the alternative, wisdom

eulogy for brian

The following was given by Brian’s twin brother, Bruce, at his funeral on October 22, 2010.

I’ve only talked at one funeral before so I know I’m not very good at it. My wife Kathy is up here for support – please bear with me.

I’m Bruce and Brian is my twin brother. I say is because I find it difficult to use past tense when referring to Brian. Anybody who knows Brian knows that although his body may have given out, he is still with us here today in our minds and in our hearts. He will always be a better part of us.

Today we are celebrating Brian’s life on this earth and the fact that he is now in a much better place saying long-awaited “Hello’s” and ”I love you’s” to Mom and others who preceded him in death.

While visiting Brian in the hospital a couple of weeks ago, I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. I was expecting him to say he wanted his forehead wiped off or something like that, but instead he asked me if I would do his eulogy. It is truly an honor for me to be able to tell you a little bit about my brother.

Brian is one of the kindest, most generous persons I have ever known – at least on par with our dad in that respect. I know it’s a cliché, but Brian would truly give the shirt off his back if you needed it. We only have to look at everybody who came here today to say “see you later, Brian” to know how many lives Brian has affected. Those of you who were able to attend Brian’s prayer service last night heard some amazing stories that attest to his generosity and character. He will truly be missed. Dad – thanks for raising us right.

We grew up in a time when kids could be kids and our neighborhood was full of them. We’d do the minimum of chores it would take for Mom to let us go out and play – and play we did. We kids explored every inch of soil for several blocks around as we played army, tag, kick ball, built forts, camped out or whatever. We even investigated soil in the down direction when we attempted to dig a hole to China in the Franks’ back yard; as we dug we always thought we were getting close! It’s funny how I remember digging that hole but can’t recall how it got filled back in.

Our sister Joan fondly recalls the time she told Mom that she had always wanted a Raggedy Ann doll. Unexpectedly a few months later, Brian proudly presented Joan with a Raggedy Ann that he had found at a garage sale for a nickel. He had overheard what Joan had said and wanted to make sure she would have her doll. Joan still has that Raggedy Ann doll today.

Brian always enjoyed the outdoors and hunting and fishing and loved spending time at Toad Lake where they had a beautiful view – which you can see as the background in his video tribute. That love of the outdoors was undoubtedly stoked by family camping trips that covered most of the US and Canada.

Brian also looked forward to summer camp, be it church camp at Camp Emmaus or scout camp at Camp Wilderness. One summer at scout camp, one of our neighbors, Jim, and Brian were assigned the task of building a simple latrine out of logs. To use the latrine, one had to dig a small hole and leave a pile of cover soil for after each use. Brian looked at Jim and said “It won’t smell like a pile of roses!” Brian always had some comment like that that would just crack you up.

In addition to the outdoors, Brian enjoys playing games and is very good at throwing darts and playing cards. He’ll do whatever it takes to win – or, if necessary, not to lose. One time I was playing darts at his house and it actually looked like I had a chance for a rare win – only to see Brian hit the power switch with his next shot and shut the board off. He always looked forward to the weekly card game at the Snyders and he told those who passed before him to hold a chair at their table for him. Time to take your seat, Brian – it’s your deal.

Even though we may have worn the same clothes and sported the same Heinie haircuts as youngsters, Brian and I never really looked like twins. We won many bets over the years proving we really were twins. Free Beer! But to us, being twins wasn’t all that different. Heck, we had Jim and John across the street, Dave and Dan a couple of blocks over, and Barb and Cindy a couple blocks the other way. We kind of wondered what was wrong with the families who didn’t have twins!

And although we were twins, Brian and I were definitely different. Once we reached high school we were clearly going our separate ways with our own interests and unique sets of friends. Among Brian’s best friends were two other boys named Brian and Brian. It was funny for a while to say “Hey Brian!” and see all three turn their heads. It wasn’t so funny to the police officer who pulled them over and asked for their names and heard what he thought was a smart-alecky “Brian”, “Brian”, “Brian”.

