When my sister called to tell me Jon was gone, I was in bed. It was a Tuesday afternoon, but I was in bed because I had been up all night barfing my intestines out, after having nursed the girls through the same stomach bug for the three days prior. The previous day, I had gotten a phone call from Jon's wife. She said a friend of hers had given her some money to use for Jon in some way, and she decided that the best thing she could do with it was to fly me down so I could see him. She thought that would mean more to him than anything else she could do with it. "He sleeps most of the time now," she said, "but I just tell him I'm there and sit with him while he sleeps and he seems to like that." I didn't have a chance to start looking up flights before I started to feel ill. The next day, he was gone.
His memorial service was that Saturday, so I had to frantically finish the next issue of the magazine and cross my fingers that I did everything ok so I could fly out Friday morning. I stayed with my sister, and we stayed up that night trying to write something to say at the service the next day. We both knew we'd never get through anything without breaking down, and we toyed with the idea of getting someone to read it for us, but ultimately I decided I would get through it somehow and made Kelly promise to stand next to me while I read it.
His memorial service was packed, and it was evident how much Jon was loved. He had that ability to relate to anyone and that, combined with a sense of humor that was both sweet and wicked, endeared him to everyone he met. His wife's cousin gave the eulogy, and it was the most eloquent and moving and perfect tribute to my brother anyone could have given. Jon was a member of the U.S. Military Vets, TN 2 Motorcycle Club, and his brothers in the club were a major part of the service. They were all dressed in jeans and leather vests or jackets, looking every bit like what you would expect a bunch of bikers to look like, except they were at a funeral and not a dive bar. They sent Jon off (after playing Taps and presenting his wife with a flag, as though at an actual military funeral) by going out to the parking lot and revving the engines on their bikes. Jon would have loved that, even though the rest of us were giving all the bikers the stink eye at that point.
I started grieving the moment I knew what kind of cancer Jon had almost three years ago. I've been able to let go of that grief for fairly long periods as he thrived and beat all the odds, but I always knew what was coming. It was when he had his surgery last summer, and could no longer use his left side and would never be able to, and thus came the decision to stop treatment, that the worst of the grief began to work its way through me. I went back to see him one more time, and I have not written about that visit because it ripped my heart to shreds. It was, in many ways, a wonderful visit, because we laughed together so much, just like we always have, and because there was a moment when Jon reached out and took my hand and looked me in the eyes and though I probably won't write about what he said specifically, I knew that no matter what happened after that, my brother knew just how much I loved him and would never be in doubt of it.
Jon once told me, just a few months after he was diagnosed, that he would not have traded the experience of having cancer for anything, because he got to see so much love and goodness and care come out of people. And I know that I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to tell him what he meant to me—what he still means to me now and will forever—but I also feel such despair because the cost of that was losing him.
I will grieve for my brother forever. Grief doesn't really end, but it does get better, and I know it will get better for all of us. I have thoughts all the time about little things I want to do, just for myself, to keep his memory alive and to pay tribute. Perhaps it's the writer in me that loves the symbolism in little gestures like that. But no matter what I do to memorialize him for myself, I know that I will always feel him near when I hear a song I know he loved because he shared it with me, when I hear the growl of a Harley's engine, and when I look up at the night sky at the stars swirling above me.
Rest in peace, big brother. I love you.