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ALEX HARROLD: Requiem for a sibling

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Reflection comes with age, in that there is a direct correlation between getting older and the amount of time we spend reflecting on the past, especially when one year ends and another begins.

The year that just ended is going to be a particularly sober exercise to reflect upon for me, as it was the year I lost a younger brother. My wife lost a younger brother as well in 2018, a first sibling death for us both.

We all share the grief of losing someone so close, but there is both a similarity and a difference to the meaning they held for us, and that shows up when we begin to reflect on what it was we shared growing up together.

I had three brothers, now I have two. There was a six-year gap between the second oldest brother, me, and the first younger brother, Keith, the subject of this requiem. That gap identified two distinct sets of brothers that grew up differently. I once described it this way: My older brother and I referred to our parents as the Tasmanian Devil Tag Team, while Keith and our youngest brother Dennis called them Cosmic Tom and Secret Faye. You pretty much had to be there.

The year that just ended is going to be a particularly sober exercise to reflect upon for me, as it was the year I lost a younger brother. My wife lost a younger brother as well in 2018, a first sibling death for us both.

That doesn't mean we didn't have things in common. Keith and I were very close as two drummers. Naturally, I was the first. We both went through the bands of junior and senior high, we both played in bands after high school, and we both enjoyed some time as struggling musicians. Keith even took over a gig I had with a country and western band after I got out of the Navy, a job he kept for three years.

But if I was the first, the guy he emulated that we never acknowledged, he was the better musician. It became his life, as he spent 25 years as a distributor with WORD Records. He was a concert promoter and so much more, and his career brought him into friendships and dealings with people like singer Amy Grant, who showed up to sing at his funeral.

I sat in a receiving line at his funeral for six hours, greeting the 1,000 or so people whose lives he touched, all the while marveling at the variety of endeavours that brought those people into his sphere.

And I reflected with regret at the dismissiveness I unloaded upon him when he was young; at the times he asked me to take him bowling and I said no way, or when he was 13 and wanted to go to a Led Zeppelin concert in Pittsburgh, and I told him I didn't know where I'd be that day.

As it turned out, I ended up going with a couple of buddies, and in a 20,000 seat venue, Keith shows up, sitting two rows in front of me and three seats over. I can't describe the look he gave me that day, but I have a sense that, as an older brother, I became an overwhelming disappointment. I'll never know. Maybe we were waiting to laugh about it in our old age, neither of us knowing he wouldn't make it past the age of 62.

I once apologized to the family for dragging them around the country, but it was Keith who said; “Are you kidding? If it wasn't for you, we would never had went anywhere!”

Even so, we remained close, in spite of the geographical distance between us. That started when I left for the Navy at 19, about a year after that concert. Just about everywhere I was stationed, the family showed up, including in Argentia where I got married and Keith was my best man.

I once apologized to the family for dragging them around the country, but it was Keith who said; “Are you kidding? If it wasn't for you, we would never had went anywhere!”

I appreciated the perspective.

My older brother Tom saved Keith's life once. Keith was about a year old when he fell into a swimming pool we had in the yard and promptly sank to the bottom. Tommy was nine and just reached down and yanked him out. I hadn't turned six yet, but I remember seeing Keith lying on the bottom of the pool and thinking, “That's not right.” It didn't occur to me to actually do something.

As regret goes, I've had to reflect on the fact that, in all the years we spent as drummers, we only ever set up both of our drums and played together once, in my parent's basement. Apparently, it also never occurred to me that we ought to have done that more. I think I may not have been the older brother you deserved. It took me too long to learn that. I'll miss you forever."

Alex Harrold is a retired teacher and attorney, living in Westport with his wife, Eileen.

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