After my brother died last week, I realized he was the immediate family member I had spent the most time with. He was 67 when he died and I didn’t have that much time with either of our parents and our sister is younger. That’s a sobering thought among all the other mixed emotions that have swarmed me.

I was 2 1/2 when Jim was born and our family soon moved to Tulsa from Oklahoma City. We’ve been here ever since. This picture was taken soon after the move.Karen & Jim November 1948 #2We tagged around together for a couple of years until we were joined by our little sister, which smashed him between the two girls.Karen, Jim & Linda Hamilton  1950I was glad to have a brother because that meant we had baseballs and comic books and all the other boy things of the 1950s. We shared a bedroom for our early years, complete with green chenille Hopalong Cassidy bedspreads. I wouldn’t have had those without having a brother and I loved those bedspreads. As I got older, I moved to my own room and he had to share with our little sister until our parents built a large home and we each had our own bedroom. When our parents would leave us alone, my sister and I would torment him, knocking on his door, irritating him until he chased us to the door of our bedrooms where we pressed against the doors so he couldn’t get to us. Siblings at their most tender.

Jim was uniquely himself, a very smart, polite, handsome boy. At an early age, he began to battle his weight and our parents tried to help him as best they and doctors knew to do back then. It was a life-long battle for him. He played ball, was a cub scout, learned golf as we all did. We swam and played outside and had a great childhood. One of his great loves that continued throughout his life was fishing. I don’t remember exactly where we first fished, but it was a part of our time with our uncle, our father and others. Jim loved it!

Through adolescence, Jim developed an interest in photography and had his own dark room. He was brilliant but not a brilliant student all the time. His rebellion was growing in typical teen fashion. By the time we got to college, he followed me to Oklahoma State University and studied English, further developing his interest in writing. By the end of those years, he left and travelled Europe, living for awhile in the Canary Islands. It was hard to communicate in those days and my parents were worried sick. He came home and opened a record store, but eventually ended up in the family automotive parts warehouse. He learned computers early and took care of that for the business long before the rest of us even understood the potential.

Jim married, had a daughter, divorced. That was that except that he loved his daughter unconditionally until the day he died. This is a fun photo he kept of them on one of the trips they took together.IMG_9387He had friends and pets, including a parrot he brought to the office with him for many years. In his later years, he adopted a dog, Kelly, from friends who were moving abroad and loved that little girl until she passed on.

His life was his and I’m sure he was lonely, but you never knew. He had fishing buddies and his drinking buddies and his writing groups and his Mensa contacts and other friends.  He played poker online, watched football and other sports and followed the stock market. He seemed busy all the time with one thing or another.

What it comes down to is that he’s gone and I’m the one who was with him the most until the end. Those last couple of years were rough as his health had deteriorated and the options were few. It was the ultimate nightmare when your brain is years away from death and you are watching your body make the decisions for you. For the last 17 years of his life, he slept with a machine for sleep apnea, probably setting some kind of record. He had diabetes and was massively overweight and suffered constant pain from arthritis in his hands and knees. I realized the other day that the last time he came to our holiday dinners was 2006. I always packed up Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to take to him in the next years. How did it get to be that long?

My goal was to help him stay in his house as long as he could since it was paid for and all the care he would need was expensive. I quietly admired his strength of both body and spirit as he conquered the obstacles. He went from a cane to a walker. When he didn’t feel he could drive anymore, he quit. He got a motorized cart and drove himself to the store, the bank, the barber. I was amused because he used to drive a midget racer when he was a kid and he delighted in this machine in much the same way. ScanIMG_5963He never asked me for any help and made all his arrangements himself. He found someone to install poles around his house to help him lift himself up from his recliner, his office chair and his bed. Eventually, he added a second motorized cart for inside the house and had a ramp added to his house so he could drive that cart to his garage and transfer to the other one to make his trips. He took a lot of pride in being able to figure all of this out. Jim was 6’2″ and must have had incredible upper body strength to be able to manage all these things. He hired some nursing service helpers to come over for a couple of hours for small chores, but they weren’t much more help than I was really.

Those last couple of years were painful to watch. I told him I had no idea what to do to help him other than run errands for him or get my kids or grandkids over to help move things or do small chores for him. He appreciated everything so much. Every week he emailed me his grocery list, which he dictated to his voice program on the computer to save his hands, yet another gadget that helped and delighted him. I would deliver the groceries and unpack them for him (he would put them away later, using his handy grabber gadget), then sit for a chat to hear about what was going on with him or to share the escapades of my family. He kept up with everyone on Facebook, a treasure for those who are away from the action. His pain was increasing. He had fallen a few times through the years and the fire department rescued him. He never stopped praising their kindnesses to him. He screamed in pain when he moved and was now going to bed at 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon to get off his cart seat. I could tell other things were starting to go bad as he described his ailments.

The final weekend, I was going to the store and called to see if he needed anything. When I couldn’t reach him, I went to his house and couldn’t get in with my key. I called 911 and they told me they had taken him to the hospital the day before. When I got to the hospital, he was on a respirator and sedated and I was never able to talk to him again. He had made the 911 call himself and had to be put on the machine before they got any information. He fought all the way. His doctor told me he had seen him before and Jim had told him he had no family. I wasn’t surprised. He wouldn’t have wanted me to worry. He always called me after he had been taken care of. I told the doctor I was here, as were other members of the family, and he was very glad. He didn’t want him to be alone at the end.

That last decision I made was per his directive, so it was really his decision. It wasn’t fun or lovely or anything peaceful. It was the right thing to do, to let nature take its course, which was to let him quit suffering. Since then, I’ve been spending time in his house, going through the papers and belongings I need to take care of. I know people don’t want to do this kind of thing, but I find it kind of peaceful and revealing. You relive the person’s life when you have to touch everything.

My brother’s house was and is a mess. I always looked around, dreading the day when I would have to figure out what was necessary around there. His strength those last years all went to breathing and moving, so everything else is left where he put it, in piles all around. I could have offered to help him with it, but he wouldn’t have let me. So I dig through, finding treasures and learning more and more about my brother every day.

He read a lot. A lot. There are some wonderful books there. I haven’t been through his record collection yet and don’t know what shape they are in. And Jim wrote a lot. Quite a lot. I write the stuff you see here and I write reports and emails and other things, but Jim wrote books and plays and poems and letters and letters to the editors. We didn’t always agree on politics and I don’t always have some of the same interests in topics, but I do know he could write. That was his dream actually. I keep finding new things to save for later. I know more about his inner self all the time. Nothing I didn’t expect or know, but I’m finding it all on paper.

I’m remembering more through all my exploring. Our last conversations flash back at me and I realize he was remembering more too. At the end, he was trying to maintain his last shred of dignity, in his words, and he was facing a limited, painful future. But he was facing it bravely with no excuses, no blame and more strength than I can imagine. He told me stories of his travels and people he met, things I had never heard before.

The thing that stands out to me about my brother through all the things I have known about him through the years is that he was always, always there for me. He was non-judgmental when others were. He was supportive and loving at all times. I always, always knew how much he loved me. Always.

The last time I saw him, he described a morning on the White River, fishing in a deep fog in one of the places he considered most beautiful on earth. His tone was reverent while he told me this memory, reliving something very special to him and he told me he had taken a photo. Yesterday, I reached into a random box and found a sack of packages of photos. The first ones I saw jumped out at me. You know that feeling you get when you see something and you know what it is.  And I knew that this was where my brother’s heaven would be, the place he requested his ashes be scattered. The White River near Bull Shoals in Arkansas is where I will picture him from now on. Happy Fishing, Little Brother. I love you.Scan 328