After high school, Brian earned his Construction Electricity degree from Moorhead Tech and served his a​p​p​r​e​n​t​i​ce​s​h​i​p in western North Dakota – living in both Williston and Bismarck. Some of that time was spent with a beautiful young woman named Lori, but things weren’t ready to work out for them yet and they split up.

I remember going out to Bismarck to help Brian move out of an apartment. He had a few dirty dishes left but had run out of dishwasher detergent, so we decided to use some liquid dish soap to do the last little load. It wasn’t long before his small kitchen started filling up with soap suds; we just looked at each other and started laughing – then started searching for where we had packed the mop.

Brian completed his a​p​p​r​e​n​t​i​c​e​s​h​i​p​, became a journeyman electrician and eventually returned to the Moorhead area where he worked primarily in commercial new construction and remodeling – most recently with Dakota Electric. Brian wired my lake home and refused any payment – even after putting up with me as the world’s worst apprentice. Brian helped out many friends and neighbors with electrical work as well and always refused payment – he knew he’d get paid back some day. When one of Dad’s neighbors tried to give Brian a little something for his efforts, he just said “No, that’s OK. You helped raise me.”

Once in a while Brian would run into relatives like David or Matt when they crossed paths on a job site and even bumped into my son Brad when Brad was delivering appliances to a new apartment complex Brian was wiring. Brian often made service calls to the VA hospital where he would usually run into Aunt Myrtle or Uncle Bob doing volunteer work. He’d always say “Hi Auntie!” to Myrt. Brian knew Bob wasn’t doing well while he was in the hospital and whenever I came to visit, Brian would ask me how Bob was doing. A couple of weeks ago we lost Uncle Bob and I came back up for his funeral. I went to visit Brian in the hospital [at a time when he knew I was supposed to be dealing with things back home] and he looked at me and mouthed “What brings you to town?” I said “You do, Brian”. His next words were “How’s Bob?” – he knew something was up. He felt terrible that he couldn’t say “Good bye” to Bob. At least now he can say “Hi Uncle!”.

Brian and Cindy had a short marriage which resulted in Brian’s son, Corey. Corey’s a great young man and is currently attending college in Arizona. Brian is very proud of Corey and knows he will do well in life.

Several years ago Brian’s good friend Darrell passed away u​n​e​x​p​e​c​t​e​d​l​y​. At Darrell’s funeral, Brian ran into the same Lori that he had dated many years earlier. I remember Brian telling me that Lori was the love of his life and he had made a big mistake by letting her get away – and he wasn’t going to let that happen again. Brian and Lori rekindled their relationship and got married, adding Lori’s sons Erik and Alex to the fold. Erik is currently a senior at Moorhead High School and Alex just started his Freshman year. Brian loves the boys and expressed that he wishes he could see them graduate. He also wishes he could take them hunting and fishing again.

Brian and Lori also have one child together – Megan – who is in third grade at Reinertson Elementary. When Brian learned of his leukemia and prognosis, he said all he hoped for was to be able to walk Megan down the aisle some day. Although that won’t be physically possible, we know he’ll be there in spirit.

Brian was such a good friend to so many that several different families also claim Brian as their brother or uncle or son – he is that special. I won’t name them here as I know I would leave somebody out – you know who you are. The only neighborhood family member that may not have accepted Brian was the Franks’ dog Tobie. Tobie lived in his own little black​-​and-white world where either your name was Franks or you were the mailman. I think Tobie made each of us kids feel like the mailman at least once.

The recent record flooding in Moorhead brought Brian’s neighbors together to battle the Red River when they were initially told that their neighborhood would be sacrificed. They not only built walls that saved their homes, but they built strong friendships that made for a better n​e​i​g​h​b​o​r​h​o​o​d​. This year they planted a community garden which was being raided nightly by deer. Brian’s neighbor set up a game camera to capture the thievery, and Brian waited until he was away before he put on some paper antlers and proceeded to “make like a deer” in front of the camera. We’re all happy that Brian was able to have a great summer both at home and at the lake.

