Brotherly Bonds

Little David pulled open the door and held up his arms for a hug. Snot dripped from his nose onto his red plaid shirt. He wasn’t sick when I’d left two days ago to give birth in the local hospital that supported natural childbirth and had 8 beds in the maternity ward, but he had been worried.

“Protect the baby,” Vic’s mom said. She was at our house cooking pasta and tending David.

Vic and I disagreed with her. If the baby got a cold in his first week of life, so be it. David needed to hold his new brother and, sooner or later, the baby would get a cold. We didn’t have to worry about covid-19 then.

That winter, over 45 years ago, three-year-old David fretted as my belly grew. “It’s big, Mommy,” David said as he patted my belly. “How will it get out? Will you break?” We tried to explain, but I sometimes wondered myself. David was glad to see me in one piece.

“I love you, David,” I said as I rocked him in my arms. David glanced behind me at the front door. “Want to meet your brother?” David’s wide eyes said, “Yes, yes, yes.” I settled him in a large cushioned chair and motioned through the window for Vic to come in.

Vic opened the door carrying a bundle swaddled in February layers. He placed the bundle on David’s lap and opened the blankets to reveal a baby in a blue onesie. David’s right arm supported his brother’s back while his left hand cupped his brother’s cheek, pulling the little face closer, holding his brother all by himself. David’s eyes focused on Anthony’s face, his mouth wide with wonder. Snot dripped. Love dripped. Tears dripped from my eyes and Vic’s.

In two days, Anthony dripped with mucus while he nursed. Vic and I were relieved when the disapproving grandma left for Connecticut. Our dog Annie grabbed a quick lick of the baby’s snotty, milky face.

Looking back, I remembered a photo Vic took about six months later in the same chair with Anthony sitting on David’s lap. Could David’s eyes have held more love than that?  And another photo of them sitting on the ground in their twenties with David’s arm wrapped around his brother’s shoulder.

There were tense teenage years and distant years on opposite coasts, but on a recent visit, the first time we’d all been together for 10 months, I watched my two bearded sons lean into each other. I watched them share private jokes and work together.

When they posed for a photo at our friend Steve’s house, small smiles played on their lips. They each wore a cap that said something about what they’d lost since March. Green Gorilla Lounge for Anthony the dj whose music world slowed to a dribble during pandemic and an RR hat for Runaway Rocks, David’s disc golf course which sees less action  during covid times.

Both had been wounded by life and the loss of their beloved dad. Both had to give up dreams and plans this past year, but they still had their arms around each other, leaning with trust that the other would hold them strong.


With my brother Jim in 2015

I pray we remember as a nation and a world that we’re all brothers and sisters and need to take care of each other with compassion and heart.

Are you or were you close to your siblings? It can be a tricky relationship. My brother and I were friendly, but saw each other infrequently until my husband got cancer in 2006. Jim helped us find the best doctors, and after Vic died, he called every week and held my grief with patient kindness. When Jim got cancer, I was grateful I could support him and wrote about that time in Coming to Carry Him Home. I’m posting this blog on what would have been his 79th birthday. For a post about what my sons and I did in the days after their dad died, see Planting Joy in a Season of Sorrow.

  1. Oh, I love the slow drip, drip, drip of love that seeps into your words today! Thank you for sharing this beautiful, heartfelt post Elaine in a week that feels weighed down with worry about what will happen next in this most challenging of years.

    Wow, your pregnant belly was enormous! How wonderful it was to read of your son’s very first meeting … when David was presented with a (love) bundle swaddled in February layers and then six months later we see that both brothers totally bonded.

    It was so good to read that you all got to “physically” see each other recently. This must’ve meant a great deal to you all, especially after nearly a year apart and so many of your plans and dreams having been put to one side as the pandemic lingers.

    With compassion and heart may all the wounded sons and daughters of this earth find the strength and courage to not only heal but hold each other up when needed most. Lastly, the photo of you and your brother Jim is wonderful and so fitting for this lovely post.

    Sending love and light across the oceans and oaks between us, Deborah.

