Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Loss of My Brother

It's been a difficult day. It’s difficult to know where to start. It’s difficult to put my thoughts together. It’s difficult to share what I am feeling. It’s just difficult. Just before noon, my cell phone started ringing off the hook. I picked up the call from my wife, Karlene. She asked me where I was and then told me to meet her at the house ASAP. I knew that it was something big. I arrived home moments before Karlene and watched her pull into the driveway and get out of the car. I did not say a word. I did not want to. She started saying; “I’m sorry,” as she came toward me. Then, with tears in her eyes, said two words, “Your Brother.”

Strange as it sounds, a premonition that I had over a week ago has come true. Last week, I told Karlene that I had a bad feeling about my brother – a very bad feeling. I just had a sense, a feeling, in my spirit that something was wrong. For the past several days, our family has been trying to get in touch with him. With him being divorced and living by himself, our efforts were to no avail. Today we know why. He was found deceased this morning in his bedroom by my nephew.

Mike was 12 years older than me. He was my only brother. Even though we were quite a bit apart in age, we still loved each other as brothers. The age difference, my brother’s loner attitude, and our increasingly divergent lifestyles, helped us to not be as close as we could have been. However, my mind is filled with many great memories of the times that we had together.

When I was a child, Mike often babysat me for my parents. When he was old enough to drive, mom and dad bought him a 1957 Chevy Bel-air wagon that he promptly turned into a sweet hot rod. He enjoyed driving it and I enjoyed riding in it. Mike loved the Ocean, especially the tide-pools off of Palos Verdes where he would collect sea life. He and I went there several times with his teenage friends and my beagle “Honey.” To this day I remember him watching me at the small parsonage we grew up in. Mike would sneak-in his rock & roll or comedy records to listen to, make himself a quadruple-decker sandwich (with everything on it) and sit down with a half-gallon of milk – it was party-time! I remember the day in 1967 that he joined the Navy and left our home forever. I missed him then. I miss him now.

We also spent time together at our Grandmother’s house out in the country near the town of Chowchilla, CA. Mike was 16 or 17 and had an Air Rifle and Pellet Pistol – both of which I coveted even at my young age. I distinctly remember that one day I kept pestering him until he let me shoot his BB gun out beside the barn. He had set up a few old bottles and tin cans upon the fence for target practice. Mike had an ornery streak and after letting me shoot the gun, gave me a devious look and told me that I had to the count of 10 before I became the target. I high-tailed it around the side of the barn, my PF Flyers going as fast as they could. He got to 10 and started yelling, “I’m gonna shoot you!” and I knew that he meant it. I was screaming for my Grandma as I rounded the side of the house heading for the sanctuary of the large enclosed front porch. I reached the screen door of the porch at the same time as Mike started shooting, which also happened to be the same time my Grandma stepped-out of the house to see what the commotion was all about. Grandma let out a shriek as she took a BB, meant for my backside, just beneath her right kneecap and went down like a bag of dirt. “You shot me, Mickie!” Grandma screamed. She seemed shocked by the fact that her favorite grandson – her “itchy-boy” – had just shot her with his BB gun. I wasn’t shocked. However, Mike was mortified and that was the end of the BB gun at Grandma’s.

In the Navy, Mike spent several years overseas which caused an even greater separation or disconnect between us. Then, in the late-seventies, after stints in Guam and the Philippines, He was transferred to the Mare Island Naval Base in Vallejo, CA. I only got to see him a couple of times while he lived up there. One was to watch Super Bowl XV on January 25, 1981 when the Raiders beat the Eagles. When he moved to Canoga Park a short time later, he provided a refuge for me to get away and spend a few days if I needed a place to stay. We spent one weekend breaking-in his brand-new VHS VCR by watching close to a dozen movies that we “rented” from a “movie store.” All of that was brand-new back then and we had a great time.

I enjoyed fishing with Mike and he always hated the fact that I would out-fish him every single time we went out. He wasn’t shy about letting me know it, either. Whether it was saltwater or freshwater, the story was always the same and his classic responses, which were sprinkled liberally with colorful metaphors, make me want to laugh even now as I think about them. Whether it was fishing, board games or whatever, Mike hated getting beaten in anything – especially by me, his kid-brother.

