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Brother’s death stirs memories of shared childhood

Five things to do when a loved one dies

Losing someone isn't easy and there are many steps to be taken in handling their affairs. Here are five reminders that you may not have remembered in the midst of it all.
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Losing someone isn't easy and there are many steps to be taken in handling their affairs. Here are five reminders that you may not have remembered in the midst of it all.

He was a long distance trucker in the days when truckers were considered the Knights of the Highway. He was an opinionated redneck. He was a chain smoker for most of his 77 years. He was my only brother.

My brother, Mike, was on the road in the years when the interstate highways were new. In those days, motorists counted on truckers to be the first to spot hazards ahead. With their CB Radios — later made laughable by movies like “Smokey and the Bandit”— they’d help motorists in trouble. For our family, there was a scary early morning in 1963 when a convoy of these Knights shepherded us around an icy pileup on Route 66 out of Joplin, Missouri. “You can always trust the truckers,” my husband said then.

My brother and I hadn’t spoken in years. Phone calls ended in hang-ups. We were just too different. Finally, we settled into a nearly comfortable relationship. He didn’t want to talk, but he would accept presents. So I would send him packages and he would reply with written critiques of the hits and misses in his gift. I hoped for better times to come.

My brother died last Monday. Friends have been kind, but they have assumed that there is not a deep reservoir of grief, because we were not close. Psychologists point out that there’s often a very deep grief attached to the loss of the last sibling and the challenges raised by being a “Senior Orphan” or the last surviving member in a family.

Mike was the last person on earth who shared my memories of our growing up years.

It was harder in those days to live separate lives from our extended families. There was no way to get away from them, even when we wanted to

We had just moved to Spokane when Mike was born, living in an apartment converted from our landlady’s upstairs bedrooms. Mrs. Nichols frequently flew up the stairs (on her broom) to turn off lights or to check that the new baby wasn’t using too many resources.

In those days, when children roamed unsupervised all day, I was glad to play big sister to my beautiful blue-eyed, blonde brother. “He’s a real little towhead, isn’t he?” someone asked. I was insulted on his behalf. “Certainly not” I humpfed, not knowing that just meant very blonde, almost white, hair.

Our family had no car. Hardly anyone did. The Roysters had a car, but their dad was a banker. Once he drove us all home from school. It was heaven. My dad was a section hand for the Great Northern Railroad. We walked anywhere we needed to go, as God intended.

Only Mike would have been able to remember with me that time when my mother bought a car, got her drivers license, and drove the three of us to Portland all in one hair-raising day. By then I was out of high school and Mike was extorting money from my potential suitors by selling them information about my personal habits.

Mom bought a used bright red Chevy and had the dealer deliver it to the Department of Licensing where she cheerfully climbed in to take her driving test, undeterred by the fact that she’d never driven that car — or any car — before. The test took a very long time, and the examiner seemed rather shaken when they came back. “Did she pass, I asked?” He shuddered and said,”I’m afraid so” and then he tottered into his office and we three piled in the car and drove to the City of Roses .

I sent Mike his last package at Christmas and I received a glowing review. For the first time, he wrote, everything was perfect. “You’ve outdone yourself,” he said.

The Knights of the Highway have pretty much disappeared, it seems, and those gleaming interstates are now peppered with potholes. We like to think it’s never too late for a happy ending, Every once in awhile, though, time just runs out.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a columnist, humorist, professional speaker. Get in touch with her at 1-800-548-9264 or dorothy@itnevertoolate.com. Write PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327.

Book signings

  • May 18: The Pacific Northwest Shop, 2702 N. Proctor Street, Tacoma, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • May 9: Mothers Day Lunch, Lakewood Senior Activity Center, 9112 Lakewood Dr. SW, Lakewood, 1 p.m.
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