    • I’m laughing, Deborah. My pregnant belly was enormous and I was overwhelmed–so Vic made a little poster with my astrological aspects at the time (transiting Saturn conjunct natal Mars feels like a heavy rock in a backpack–or in one’s belly) and posed me for a photo showing that belly off in an old flannel nightgown. He made a joke out of my depressed energy and we both laughed. Anthony was a big baby, but the birth was easy and an experience of spiritual ecstasy, so that was a surprise. And he was the mellowest of babies after my psychologically difficult pregnancy. We can’t tell what will happen next.

      It was lovely to see my sons working and laughing together. We also took a beautiful hike at a place where I’d never been. We want to get together at Christmas so I hope it can be worked out. There are so many unknowns. Jim was my only sibling, so he came to mind as I spent time with my sons and watched them support each other. I’ll always think of you underneath that incredible oak. I find my stillpoint leaning into the biggest oaks in the forest, even if the wind is whipping through the leaves in the canopy. Blessed, earthy love to you.

  2. Your face – Saturn conjunct Mars. Perfect look for the times. So you.

    Re: siblings. With our oldest sister Devon gone, Gaila and I have learned to enjoy our twosomeness. It is very different being two rather than three sisters.
    I have found my sisterly bond gets stronger over time. And, because of Devon being gone we are more aware of the fragility of life and so appreciate each other all the more. It is one silver lining to the sorrow of death.

    Fun to see the pic series of the “boys”, now men.

    • I can only imagine going from 3 to 2, Lauren, and how the 2 would feel the fragility of life. I feel an added vulnerability since my brother’s death. He was so supportive when I crashed after my dad’s death when I was 14 and then after Vic’s death so many years later. He showed up with love both times. It made me happy to watch David and Anthony laugh, play, and work together in ways that reminded me so much of Vic. May we all stretch higher and dig deeper to see all human beings as brothers and sisters.

  3. Oh, and every time I lean into another oak elder, I think of you. The tiny video I sent last week of my Elven wife on the blue tree swing is the very same oak under which I recite “The Goddess and Her Green Man” poem each May. It’s becoming a ritual, one I enjoy. x

  4. It is a soft and beautiful tell about your memory on your second born-child. Thank you, also for the pic of this beauteous proud woman with her thick belly. I see this lovely picture of two brothers so tight together, but was it always so? As you might know, I can tell a lot about the “two brothers’ life” but what interested me is about their relationship. I am been told that my brother Al was very jealous of me when I freshly came into this world and had even suggested to father one day when mother wee out, to get rid of me! (I wrote it in one of my stories) I think it is almost normal when the age difference is not that big. When I watch my grandchildren these days, the older Mila is jealous of her brother Ilias and I have told my son and his wife that they must take care of it. Have you had such a problem? Thank you again and have a safe and nice time.

    • Thanks for your comment Aladin. I remember how much you loved your brother Al. David (the older by 3 1/2 years) didn’t show jealousy toward Anthony–and we expected that. We were surprised by how little jealousy or fighting there was when they were little boys, but we were careful to give David extra attention. Vic’s father had deserted him and so it was Vic’s goal to be a good father. He was attentive and read to David or played with him while I took care of the baby. Jealousy and arguments showed up when my sons were teenagers. They didn’t get along in those years. Even then, Vic was good at softening the competition and working with them physically, especially with chores like cutting firewood and stacking dry wood on the porches. As adults, I didn’t know what to expect, but they came together for each other and for me when Vic died.

      • you are such warm people therefore, the problems would be solved easier. And I see that the gap between David and Anthony is bigger than Al and mine (just 20 months) anyhow, your hearts are together and that’s the main point.

        • Yes, the age gap is wider, but I think it was David’s inborn sweet nature that made the difference. He loved his brother from the beginning, and Vic and I were grateful.

  5. Elaine, thanks for sharing this beautiful familial love. Especially during these times, such love is a sustaining force. I am blessed to have one of my sisters close by, and we are partnering through this pandemic. We see each other almost every day, and over the months have learned to be more patient with each other, and to skip past the small sisterly antagonisms and slights that might have pushed our buttons in the past. This deep, patient love is a gift.

