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I couldn’t sleep again; I watched the clock pass 1 a.m., then 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. I was thinking about my brother, Ronnie. He died a few months ago. No one thought he’d reach the age of 54. Even my uncle, a doctor, said he’d be lucky to reach 30. He had a massive heart attack.

No wonder. Ronnie did everything to an excess – eating, smoking, drinking, you name it. He lived alone and he died alone; so we’re not sure how long he lay there – a few minutes, a few hours, the whole day? This question troubles me and keeps me up some nights.

You might think I’m sad all the time, but it seems God had us in the palms of his hands again. I had already planned to visit my family, who all live in Texas, this summer. I was excited to be traveling with all three of my sons for the first time in several years. Two are grown. We all work or go to school, so a trip together is rare. Even my boyfriend, Peter, took the week off so we could all have a blast in Austin.

We arrived on a Sunday, flying in from separate locations. My parents (and this amazes me) acted perfectly normal. You see, Ronnie had died that Friday night (we think) and been found by a neighbor on Saturday. It comforts me that my parents did not discover him. Thank you, God. In the car on the ride from the airport I asked, “When will we go see Ronnie?” I thought it strange when they didn’t answer, but attributed it to their frustration. Dealing with my eccentric, kind and brilliant brother, who had little common sense and zero willpower, had been exhausting in every possible way.

My sister and her family arrived on Tuesday. That’s when we all learned Ronnie had died. Many questions followed. How did he die? When did he die? How could you not have told us for three days? Bless my parents’ hearts; they didn’t want to ruin our whole trip. My darling sister Desiree pronounced, “I’m not going to cry for Ronnie,” as she sobbed huge tears. “He died quickly and it could have been so much worse, and he was alone and miserable and isolated and he’s not suffering anymore.” So true, he could have suffered a long, agonizing hospitalization and death. Thank you, God, for that.

So, miracle of miracles, we were all together to plan my brother’s memorial service and help my parents, who had already born such a burden caring for Ronnie for years. It would have been impossible to get us all there upon the news of his death in a timely fashion, but I had my boys to lean on. My parents had my sister and I and our families to lean on, and the chaos of us being there must have been a sweet distraction. Thank you, God, for the happy chaos of a full house.

Ronnie was a hoarder; his place a mess. It was way too much for me, Mom or Desiree to deal with physically or emotionally. So my oldest son Nick, Peter and my brother-in-law Brad helped Dad clear things out. Thank you, God, for the strength and fortitude of men.

The memorial service was difficult. Not many people were there; just a few neighbors and Diana, who helped care for Ronnie. She had the most beautiful and comforting words. Thank you, God, for Diana. You see, we’d all felt frustrations with my brother and told him so. Diana conveyed Ronnie’s feelings about us all. He thought the most of us, respected us and forgave us our imperfections in dealing with his imperfections. The irony of it makes me smile. Ronnie always did get the last laugh.