And the greatest of these is love

Thanks for the many kind words after the recent unexpected death of my brother, Kurt, due to a brain bleed. The trip to Missouri to take possession of his body and to give away his belongings, including car, furniture, and tools, was emotionally exhausting. I was fine in the immediate aftermath, but I’m now admittedly more depressed than I ever imagined I’d feel again. It will take time to get over this big bridge to my new world that now exists without him in it.

Selling Kurt’s possessions would have been an affront to him. He was a High Wiccan Priest with little interest in money beyond its necessity to pay rent, so when someone asking for his car suggested that “the first one to come up with some money” should have it, I gave the car (free) with a clear title to someone else who better knew my brother.

During the expected “I want this in memory of Kurt – and can I have that, too?” wrangling with strangers, one of the five or six people admitted into the apartment stole my iPad. It’s hard to turn the other cheek even now, since it happened while Kurt’s “friends” were carrying things out of the house that I had agreed to give them without question or cost.

I won’t have extra $$ to replace that iPad, which I received as a combined birthday and Christmas present a year ago, for months, given the incredible expenses associated with a family death, so financial injury was added to emotional insult. My husband thinks (hopes?) that my fury now is just an acceptable expression of the ANGER phase of grief, but I think not. I’d be mad as hell any day of the year after being ripped off by one of a group of people I was expected to later buy dinner and drinks for, which we did after the memorial service.

I also was insulted by a man invited to the house to take my brother’s rare LP albums and stereo equipment who first stepped up on the couch (shoes on) without permission to remove the front of the air conditioner to “protect you in case your brother might have put something in here.” Like weed, for example, which my brother smoked for severe, chronic back pain. Or maybe to get high … who cares?

Nice to know the man was concerned about protecting me (ha!). I thought it unusual that the dude just happened to have a screwdriver in his pocket, but I let him do his thing without mentioning that I’d already found the weed in the secret place in the bed’s headboard that Kurt had once told me about. I already had flushed it down the toilet along with the ’shrooms other friends had come sniffing for. (I know … waste of perfectly good natural “medicines,” but transporting illegal drugs across state lines was not worth going to jail for, to cap off an already horrible week.)

Like every ending, my brother’s early demise was complicated. He had gone through a very acrimonious divorce last year during which he lost the home that he had built with his own two hands. You can imagine how his big sister felt about that (mad!). His resulting clinical depression cost him a job and landed him in psychiatric care. Overall, he soon faced abject poverty, which is why he had come to stay with my family in Wisconsin for a period of time to get back on his feet last year. We went through that ordeal like we went through much of the pain in our lives – together.

The ex-wives (two, as his religion allowed simultaneously, which he once thought was enviable but later came to deeply regret) were present for the memorial service, though there was a very divided camp over their presence. I realized Kurt would have wanted them to hear the testimonials of the people who still held him in highest regard, so I told them the time of the ceremony and they made the decision to come together.

It was my pleasure, at that ceremony (the silver lining of a stormy day) to introduce Kurt’s latest love interest (a relationship of about one week’s duration) and to announce that I had given her all of the very expensive furniture he had inherited from my mother – the items the ex-wives had most wanted and were not able to wrangle from us during the actual divorce proceedings. (I had gone down to Missouri to provide emotional support and a stiffer backbone for him on the day of his divorce.) The look on a couple faces was absolutely priceless as his friends slapped high-fives all around and lit a few sweet-smelling, home-rolled cigarettes to celebrate that particular declaration.

The assembled group of family, friends, and ex-wives had intended to spread his ashes at the site of the biggest burr oak tree in Missouri, his favorite place, but the body had to be autopsied by the medical examiner, which made the timeline impossible. About 20 friends offered to bring wildflower seeds instead, to celebrate his life on the first day of spring, his favorite of the year. Okay, so their idea of wildflowers turned out to be exotic poppy seeds …. Each person took a shell’s worth and we spread our memories of Kurt around the tree. I wore Kurt’s jean jacket and his favorite Bottle Rockets T-shirt and my daughter Summer (his favorite family member of all) spoke about her love for him, too, and handed out tie-dyed memorial cards.

I learned a lot about my brother that day, and people discovered what I knew about him, too. It was really a beautiful ceremony, with the main speech given by his childhood friend who had stayed close both emotionally and geographically to Kurt for over 40 years. Randall’s words were simple but eloquent and loving, and I, in turn, will always love him for saying them.

Kurt and I had the same mother, but different fathers, and we also had mixed points of view about a lot of things, as you might have surmised by now. Yet the little nut didn’t fall far from our family tree. My mother read rune stones and predicted the future by dropping silverware on the floor, her brother (my uncle) sees dead people, and the Websters are not as far from Wiccan rituals and beliefs as they probably would indignantly insist. Our early fundamentalist church regularly featured people speaking in tongues, and I was nearly drowned during my baptism dunking. Our other brother and I never married two people at the same time, but our attitude about Kurt’s double nuptials wasn’t so much judgmental as sympathetic. All in all, we thought it was stupid and he’d pay the price, and so he did. But there was no joy in the “I told you so” endings. Only pain for a brother.

The one thing we all agreed upon and cherished was Kurt’s special gift of making whoever he was with feel better about themselves. He made everyone feel smarter or more “normal” as one “self-proclaimed freak” said. People understood that Kurt truly saw their differences, but he appreciated and revered them more for their unique thoughts or actions. “I will miss myself as I saw myself in his eyes,” one friend remarked, and I started to cry because I realized that was true for me, too.

I already miss how accomplished he made me feel; his pride in his big sister’s family and her work was real. However, he loved my art and poetry better than my job title, and that was the sweetest gift he gave me.

The sweetest gift I gave him was to (later) mix his ashes with concrete to make a garden stone that now resides on our other brother’s grave. My husband and I took it to Bushnell, Ill., this past Friday, and in the presence of our Webster family, we set it on the ground of [younger brother] Robert’s grave. It has not only Kurt’s ashes, but also his picture and his favorite magical stones – the ones he carried in his pocket for impromptu prayers or inspiration.

Kurt did not want to be buried on consecrated ground – not even his ashes, due to his belief of how harshly Christians treated pagan Wiccans. However, our Christian family wanted him returned to the family plot, which a few relatives who live in the area visit daily. It was especially important to my Uncle Gene, who is 80 and will always love the boy Kurt was, and the man he became.

“I don’t want the ashes to blow away,” Uncle Gene said. But Kurt didn’t want a burial or tombstone, so there is no birth or death date, only his crystal, his rocks, his picture, and his name on a garden stone, which was fitting because he used to manage the largest garden center in Denver.

That is the last thing I can do for my brother – that and this blog. And I can remember him not as anyone thought he should be, but as he was – which was better than we all knew or dreamed, arms spread wide, embracing and loving us all.

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