain — words are so feeble and meaningless at a time like this. All I have to offer is my time — whether that’s a ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. And even that doesn’t seem like it’s enough.