My Brother’s Keeper: A Journey into Healing | The BridgeMaker

My Brother’s Keeper: A Journey into Healing

By on Oct 19, 2011


Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero. – Marc Brown

My brother, Eric, died on Sunday, October 9. At the age of 51, he was taken too soon, and without notice. After several days of planning, I traveled to California to celebrate his life and to say goodbye.

My brother’s death may not make sense, but his life certainly did. Eric was a kind, generous man. No matter the circumstance, he would always choose to see the good in everyone. And no matter what, he saw the world as a good place to be.

Just two years apart, my brother and I were close. He called me Mouse because I was frail as a baby. But I think the real reason Eric called me Mouse was to make sure I remembered he was the older brother.

I tried to keep our connection alive a little longer by sending him emails after his death. The emails told my brother what I was doing, thinking and feeling. The emails helped me express my grief during a painful time. I’m sharing these emails to remind the world that Eric lived here and his goodness will live forever.

From: Alex Blackwell [calexblackwell@aol.com]

To: Eric Blackwell [eblackwell96@gmail.com]
Sent: Thu, Oct 13, 2011 7:35 am
Subject: heading that way

Bro,

I’m heading to the airport soon. The flight is showing on-time so I should land at LAX by 1:45. Jenny will already be at the hotel. She and I are planning to have dinner tonight. It will good to have this brother-sister time. It’s been too long.

We’ll discuss if we want to come by and see you tomorrow. To be honest, I’m not sure what I will do.

I hope you are resting well. If I can do anything for you right now, just let me know.

Love,

Mouse

>>

From: Alex Blackwell [calexblackwell@aol.com]
To: Eric Blackwell [eblackwell96@gmail.com]
Sent: Thu, Oct 13, 2011 9:21 pm
Subject: dinner with Jenny

Eric,

Jenny and I had dinner together tonight. We found a quiet booth where we sat for over two hours. You were the topic of conversation.

Our sister told me she called you three times last week. Jenny said it took the third conversation before you opened up and were honest about your depression.

Why did you say things were okay when they weren’t? You didn’t have to hold it in like that. If I was too harsh when you were out for Caitlin’s graduation, I apologize. I only meant to open your eyes about the job change.

I’m so sorry the last few months were so difficult for you. I thought about you every day. Maybe things would be different if I wasn’t so stubborn with my tough love approach.

It’s late and my body thinks it’s even later so I’m going to bed, but I’ll see you tomorrow.

I’m so sorry Eric.

Love,

Mouse

>>

From: Alex Blackwell [calexblackwell@aol.com]
To: Eric Blackwell [eblackwell96@gmail.com]
Sent: Fri, Oct 14, 2011 4:28 pm
Subject: today’s visit

The drive was a quiet one. Dad, Brandon and I scheduled the appointment for 2 p.m. We left the hotel around 1:30. I wasn’t sure what LA traffic would be like at that time.

We took the 134 to North Hollywood. The crematorium was right where Google Maps said it would be. Dad was the last one to get out of the car. I walked to the entrance and waited for him has he shuffled across the parking lot.

The staff took us to a waiting room while they got you ready. Our father was nervous, but I sensed he needed to do this. He needed to see you one last time.

During the wait, Brandon kept checking on me and then Dad. You would be proud of your nephew. He asked how we were doing and reminded us that you would be happy to know we came to say goodbye.

After waiting a few minutes longer, a counselor escorted us to your room. He opened two French doors. You were waiting on the other side.

Dad let out a gasp; seeing you made it painfully real I suppose. The remorse in him leaked out like air from a flat tire. I motioned to Brandon to leave the room so Dad could have a few minutes with you. I left, too.

I hope peace found its way there.

When Dad finished, I returned to be with you. I stood over you and looked at your beautiful face. I saw the times when you knew exactly what to say. I saw the times when you told me you believed in me. You were always my biggest fan.

