Monday, April 16, 2012

4/17/12—Honoring Our Partnerships

Today's Draw: Two of Cups from the Victorian Romantic Tarot. Is there any relationship more complex, annoying, supportive, surprising, loving, inescapable, comfortable and enduring than the one you share with your sibling?

The Two of Cups is usually about romantic partnership—love, union and connection. It doesn't always indicate romance, though. It can be any kind of partnership, both the kind you enter into into willingly and enthusiastically and the kind that are just byproducts of life. 

Forty-nine years ago, I entered into a partnership with five people. It wasn't a partnership of my choosing. At least not consciously. Sometimes it's been like an albatross around my neck. Sometimes it's been a privilege. Most of the time it vacillates between the two. Those people are my brothers and sisters and tonight might have been the last time I saw one of them in their earthly form. 

My brother John is the jock in the family. He played baseball, football and basketball throughout high school. He's six foot three inches of someone you don't want to mess with. And as tough as he's always been in his visage and demeanor, underneath he's always been a very vulnerable and sensitive soul. It wasn't always easy to see or access, but it was there.

Growing up I thought he'd have a hard time finding anyone who would be able to put up with him. But what ended up happening is that he married his perfect match. He has four kids who, quite rightly, worship him. And the machismo that I once thought might be his undoing, faded away into a man who wasn't afraid to let you see his weakness. And that weakness was his family. It was also his strength. 

One of the things that really made me look at my brother see him as something other than the annoying jock who walked around like he owned the place...was many years back when he lost his professional job in software sales. He wasn't able to find another job readily and I doubted his ego could withstanding having a wife as the breadwinner. But you know what he did? He became the house dad and he thrived in the role of nurturer and "homemaker". And when found another job, he found one that allowed him to continue being there for his kids. He gave to his children what his own father wasn't capable of giving...presence. Attention. Nurturing. 

Last November he came down with a really bad "chest cold" that he just couldn't seem to shake. It got worse and worse until he ended up in the hospital nearly drowning in his own fluids. Turns out he had lung cancer. He's done all the things you do...chemo, radiation, etc. But he has a very aggressive and incurable type of lung cancer. There's no telling how much time he has left. But the way he looked tonight in the intensive care unit at the hospital, it didn't look like it was going to be long. In fact, in the pain and presence of mind he was in, I pray it isn't long.

We enter into these partnerships with our siblings and the agreement is that we'll always love each other, even if we hate each other. We'll always be bound by blood and parentage and a string of memories we will never share with anyone else—memories from a time when we were too full of life to ever think of death. We're never ready for the day when those partnerships begin dissolving...or transforming into something less tangible. 

My siblings and I lost our parents young. My mother died when I was 21 and my father when I was 25. We're no strangers to loss. But you grow up knowing your parents will die someday. For some reason, you never think your siblings will die someday, too. One of us has to watch this happen five times. Is that a blessing or a curse?  

My brother John is 53. He has four children, including a young man he'll never get to see play high school football the way his father watched him play. I'm not sure what breaks my heart the most, but I'm pretty sure it's that. I do know he'll be there. The smell of cigarette smoke...or farts...will waft up suddenly in the stands for no apparent reason. And that will be how we'll know he's there. 

We make these partnerships for a lifetime. But they really never end, do they? They go on beyond anything we imagine. My belief tells me this is true, but the human part of me is heartbroken tonight over the inevitability of what's to come, whether it's days or weeks from now. What a blessing, though, that nothing has gone unspoken, and that no part of the partnership has been left unfulfilled.

Please hold my brother, his wife and their four children in your prayers over the coming days and weeks in hopes they may find peace and strength in their transition. Thank you.


  1. Tierney, I'm so sorry. You, your brother, and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. T, this is beautiful. What a wonderful way to honor your brother.