~ 2 Timothy 4:7
There were five brothers, and they left this world in age order.
My father was the second brother. The eldest died young, as a firefighter in the line of duty. There were four brothers then for many years, geographically far flung but close in spirit. They had lost their father, also a firefighter, as young boys. Although their reunions were rare, the bonds of love and shared sorrow among these brothers were deep. Despite the tragedies in their lives, they were far from doleful; in fact, they were all quite fun-loving and filled with good humor. Each of them was smart, handsome, well educated, and blessed with strong faith.
All of these brothers had their struggles, particularly against alcohol and nicotine. Some of them were more successful than others in battling their demons. Yet they were all good men who endured.
Thirty years after the tragic accident that took his older brother, my father followed him in death. He was 70 years old. Then, a decade later, Uncle Kieran died at age 78. Five years ago, Uncle Joe passed away at age 90. Last night, the youngest brother, my Uncle Frank, died at age 93.
Joe and Frank had been aged ten and eight, respectively, when their fireman father died in the line of duty; such a grievous loss leaves a lifetime mark. I spoke with Uncle Frank after Joe, his only surviving brother, had died. Frank was 88 years old at the time, and he told me "Now I'm really an orphan; they've all left me."
"But Uncle Frank, someone needs to turn out the lights and close the door," I said. "Just think, they'll all be waiting for you." He chuckled at that, sounding so much like my father that tears stung my eyes.
Last night, the lights dimmed and the door shut as an entire family stepped into history. I'm listening to echoes from my early childhood of rich baritones tossing quick-witted jokes and laughing heartily around my grandmother's dining room table. I can hear the smart slap of playing cards being dealt, the tinny clink of coins, see the golden flash of beer glasses and the silver curls of cigarette smoke. The joy these brothers found in each other's company was obvious, even to a little girl.
My Uncle Frank, left fatherless at age eight, has gone home to both of his parents and all of his brothers. He is an orphan no more.