    • Thank you, Lynne. It makes me happy you have a small sister “pod.” Suddenly we appreciate the small things so much. I was amazed how thrilling it was to vote yesterday, even though I vote in every election. This one was solemn, with masks, with sterilized markers, with distance between one voter and the next, and everyone was so gentle and kind. This winter, we need a few people we can see in person and trust that they’re taking careful precautions. I’m grateful for my sons, a few close local friends, and I miss my deceased brother every day–and of course Vic. I would so love talking to him about this wild world.

  6. This post drips with LOVE, brotherly, motherly, and more as your other commenters attest. (Yes, I do remember too your tender care of Jim.)

    And your vivid imagery and descriptions support all the emotion. One of the sweetest lines, in my opinion: . . . three-year-old David fretted as my belly grew. “It’s big, Mommy,” David said as he patted my belly. “How will it get out? Will you break?” Children are so trusting, loving, and literal.

    My sisters and I were close as siblings. You may remember in my memoir “Playing Wedding at Grandma’s House.” But there was rivalry, and plenty of it. I, as oldest, tended to “mother” my sisters. Translation: I was bossy.

    The deaths of Mother, Aunt, and Brother in a 4-year span has drawn us closer. Although there were tense times, and we had serious disagreements, love always prevailed. Thanks for proving it again and again in your story!

    • Marian, the energy between my sons changed a lot when David went through puberty. As Anthony got older, there was even more competition, more irritation, and less sweetness, but as little guys, David was amazingly affectionate and didn’t exhibit jealousy. Vic was a wonderful daddy, too, and set an example of sweetness and shared love. I laugh when you say you were bossy. I didn’t have sisters, but I had friends in the neighborhood. I loved to put on plays in my garage–as long as I could have the starring role.

      I’m glad you’ve drawn closer to your sisters after so many family losses. And tolerance seems to be the key in any loving relationship I’ve had. My sons were not close to my brother, so their only uncle’s death didn’t change our relationships, but they both showed up for me. I know I can count on them.

  7. A beautiful and heartwarming telling of your family and the bonds that tie. Stay blessed and safe. And may the ginormous blue tsunami take over Nov. 3rd. 🙂

  8. Interesting that this is about brothers and siblings Elaine. I’m in Cape Town (600 km from home) staying with my sister and her husband. We had lunch last Sunday day with my brother in law and it was interesting to note their brotherly affection and sometimes irritation with each other. Re my own sons: there’s a 5 1/2 yr age difference between them. In their earlier years Mike was unbelievably protective towards his brother Dave, and still advises him on certain things. Dave likewise is very supportive of mike. Right now my (younger) sister – only sister – has ordered me to stay in bed for a few days. I got a nasty cold from somewhere. Not sure I can remain bedbound. But I have cancelled all plans for next few days. We were not close as youngsters – she was buddies with our brother, I was the pig in the middle. Now she is the dearest person in my eyes. I’m sure I irritate the hell out of her as we are rather different. She’s the ‘good sister’ –

    • My sons get irritated with each other and have some disagreements as adults. They definitely get irritated with me and I with them, but there’s a sense of trust when anyone needs support and we enjoy each other. It seems like the harder life gets, the more we appreciate our bonds and we are there for each other even if there is grumbling. I wonder if you followed your sister’s orders. (I have a hard time staying in bed, too, and I’m sorry you’re sick and hope you’ve recovered.) I haven’t been feeling well either (weather changes and stress) and haven’t listened to your interview with Jeanie because online hearing is challenging. I’ll try it again this weekend. I know it took a lot for you to pull together an interview and I wonder if you were getting sick when you did the interview.

