Brothers before I was born.

FOR MY BROTHERS | 1 April 2012

Green grass, wide expanses, funeral hill
“Blue-jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band,
Pretty-eyed, pirate smile, you’ll marry a music man.”
Elton John’s young voice takes me to my oldest brother
And a whole era now long past of discovery.

I am driving home from  visiting my baby brother, Dennypat,
Battling esophageal cancer.

I pass the place where we sat, my husband and I,
When my middle brother Michael was cremated.
We ate muffins and had coffee and watched Mount Hood and the city.

My music for Michael was Neal Diamond’s earliest songs,
Kentucky Woman, Cherry Cherry,
The mystique of James Dean, godlike good looks, sweet heart.
Mystery man to me,
I remember snuggling in bed with him as a toddler,
How he taught me how to cut a mango properly,
And how to play Pinochle.

And the voices which drove him mad.

“And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”

Elton John double header on the radio.

Back to Stephen.  Dad.  Confidant.  Caregiver.
Neurotic not mad, angry, logical, loyal, defended, defender.
I see myself sitting on the roof outside my bedroom,
Looking at the ocean, loving the man of my dreams,
Listening to the music of my brother, Elton John.
Stephen gave me the basis for my path,
Placed my foot firmly onto it
Because I trusted him to save me.

I needed saving, and I trusted him.

I kept at it, chipping away at my poisons.
I imagine I will continue until I can’t practice anymore.
Now it is like sweet wine, a pleasure.
He is one of my teachers,
On the altar with Pema, Chagdud, Chogyam, Katagiri, Suzuki.

Music is tied to my memories,
Not just a pleasure onto itself.
Chrystal stole my music.
I shared it with her,
And she loved it, cowgurl and folk ballads,
Spanish melodies, bluegrass and banjos and fiddles.
Then she left and did not love me anymore,
And I stopped playing the music I loved
because I could not take the pain of the memories.

I year ago I vowed to reclaim my music,
And so played the tunes intermixed with
George Harrison and Stevie Ray Vaughn,
The music of my husband.
I cried through my music, and was joyous through his,
And finally got through that grief,
While repairing furniture that has its roots mixed with my roots,
Cowboy Ranchin’ Furniture, Monterey Ocean,
Wet paint, thick vibrant colors, asphalt shadows.

“It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday
the regular crowd shuffles in
There’s an old man sitting next to me
Makin’ love to his tonic and gin
He says, Son can you play me a memory
I’m not really sure how it goes
But it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete
When I wore a younger man’s clothes. . . “

Patrick should have liked Billy Joel
but he never really liked most pop music.
Claire de Lune, endlessly, over and over.
Those are some of my first music memories,
“Denny, deeeennny . . .”  I called.
He was so preoccupied with women
I could not get his attention at five so made myself a menace.
But I loved my baby brother with all my heart.
He taught me to fish, to love thunder and lightening.
Cards, walks, critters, snakes, outdoors,
An extension of Mimi and Pa,
How to do things with my hands.
He became Patrick, the alcoholic,
Denny is the sweet dimpled boy.

One of my biggest heartbreaks is that he never got sober.

Turning him away was so difficult,
But the alcoholic is mean at the drop of a hat,
Cruel and cutting, dangerous, sad, sick.
And I took care of him,
Gave him shelter, tried to get him sober.

So many times.

Tried to explain him to his family,
And spent time on the cross for trying.

The piano man is dying, baby brother.

I don’t know when.  A slow painful death.
His pain is breaking my heart. It always has.

I used to think I was most like Stephen,
But realize that I have pieces of all my brothers in me.
Logical, pit-bull, loyal, meditative, creative, barefoot,
Playful, outdoors, craftsman, sad, angry, sweet.
All parts of my brothers, and they are parts of me.

Where will I be when they are all gone?

Michael died 8 January 2010.

UPDATE | 3 June 2012

Patrick died 23 May 2012

Long before I Knew him, he was known to my older brothers. That quirky smile would charm the pants off many women.

Me and Patrick at our grandparent’s ranch. I was lucky with my three brothers.

Patrick with his kids — oops — dogs. He has actual kids!

Patrick and Mike in Santa Barbara, taken by my brother Stephen. Sadly, I was not there for that reunion.