You breathed your spirit into me so often that it will always be part of me. No matter the size of the problem, your encouragement would shrink it down to nothing.

Looking at your face, I remember the little boy who lost his leg in that horrible accident. The image of the tractor running over you has haunted me for too long. An eight-year-old boy shouldn’t have to endure what you did; and a six-year-old boy shouldn’t have to witness it.

You did look beautiful. Your jet black hair was combed back just the way you like it. The grey in your stubble glistened like snow. Even in death, your handsomeness was obvious.

How did you do it Eric? How did you stay optimistic through everything that happened to you? What was your secret?

Can you talk to me one more time?

Mouse

>>

From: Alex Blackwell [calexblackwell@aol.com]
To: Eric Blackwell [eblackwell96@gmail.com]
Sent: Sat, Oct 15, 2011 10:20 pm
Subject: celebration

It was nice to see your house full of people who loved you. Your Celebration of Life had food, fellowship and plenty of affection. You would not have been disappointed.

I made it a point to introduce myself to as many people as I could. I wanted them to know I was your brother. In just about every face I met, I saw your reflection. I saw a smile followed by genuine warmth.

Once again, your spirit filled me.

I miss you so much.

>>

From: Alex Blackwell [calexblackwell@aol.com]
To: Eric Blackwell [eblackwell96@gmail.com]
Sent: Tues, Oct 18, 2011 8:51 pm
Subject: the journey home

Brother,

This is the hardest email to write because I know it will be the last one. I’ve been putting it off for a couple of days. I blamed the procrastination on being tired, but I know there was another reason.

The feeling surfaced on the way home. It was hard to focus during the flight. I couldn’t read, had no inspiration to write and even listening to music was a struggle. Depression wasn’t creating the blockage; guilt was.

I’ve always felt responsible for you. Witnessing your accident made me think, why not me? And because it wasn’t me, it has felt like I’ve owed a debt to someone or something; it has felt like I’ve been performing acts of penance since I was six years old.

I’m so tired.

Why was I able to return home on Sunday night? Why do I get to continue to live? Why do I deserve two legs?

These questions, and the inability to find the answers, have cost me. The price has been guilt and the guilt has kept me from allowing happiness to stay in my life for very long.

The flight home gave me time to think and to reflect on what your life meant to me. For so many years, I considered myself your keeper. I protected you from the bullies at school; I sent money when you needed it and I gave advice when requested.

I become so consumed with what I was doing for you that I forget what you were doing for me.

Seeing you on Friday made me think, once again, why not me?

But it has been me.

I’ve punished myself for your accident every day since it happened. I became obsessed with doing everything perfectly so the next accident could be avoided. It never occurred to me that you were trying to model your secret for staying positive every time we talked or were together.

Your secret was a simple one: Accept and forgive.

Eric, your spirit will continue to live in me. I promise to find the courage to begin a journey into healing. I promise to learn how to accept and forgive myself.

After all these years I thought I was your keeper.

Now it’s clear.

You have been my keeper all along.

Forever your Mouse,

Alex

The BridgeMaker Founder Alex Blackwell is the author of Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender. Join the community to connect, share and inspire: Twitter | Facebook | More Posts

  • Halfpast

    I think about Eric all the time and what a beautiful impact he made on me and my family.  We loved him and were so thankful for everything that he gave my sister unconditionally.  I visit this website and I see nothing that resembles his grace , beauty and unconditional love. You grieve to I am sure– but it seems Mouse that you have carelessly tossed him in the waves and forgotten about what mattered the most to him.  And that was his wife- where is the honor for your brother.
    I will love you forever Uncle Eric.

  • When my father passed away suddenly in 2010 at 65, a close friend said, “death, although tragic, can also be a very beautiful thing.” I thought he was crazy at the time but then I was open to the possibility of it just by hearing those words, and I was able to find the beauty in some unlikely places. Granted it was still difficult.

    This is an amazing story Alex, and I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this very personal journey with us.