February of 2019, while on my honeymoon in Las Vegas, I received a phone call that my brother had passed away suddenly due to heart failure coming out of general anesthesia during a simple, routine surgery.
Today, memories are flooding back into me. Right now, I’m on vacation in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in the exact space where last August my wife and I were married, and also where my brother and I spent what would end up being our last moments in each other’s presence.
My wedding day was wonderful – simple and small (perfect for an introvert), with some friends and family, and my brother Joe. He brought a present for me on my wedding day. A bottle of Blueberry wine from a New Jersey winery.
On August 24th, 2018, on a warm summer evening on the coast of Maine with the harbor stretching out into the Atlantic, my brother and I sat a table together, and shared a couple of glasses of Blueberry wine. The sun had set, the occasional sound of a lobster boat rattled into the harbor, and around my kids and my wife, we celebrated the moment together, and sipped some tasty wine.
It was a simple evening full of simple conversations and some laughs, and the last one he and I would spend together. We said goodbye the following day. We spoke over the phone every week through the winter as siblings do. Six months later, in an instant when I least expected it, he was gone.
When I arrived in New Jersey the week after he passed, I helped to clear things out of his old house. Sitting on his dining room table, as if he had left it just for me, was a single bottle of the identical Blueberry wine he and I shared during our last night together.
When I saw it standing there alone atop his table, I broke down in tears in his living room. It truly felt like he had left it there for me – a reminder of our last moments together.
What has become clear in the nearly 5 months since he’s been gone is that people leave impressions. It’s appropriate that I’m surrounded by boats leaving wakes behind as they lazily putter into Boothbay Harbor from the expanse of the cold fog of the Atlantic Ocean. It takes a fleeting moment for a small sailboat to quietly slip by, but for many moments after, small wakes steadily make their way to the shore.
It’s truly a microcosm of an entire life lived.
Joe’s wakes will forever be hitting the shore, smaller in intensity over time, but ever-present. While he is gone and out of view, his presence in my life, and in the lives of those he loved and touched, are forever going to be seen and felt. Yes, it’s sad, but it’s also a lesson worth learning.
Today, I feel my brother’s impression. My wife and I have had this trip planned for months, and for months I was determined to bring that bottle of Blueberry wine to Boothbay with me, to have a toast to my brother in the same place we shared meals, laughs, hugs, and some sips of wine.
I wanted to toast to him on the same patch of grass where we last hugged as brothers.
The only difference now, is that I cannot today, nor will I ever, share a sip of wine with him again. A toast to my brother means one empty glass, forevermore.
I’m still hurting, but I am okay. I miss my brother in those little moments every other day where I think about how great it would be to tell him about something I came across. Something good that I’m going through in my life, or something I stumbled across that I know he’d love. In those moments, where there’s an instant where I think I could call him and talk to him – those are the ones that feel the most empty. The cold realization that my call will go unanswered and my text unread – that’s what hurts the most.
Most of all, Joe’s presence here once upon a time serves as a reminder. If you are talking with someone you love, tell them you love them. If you are spending time with someone you care for, take the extra moment to initiate a hug. In a blink, everything can change, and the only thing left are wakes in the water – evidence of a loved one once felt, disappeared from view but who’s impression still resonates day after day.
Thank you, brother, for teaching me about life, worth, value, and the importance of every single moment. I wish you were here to share a glass of that Blueberry wine with me, because I have learned this lesson.
All I can do is toast you in the spot where we last shared a hug, shed some tears, and wish with all my might and in utter futility that you were in that chair beside me, right now, smiling and laughing for one last moment, one last time.
Love you, brother. I’m grateful that you were here with me for at least part of my journey through life.
Your wakes will be forever felt against this shore.