When I learned of Brian’s leukemia, I rushed to his side and was lucky to see him before they had to sedate him. Although he looked like a fish out of water trying to breathe with an oxygen mask, he seemed to be helping us cope more than we were helping him as he continued to make light of his situation – cracking jokes and teasing my wife Kathy. Brian was always looking out for everybody else.

After telling me he couldn’t believe how strong he could be one minute and how weak the next, he still wanted to arm wrestle. Ever since he pushed me out of the womb first, Brian has always been bigger and stronger than me. Although this could have been the one time I might have beaten him, I just couldn’t do it and he remains undefeated against me. I have a feeling if I had tried, I’d still be 0 and whatever.

After spending a considerable amount of time unconscious in the ICU, Brian moved out onto the floor but was initially unable to speak. As his communication skills improved, it became clear that there was one thing he wanted more than anything else – a drink of cold ice water. Whenever a nurse, doctor, nursing assistant, or therapist would ask “Is there anything else I can get for you, Brian?”, he would simply reply “Ice water” Brian never got that long-awaited drink. Our sister Sandra asked Brian many tough questions to help settle his affairs and even asked Brian what he’d like served after his funeral. At first he just shrugged his shoulders, but then he looked up and said “Make sure there’s a pitcher of ice water on every table”. Please make a personal toast to Brian as you enjoy a drink of ice water after this service. I’ll be making a silent personal toast whenever I drink ice water from now on.

Even under the worst of conditions and with a dire prognosis, Brian always said “Thank you” to the nursing staff and doctors. He knew that no matter how bad the news was or how many times they poked him, they were just doing their best to make him better and he truly appreciated every little thing anybody did for him. I’m sure if he was here today he’d say thank you all for coming.

During one of his last visits, Pastor Rick asked Brian if he was afraid of dying. Brian said no, he wasn’t afraid of dying – he was worried about what might happen to his loved ones without him here. Don’t worry, Brian – they’ll be OK.

We were all hoping that Brian would get well enough to undergo a bone marrow transplant. I was selfishly hoping I’d be a perfect match so I could be a hero back to Brian. Although I will never know if I was a match, I will – and I urge all of you – to register with the National Marrow Donor Program. Maybe together we can save a life some day. Brian would like that.

I love you Brian – I only wish I could have done more for you.

soul, the alternative

the alternative

After seven weeks of fighting, on October 18, 2010, my baby brother lost his battle with AML. We can’t control what happens in life, but we can control how we respond. And the response of my brother’s family, friends, neighbors, former neighbors, colleagues, classmates and teachers of his children was absolutely amazing.

If we had tried to script the celebration of life that followed the viewing the evening before his funeral, we couldn’t have done a better job. The people who were moved to stand up to tell us about how my baby brother touched their lives had us in tears as well as in laughter throughout. Again and again we heard about how he loved to hug the people he loved, and that he was unafraid to tell us all that he loved us.

Even the weather responded with grace. While October in Minnesota can be cold, the weather the week we were preparing for my brother’s funeral was gorgeous. Sunshine and warm temperatures made it easier to smile and laugh amidst the many tears.

My brother never lost his sense of humor or his sense of humanity. Even before he could tolerate the speaking valve that allowed us to hear his speech, he spoke to us, challenging us to read his lips. This was all the more difficult as he followed the guidelines of humor by saying something unexpected more often than the expected. We had to rely on a spelling board which grouped the letters of the alphabet into four bunches. We pointed to groups to figure out how to narrow down the spelling of words we didn’t understand through lip reading. A lesser man might have given up trying to keep our spirits up. But my brother was a great man.

I love you, Brian. Have a great Thanksgiving feast with Mom, Aunt Laverne, Uncle Bob, all the grandparents, and the regular card players who went before you.