Mike had a brilliant mind and a near-genius IQ. He could fix just about anything mechanical or electronic. He could just look at it and figure out how it worked or how to make it work. Computer issues? No problem. He was the IT/Computer guy for Panavision for many years.

Mike was reclusive and didn't come around much. I don’t know if he was comfortable with himself, but he was comfortable being by himself. Surprisingly in the last few months he started popping-in from time to time. A few weeks ago, he showed-up and we were able to spend some time together. He brought his photo portfolio. Showing us some of his favorite photos. I told him about the photos that I really liked from his website (MOpelaPhoto.com). He was always into photography. It was what he really enjoyed doing. We talked and reminisced and laughed. It was a good visit. That was the last time that I saw him or spoke to him. It was shortly before his birthday.

Mike and Debi, (my siblings) and I, all celebrate our birthdays within days of each other in January. The birthdays have come and gone. Unfortunately, so has my brother Mike. He has come and he has gone. Yet, he left a mark upon my life that I will never forget.

I'll miss my big brother. In fact, I already do.

14 comments:

Shelley said...

Tim, i'm so sorry for your loss. You are all in our prayers. We love you.

gotoccc.com said...

I'm sorry Pastor Tim. We all come and go...but how we make a difference in one's life matters the most. Somehow, in one way or another, both you and your brother made a difference in each other. You are in our prayers.

Cathy po said...

I'm sorry Pastor Tim. We all come and go...but how we make a difference in one's life matters the most. Somehow, in one way or another, both you and your brother made a difference in each other. You are in our prayers.

Roger, Maricar, and Ruth said...

God bless you and your family, I pray he gives you peace and comfort in this time of sorrow. We love you and are here for you.

Clark said...

Pastor Tim, We wish you strength and peace during this time. It was so great to read this blog entry, so much fun to share these memories. You are so blessed to have had the opportunity to have a brother, and to be a brother. We love you.

Clark & Monica

Big Daddy & MOM said...

Tim
Big Daddy and I feel so bad about you losing your brother. There are no word that we could say that would be right at this time.
We want you to know we LOVE YOU and we are PRAYING FOR YOU.
We will be doing something and you and your family will cames to our mind and our heart breaks for you
Love you Tim

Tim and Kasie said...

Pastor Tim,
Kasie and I both would like to pass along our prayers and sympathies to you and your family. We both know how special it is to have a big brother. They are truly a gift and a blessing. Thank you for sharing the fond memories of your brother with us. And know that we are here for you, and all of the Smith family.

With great sympathy and love,
Tim and Kasie.

crcordova said...

Pastor Tim,

Josh & I want you to how sorry we are for your loss, as we know how sad they are. We will be praying for you and the family.
Love you,
Charity & Josh

Bonnita said...

I am Michael's friend from Canada and I cannot express the loss I will feel knowing he is now gone from this world - but know that he was loved deeply and unconditionally from someone who lived physically distant from him, but emotionally closer than people can imagine.
He was a part of my daily life, and like you, I felt inwardly that something had happened to him when I couldn't get in touch with him shortly after his birthday. (our last conversation was his birthday)
He was always there for me and I could go on endlessly about the things we did together - but he was terrific in my books and a day will not go by without me missing talking to him, whether by phone or email or MSN...

I was blessed with knowing him - his intelligence, his smarty-pants remarks about just about everything - and his teasing me for living in the land of moose and beavers... lol

I know as his family you will all miss him very much.

I, as his closest and deepest friend will miss him forever and always..

I hope you can all get through this together and I will be thinking of each and every one of you through this trying time.

You have my deepest sympathy and I only wish I could be in C.A. to say goodbye to my Michael in person as I know he'd be wanting the same if the situation were reversed.

All my love to everyone, and especially Michael.

Love
Bonnie
(bonnita6@sympatico.ca)

Bonnita said...

http://bonnitasviews.blogspot.com/

A little conversation like I would have had with Michael and how our emails went...

Thought you might be interested.

Michelle said...

