As Angelina Jolie once quipped, “I’m so in love with my brother.” While I could never understand the kiss in which she chose to express this sibling love, I do know exactly how she feels because I also am in love with my brother. I love my three brothers equally but my brother Michael, or Dominic as he prefers to be called, is one special guy, deserving of an unprecedented sister-worship.
(The little sister with her three brothers, from left to right: Jimmy, Michael, and Joey)
I realized just how much I admired my big brother back in the 1970s when I went to visit him in his small apartment in East Aurora, New York where he lived with his Irish Wolfhound, Taylor. Then, as now, Michael lives simply with only the bare necessities to sustain his day to day life. I’ve always considered him the quintessential hippie of the family, a character I’ve tried to emulate but have woefully fallen short. It was my brother that introduced me to Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint soap, eating fresh vegetables right out of the garden, and how to view every day on this earth as a blessing to be grateful for.
My family has endured more than its fair share of tragedy, but my Michael has carried the weight of it heavier than most. At the age of eight he witnessed the devastating killing of his mother at the hand of his beloved father. Not two weeks later he heard of his father’s suicide over the local radio station as he ate his breakfast. From that point forward, conditioned to keep the tragedy from ruining the family name, he stuffed his emotions, pain, and grief far into the recesses of his fragile, innocent mind.
It wasn’t until twenty-years later when his naïve and persistent little sister came asking questions did his tenuous reserve begin to crack. That and the benign aneurism that nestled in his brain, causing first seizures, then black-outs, then the flood of remembrances that forced him to look his grief head-on and finally, finally deal with our family history. What saved him, he more than once shared, was the family he had created consisting of his beautiful, loving wife Sharon, and his two girls, Maple (I told you he was a nature lover) and Patricia, named after his long-dead mother.
(Michael and Sharon on their wedding day)
But life challenges were not behind Michael yet. He was forced to go through another heart-wrenching and difficult period, one that was as painful as it was healing.
Michael’s wife, Sharon was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of breast cancer (IBC Research Foundation), which sadly took her life on August 4th, 2006. For three years Michael took care of Sharon, nursing her through the horrific symptoms of the disease and medical treatments. If any grace can be recognized in such a tragic story, it is that Michael, in caring for his wife and holding her as she left this world for the next, was able to deal with his grief in a way he was never allowed to when his mother was ripped from his life. In preparing for his wife’s final rest, Michael turned to the one entity that had sustained him and brought him intense comfort; he turned to Mother Earth. Sharon and Michael’s love story and my brother’s choice in honoring his love and the mother of his children is one that needs to be shared with others.
Prior to her death, Michael had commissioned the construction of a simple pine casket, turning to a people he admired for their approach to life, the Amish. The casket was beautifully crafted and contained no harmful, earth-unfriendly chemicals. Sharon’s final resting place would be at Greensprings Natural Cemetery (http://naturalburial.org/index.php), located more than two hours from his home. There he can visit Sharon in a beautiful setting where he has planted a sugar Maple tree atop her grave, camped in order to feel closer to his wife, and where he will soon place the natural stone headstone to mark his wife’s location. This headstone symbolizes Michael’s love for Sharon through the use of art he has taken from various Native American picture symbols.
Yes, my brother is an amazing, talented, loving man. As a witness to his courage through all the curves life has thrown him, his optimism and love of life and family, I have more admiration for him than any other man in my life, save my own husband. Mom and Dad, you would be so proud of the little boy who grew up to be an exceptional man.