  9. Thank you for reminding me about the time I introduced my almost-two-year old son to his newborn sister. In our photo, brother Greg holds the tiny, very pink, very squirmy Marika with the sweetest smile on his bandaid-ed face. Later, their relationship was maybe not as warm as that of your sons, they fought mightily for years, but they were always there for each other when it came to the important things. Like Greg’s graduation from Boot Camp, deployments and homecomings. Like Marika’s concert and hospitalizations. In all my own pain upon my daughter’s death, it took me a while to realize that my son was grieving as well. A year after Marika died, I discovered Greg kept her collection of keys and knickknacks in his beloved truck. It made me sad to think of his loss and it got me thinking about how it will feel one day, for me, to lose a sibling.

    • I chose two points in the relationship between my sons. The teenage years were rockier, but on this recent trip, I saw the old sweetness that was there in the beginning. It’s interesting to notice the quiet way some men grieve. How sweet to know Greg kept Marika’s keys and other belongings she loved in his truck. My sons worked together to make big gardens and built cairns just after Vic’s death. The turned sorrow into hard physical work. The winter after Vic died, they spent days working with a chainsaw and tractor to haul in firewood for their mom even though one lived in CA and one lived in NC. I carry a quiet sadness about my brother’s death. There’s no way to see his new grandchild in these covid times and my connection to his family feels wobbly. I hope that will change when we can move around again.

  10. I always had a deep respect for you and Vic, though I never knew much about the boys, they certainly had a mom and dad who were lofty peaks to climb. I also enyoyed learning of your loving relationship with your brother, I have two younger brothers, both of with which there is no relation. The middle one has been a chronic liar all his life who borrowed significant sums of money from friends and relatives, many of whom were dear to me, after being fired from his teaching job in the early ’90’s. He never paid them back. The younger one is a drug addict who moved in with my Mom in his 30’s and never worked a day after. As she begain to lose it, he convinced her to rework the will to give himself 40% of the total. When she lived with me for a year, I discovered this and helped her to understand the inequality of it. When he came here from NC to take her back and put her in a nursing home he tried to kill me by smashing a heavy mug over my head after I’d had
    brain surgery. When we were kids there used to be a TV show called the Naked City. It begain with the monologue… “There are 8 million stories in the Naked City and this is one of them.” To this day I still wonder if its all just chance or is there an author for these millions of stories?

    • Wow! I’m so sorry, Dennis. What tragic and painful experiences. I remember that TV show. I know we have so much to learn in these relationships, but sometimes the only choice is to walk away. I hope you’re managing the return to cold weather and the dark time of the year. Sending love and hope for our country to stop behaving like your brothers behaved.

  11. What a lovely piece about brotherly love, Elaine. I always appreciate the way you write with such honesty. Familial love will inevitably encompass so much more than just sweetness. And how wonderful that you now can see with your sons “the old sweetness that was there in the beginning.”

    For many years I somehow saw it as a failing on my part that my two children weren’t closer, though I have worked hard to not make it about me. Now that they are in their late 30’s, they have developed a strong bond despite the significant difference in their temperaments. Of course there are the irritations on all sides, and yet, as you wrote, “there’s a sense of trust when anyone needs support and we enjoy each other,” for which I am deeply grateful.

    I don’t have an easy relationship with either of my sisters, and yet as I learn to be more compassionate with myself, I also find myself with a far greater ability to accept them as they are.

    I hope that you and your sons are able to get together at Christmas. The whole world seems saner now that the election results are in, and my faith in what is possible has grown!

    • Thanks for sharing your own experience, Anne. I know a few siblings who were always close, but most have to make an adult effort. My brother and I didn’t communicate often before Vic got sick when I was 60, but then he made a big effort to show up for me. I’m grateful for over a decade of honest regular connection and mutual support.

      I would have been very sad if my sons refused to relate to each other which so often happens in families. They were both close to Vic and without his presence, they made the effort to support each other. I’m glad you bring up the truth that when we’re irritated with family members, it’s important to look at ourselves with compassion. It’s so much easier to project the shadow. I think we’ll be together at Christmas. We have to figure out how and where. So much depends on what happens with covid. (The election drama is still a cause of anxiety and pain. I figured the present occupant of the White House would make it as difficult as possible. Anything else would be out of character. Lots of prayers needed for peace in the land.)

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