Uncle Tim, This is Michelle, your niece. I read ur Blog about my Dad which brought mixed tears and emotions. Sadness from the fact that I hadn't spoke to him in years but also remembering the good times brought back a smile to my face. I have inherited my fathers' reclusiveness, I also prefer to keep things to myself and deal with them in my own way.
But through my children Marissa and Albert Duran, I believe the things I adored about my Father were absorbed into them. His Grandaughter Marissa is also in The Navy as her Grandfather was. She is learning to become an IT also. She asks alot about my Father and his days in the Navy but I could never answer those questions because I was only a baby at that time. I wish she could of spoke with her
Grandfather about those days. And as for my son Albert, I will always see my Father everyday in him. Well as you well know he is the spitting image of my Dad. He also has the Computer mentality as my Father. Which I hope he takes this further to becoming a career for him.
But no matter what the disagreement between My Father and Myself, I never kept my children from seeing him. That is something that I don't believe people should do. I know I am The Blacksheep, and in my own little way wished that I had made up for it through my children.
My regret is never being able to tell him " I Love him " at least one last time. And that will always in a way Haunt me.
In my mind so many times i've envisioned being able to point to his Grandchildren and say " Look Daddy, I did do something right with my life." and I'd see the pride in his eyes for their accomplishments, that I was too rebellious to achieve myself.
I'll never know how he felt about me and I'll never be able to tell him how I feel. I'll always Love my Father and will Miss him deeply. Losing him has caused me to see that I need to keep closer to the ones I love and to Never be afraid to say " I Love You " to them.
When I saw my Brother Michael last night. We hugged long and cried and no words were spoken. But as you had explained through that hug and silence so much was said. But for the first time in a long time we said that always needed " I Love You ". That should never be held back.
So I will end this with a long needed " I Love all of You " And I will see you all soon to give you the Hugs and kisses that have been gathering up all through the years.
Sincerely,
Michelle Opela

Anonymous said...

Pastor Tim,
So sorry for your loss of your brother. I surely feel your grief for I've lost seven brothers and two sisters. Reading your blog about him brought back many memories and the importance of family unity. I'm the youngest of 11 children. The only sibling I have left lives in Florida; about as far away from California as can be. Although we were a dysfunctional family -- some loners, some rebels, some "black sheep" -- due to some things that could have been controlled and some not; there was love, we just didn't know how to express it. Now that they are all gone I often wish I could turn back time so I could take the first step to become a part of their lives or at least tried to. As far as I know, I was the only Christian.
You preached a sermon some years ago on love and as I listened, I wrote an acronym for the word Love and keep it tucked away in my bible where I can read it, as a reminder:
L -- Lifts
O -- Overcomes
V -- Values
E -- Endures

I also have a newspaper clipping, now yellow from age and torn from many readings, tucked away in my bible, as another reminder:

THE TIME IS NOW
If you are ever going to love me,
Love me now, while I can know
The sweet and tender feelings
Which from true affection flow.
Love me now,
While I am living.
Do not wait until I'm gone
And then have it chiseled in marble,
Sweet words on ice cold stone.
If you have tender thoughts of me
Please tell me now.
If you wait until I am sleeping,
Never to awaken,
There will be death between us.
And, I won't hear you then.
So, if you love me, even a little bit,
Let me know it while I am living
So I can treasure it...

Hopefully, after reading this many will take the first step to "reach out", not just to their biological brothers and sisters, but also to their brothers and sisters in the Lord; for we have the same Father and are all blood-related; by the blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

My condolences and prayers go out to you and your family.
"Weeping may endure for the night but JOY cometh in the morning"!
(Psalm 30:5)
Millie Stuckey

Karlene said...

Thanks Tim for sharing your heart. I feel as if I grew up with you and Mike after reading this. You have made your memories come to life in this blog. Love you and praying for God to continue to renew your strength; have peace and comfort during this difficult time in your life.

missy_d88 said...

uncle tim....its marissa michelle's daughter. my mom emailed me your blog last night and as i read it my eyes welled up with tears. it's really hard for me to not be home right now with my family, i'm just glad i'm in california now and not back in florida where i was previously. i just wanted to give the family my love in case i can't make it to the funeral. pass it on for me

love marissa