A Fork in the Road

September 29th, 2014

My Brother…

Amanda writes: I learned my brother died just a couple of days ago. It is a shock to hear that someone has died, especially at the age of 44. It is not however surprising for some of us. My brother led a very hard life and in some respects I think he may be suffering less now than he was in his daily life. Let me introduce you to my big brother.

Jesse is only three years older than me; the closest in age of any of my siblings. There are five of us in total. I have two older sisters, then Jesse, then me and then my younger brother Chris. When we were growing up we had it good. Some would say that we were spoiled rotten rich kids. Maybe we were. For my 13th birthday I got a motorcycle, a leather jacket and an electric guitar. We had a huge house, fancy cars, motorcycles and a swimming pool. When I think about it; it’s a lot. We lived in a nice neighbourhood and my Mom always looked out for us. With five kids to handle, she had her hands full. My Dad wasn’t really around at all and then died at the young age of 39, so really my Mom was left holding the bag. You rock by the way Mom; I certainly would have run! As we became adults my Mom ran into hard times mostly as a result of some of her kids. The days of big houses and cars have been gone for many years.

When we were growing up my older sisters really did their own thing. I didn’t know much about them except that they got into a lot of trouble and occasionally they would be brought home by the police in the wee hours of the morning. They always looked out for me and ensured that I wasn’t exposed to their world. My brother Jesse was often times given the job of occupying me. While we did have some fun playing street hockey or whatever the sport of the day might be, we also knocked heads as so many siblings do.

Most of my scars and broken bones are from Jesse. We were playing tag when we were much younger and he tagged me by pushing me so hard into the corner of the wall that he cracked my head open. My Mom had to take me to the hospital for stitches. This was about the time when child abuse was being exposed and the hospital was trying to speak to me alone to determine if it was child abuse and I just wanted to hold my Mom’s hand during the stitches. I put up so much of a fight trying to get my Mom that they screwed up my stitches royally. To this day you can see the stitches on my forehead. Jesse was also tasked with ensuring I got to school safely and on time. We would ride our bikes to school when the weather allowed. On one morning we were talking while riding and I wasn’t watching where I was going. I rode my bike right into the back of a car that had some damage and smashed my face right near my eye. All anyone could see was blood gushing out of my eye and again, off to the hospital. I have that scar too just beside my right eye. The best one is when it was time to go to school and Jesse wanted to skip. I was in grade 3 and he was in grade 6. He was chasing me around our neighbours tent trailer. I climbed on top to get away and then ended up falling off. As I was falling down my pinky finger got stuck and dislocated and broken in two places. Another hospital visit. Anyone who has ever met me knows exactly what finger it is. It never healed properly even after they rebroke it. A weird thing happened with that pinky recently. On the day Jesse died my finger was really sore and stiff. I remember trying to rub it and flex it and Andrew asked me if I had hit it. I told him I didn’t recall bumping it but couldn’t explain how achy it was. Just downright sore and stiff. This would have been within hours of Jesse’s passing.

So as you can see as kids, we shared some time together and I’ve got lots of reminders of it. It makes me smile as I type it. As we grew older we didn’t spend as much time together. We would still get into fights, but as teenagers it was more about who got to use Mom’s’ car and these fights would be wrestling matches. I can remember trying to run out of the house with my Mom’s car keys when she was in Arizona and Jesse chasing me outside. It was a big snowstorm in Calgary and we were beating the shit out of each other in the front yard. Our neighbour pulled up on their driveway right beside where we were wrestling and asked if everything was okay. We both confirmed all was good and resumed our scuffle.

When I finished high school I moved to BC. Jesse stayed in Calgary for many years before moving to BC. My Mom always worried about Jesse especially with how he dealt with my Father’s death. I’m not sure Jesse ever understood it or accepted it and struggled with it for years. Over the following years Jesse made a very big private life changing decision that he shared with family. It was a decision that was shocking and taught me how brave and strong Jesse really was. Our family was supportive of his courageous journey and never questioned him. He taught me it was okay to make decisions to make yourself happy regardless of the judgment of others.

Jesse struggled over the years with drug and alcohol abuse. When you combine recreational substances with your prescription medications, the resulting combination does undesirable things to your mind and body. While we are waiting for a final report on the cause of death, there is some speculation that it may have been an accidental lethal combination of recreational and prescription drugs. I wished I could have been more a part of Jesse’s life, but I don’t like to be involved with those on drugs or the resulting behaviours. He knew that and understood it and because of that alone; I respected him. He never pushed and said let’s spend more time together because he knew if he wasn’t clean I wasn’t able to hang around with him. We would email or Facebook chat occasionally and every now and then chat on the phone which was a real treat. And while he lived a hard life in less than desirable surroundings in more recent years, he was still my brother and I still loved him. And over time he kept his troubles to himself and didn’t involve my Mom as much as he used to. He also never blamed anyone for his misfortune. That fact alone is huge for me. There are many people in life who blame their circumstances or addictions on parents or family; I never heard Jesse do that. Somehow I always found comfort knowing that he found support, love and friendship with the church. In the last few years he has found the strength that many do from God and I’m grateful he had that support group. I had the pleasure of meeting his pastor and friends at his church at his funeral. I heard wonderful stories about my brother and how much joy he brought to so many and I’m so proud. I’m also so glad to hear he had friends around him in his life and the support of the church.

So that’s my brother. A courageous man who taught me to do what feels right, no matter how unusual it may be. Oh and thanks for the twist on my finger the other day; you always did have to get the last punch.

Photographs of Jesse

A Fork in the Road