Waxing Philosophic: When Did Siblings Get Cool?


Submitted 6 months ago
Created by
Kerry Krieger Clifford

I’m on a plane, flying home from Phoenix. I’m leaving behind my big brother, his sweet wife, and their tiny, magical baby. The Amazing Maggie. She’s stunning, and she’s in awe of the whole world. She’s adding fuel to my cancer-fighting fire while reminding me to cherish every precious moment we have together.

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My brother, Tom, and I are only 17 months apart in age, but when we were growing up, we weren’t all that close. We didn’t fight much, but we also didn’t really hang out. I think I must have driven him nuts when I tried to play with him and his friends. I just thought he was the coolest. My favorite memories of us were when he and his best friend would choreograph elaborately comedic ways to slide down our banister in the hopes of making me laugh. To be honest, I never tried very hard not to laugh. Why would anyone ever choose NOT to laugh? Although, when I think about it now, I’ve spent far too much of my life being serious. I’m so thankful that they were there to inject that laughter into the early years of my development!

As the years have worn on, we have grown much closer, despite the fact that we live farther apart now than ever before. He was so happy at my wedding 21 years ago, and so concerned for me when the marriage ended ten years later. He never seemed to want kids, but fully embraced the job of “Uncle Tommy” when my boys came along. He buys them fun and thoughtful gifts and is always up for doing the things that their mom is just not adventurous enough to do.

Dalton, Tommy, and Max, doing their best to give my mom a heart attack at the Grand Canyon

A couple of years after my divorce, my bachelor brother proposed to his girlfriend, Trish. They seem to be made for each other. She took on the responsibilities of being “Auntie Trish” with utter enthusiasm. She has become a dear friend and a treasure to our family.

When I got my cancer diagnosis, any small gap there may have been between Tom and me became imperceptible. He calls to check on me all of the time. I hate talking on the phone, so I don’t answer for just anyone. But my big brother has carte blanche to call whenever he wants. That’s because he doesn’t judge my awkward silences or my multiple chins when they show up on video chat. It’s our way of holding space for each other, no talking necessary.

He is also super sympathetic to my chemo-hair. He tends to shave his head during Arizona summers, so for the past year and a half, we’ve both consistently been in some state of going bald or regrowing hair.

Who wore it better?

When my prognosis changed for the worse, I called Tom and we cried together. We said how much we love each other. We weren’t ready for this.

But a few months later, the hopelessness of that day faded far into the background as they came for a visit and handed me a mug. They had painted it themselves – pink with a yellow medallion on it. Inside the medallion were some dots that I, as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, recognized right away. But I haven’t had a Braille student in a while and the dots were bigger than standard, so it took me a moment to decipher it. “a, v? No – u, n, t” “a-u-n-t?” “aunt?” Slowly it dawns. Aunt! Me! I’m going to be an auntie?! Get outta here! Tom and Trish were pregnant. They were about to bestow on me the title I never thought I’d claim, and give my parents their first granddaughter. Wow.

So now his baby is here. Sweet Maggie. My little peanut, who I came to visit because I just couldn’t stay away. Wearer of the tiny Converse-style booties I knitted. Holder of my heart.

Since the day I told him that I’m terminal, we haven’t ended a conversation without saying “I love you.” And we’ve never meant it more. Now there is an extra little soul to love and stretch our hearts around. How can I tell her enough? I think that as long as I tell her as often as I can and in as many ways that I can – in actions as well as words – that will suffice. It has to. And my telling her is another way for me to tell him; while his unspoken commitment to always tell my boys is a way for him to keep telling me long after I’m gone.

While I don’t have any specific regrets about the journey that our hearts took to this place, I would certainly suggest to any siblings who might be following my story that they find their way to a closer, more loving place sooner rather than later. To paraphrase (and possibly butcher) a philosophical paradox, in order to move closer to a thing, you first have to cross half the distance, but first you have to get halfway to the halfway point and so on. We can never close those gaps completely, but we can dedicate all of our days to halving those distances and our lives will be better for it. 

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