Stephen trimming his hair and beard and making him pretty in the hospital. Love is caring for another, and none of my brothers shied away from being in the trenches for a loved one — especially Stephen.

This is the image he showed to the oncologists. He would ask, “How does this man, who ate well and exercised every day, end up with this cancer?” He never heard their answer, being in denial, “Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol.”


The nine months building toward his death flew by.  Some of it feels like a dream, hazy and out of sequence.  Snapshots stay with me, and right now they are the painful ones.  It has always been like that with my brother Patrick, whose life was tragic in ways, and he made it all the more tragic.  Maybe it is why I am looking at so many happy pictures.  We had so many really good times.

I see abject fear on his face.  More than once.  No words, because words were hard to come by with that tumor.  I had been told by the nursing staff (doctors really don’t offer much) that it was very possible that he might die of asphyxiation, and that is was not a good death for him or those of us who were with him.  Our whole family was behind him going onto hospice, and possibly stopping his food, for he was clearly dying, but Patrick was not about to go there yet.  I had to bring him there.  He did not know about the possibility of  asphyxiation, but I knew it would be a new terror for him, and he had already endured so much in an effort for a bit of quality of life.

Five months before his death.

Patrick had always looked me in the eyes.  Now it was more than half our communication.

The subject came up easily.  I told him why I thought he should choose hospice, that ultimately he had a death sentence, and this choice was about comfort, not changing what was so.  It would end trips to ER, trips to doctors, and end more pain.  He might not die faster, but he would die with less suffering.  I thought it would be a long conversation.

He looked at me angry, a look I will not forget.  I had been the nearer of more bad news about this, and had taken the heat several times.  But then he said, “Let’s do it.  But let’s do it now, get the lawyers in or whoever, let’s do this.”  I walked out and told the staff to get hospice in here, that we were ready to sign.  I called his daughter, she was on her way.  Mitchell came too.

Then like so many times in those last six months, time slowed, and yet I was taken away to handle the issues surrounding the decision.  But I saw his face, and it was a face hurt with betrayal.  He was facing the end, which all of us do by ourselves, no matter how many people are around.  Life betrayed him, and it was over.  I brought him the news, said the words aloud.  He was angry, sad, and the joy left his face.

And we could not talk about it.  He had no words.  I went back to be with him, to sit beside him and hold his hand, and he had energy, wanting to know when we were going to do this.  Looking back, I am not sure he was doing it quickly because he thought once done, it could not be undone and so he wanted to do it before he had time to think about it.  Maybe he simply was resigned and wanted to get it over.

As I had hundreds of times I told him I was sorry, and that I loved him.  If I could change the way it was I would.

The painful look of anger, betrayal, and hurt stays with me, along with so many looks as I was leaving, or just coming in to see him.   I knew that this was his best option, and those closest to the situation knew it was too, including all of us who loved him.  I did not want to fill his mind with more fears of how he could die when his mind had already gone there a hundred times.

Last night I finished doing taxes, the other things we can’t avoid.  I reviewed the beginning of this disease with receipts.  I am sad again, missing him, and wishing I could hear his voice one more time saying, “Hi Babe.”

Concurrently today I finished building an altar, with my brothers’ ashes.  I will have Patrick’s ashes until the wake on his birthday, and have a small amphora of Mike’s ashes next to his.  His hat sits atop his ashes.  With an invitation to the Museum, his antique and refinishing shop.

I need to remember the happy times, and need to process these horrid memories, because by writing about them I move through them and they find their proper order in my psyche.


I wrote a bit about this in a blog post, but thought to drop the images here too: My brothers and I in early portraits I painted.

4 Responses to brothers

  1. barbiedoo47 says:

    Kate, so beautiful a tribute to your brothers and your life with them…It was hard for me to read thru it but I couldn’t stop….Art and the gift of words will get you thru life and bring you peace and joy…Thanks for sharing your life…Barbie

    • zenkatwrites says:

      Recently our blender broke and now daily I use the blender we gave him when he first could not swallow whole food. It breaks my heart, and I also open and feel the joy it gave him to make a smoothie. My oldest brother is wearing the red jacket he gave him rather than buy a new jacket. These things connect us. If only people would not move away from the sadness, they would eventually move forward into the love. Thank you so much. Kate

  2. Katie, this is beautiful, so much so. Thank you for sharing your world.

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