Cleaning up in the aftermath

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By Betty Slade

Over the years, my Sweet Al received phone calls from his brother. The gruff and impatient voice was always about sending Al on an errand. “Go down to my house, clear the snow, open the gate and turn on the heat, my ex is coming to Pagosa for the weekend.”

Nothing was too much to ask Al to do. “Al, I left my diamond ring in a hotel in Gallup, go get it.” Never please or thank you.

My Sweet Al dropped everything and drove to Gallup, N.M., found his brother’s ring and even a girlfriend left behind in the hotel room. Al returned them to where they belonged, didn’t judge and didn’t talk about it.

“I need Al to cleanup on Aisle No. 9.” As fast as Al could go, he was there with a broom, mop and a bucket of soapy water. He never complained, always went with a servant’s heart.

When I hear a voice say over the intercom at the grocery store, “Clean up on aisle No. 9,” I think about all the times Al cleaned up the messes his brother left behind.

The aftermath of someone or something out of control is very real. We watched Hurricane Ian recently make its way across Florida. It was out of control. Everyone hid from the hurricane, evacuated or did whatever they needed to do to get out of its path.

In the aftermath, horrifying photos showed the disaster the storm had left behind. People looked at their belongings, examined a broken and drenched piece of furniture, shook their heads at their boat sitting in a tree or the roof of their home blown off and down the street.

As they searched through the rubbish, they picked up pieces of memories from their past and cried for what the hurricane had destroyed. I believe that is how the family members felt at the memorial of Al’s brother. Anyone who wanted to share a story or a memory was given time.

Each person picked up a piece of the aftermath of a person out of control and tried to make sense of it. They wanted to say something nice to memorialize their brother, father and grandfather, but the hurt was too deep. Still, they were respectful in their pain.

The gathering was small, about 20 people. There were family members and a few caregivers, who had taken care of David in his last year on earth. They shared their time with him. It was interesting the people who took care of him all said he was difficult but enjoyed him. They didn’t feel the impact of a hurting family. No tears from them, just a sadness he was gone.

I likened their experience to Hurricane Ian. We sat in Colorado, watching on television the people in Florida who dealt with the disastrous storm. We felt deeply for their loss, prayed for them, but we couldn’t feel what they were going through.

One of the caregivers, who was with Al’s brother at the very end, asked David if he had any regrets. David said, “No. I did everything I wanted to do.”

I remember David flew to Paris on Aug. 17, 1978. With a bottle of champagne in hand, David ran to greet Ben Abruzzo and two other men. They had just crossed the Atlantic in a helium balloon named Double Eagle II.

We watched on television from our home in Pagosa. We envied David that he had the means to do that and many other things over his lifetime.

I guess there wouldn’t be any regret. But I would’ve thought his last days would be of great remorse, crying for all his wrong choices and repenting to all who loved him and whom he hurt.

I said, “Al, your brother lived in a bubble of his own making. He was totally out of touch with reality. He had no idea of the hurt he caused to the people who loved him and he left behind.”

When the will was read, all the names of the family were listed saying absolutely nothing was to be given to any of them. His whole estate: business, home, beautiful art and all his belongings were left to an ex-wife, the one who wasn’t in the family. The one Al always waited on at David’s whim. The one who never said thank you either.

After reading the will, I believe David’s son said it best. “I didn’t want anything, but when we were told, it was as if we were worth nothing to him. We weren’t worthy. That’s what hurts the most.”

I shared my story about the two brothers’ lives and how I coped with all the nonsense David put our family through. We took a backseat many times to Al’s brother. The thoughtlessness brought a lot of hurt and anger. We have had to deal with the emotions over the years. Now his children have to pick up more pieces in the aftermath and forgive him, for he didn’t have any concept of the pain he caused.

When I read my story at the memorial, David’s son said, “Thank you for being truthful. Never had there been such a living testimony of a story of two brothers, each taking a different path, each making different life choices. One selfless, a servant to an older brother and the other brother, selfish, believing everything revolved around him.”

I told Al, “Recently I wrote about a man revered and beloved by his family and this community. There was nothing but sweet thoughts to say about him. He lived a selfless life. Today, I’m writing about a man who lived with the world at his feet with no regard for others.”

Final brushstroke: When one person experiences an enormous unsettling at their core, every person in the family is affected. It’s how we pick up after the storm and forgive that heals. I have found the human spirit is relentless and will go on, even when there’s nothing that makes sense.

Send your comment to bettyslade@centurytel.net.

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