Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Today, I Will Remember The Times We Used To Share

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Sittin on top of the world, Sittin on top of the world.

Remember the times we used to play,

We sing and we’d dance all damn day…

-Lenny Kravitz, Sittin On Top Of the World

This is an anniversary I never wanted to celebrate. One I wish I could forget or ignore. Fifteen years ago my little brother died.

It’s still impossible to believe. Impossible to adjust. Impossible to ignore.

I don’t want to reflect on that day. Memories will creep back. They always do. But today I won’t let them. Today I will celebrate.

But all I do is sing the blues,

But have I forsaken you, by telling you what you must do…

And all I do is sing the blues,

But I would never lie, let things go by. Leave you in the road to die.

I will never ever say goodbye.

‘Eff you death. Because today I’m celebrating life. The beautiful laughter filled life my brother lived for 18 years.

Never gonna say goodbye,

Never gonna say goodbye…

Today I’m going to remember all the times we shared. All the times we laughed. Because there was always laughter. Even when there was pain there was always laughter. He was amazing like that.

I was eight years old when he was born. I was indifferent at first. I could have cared less about babies. But then I held him. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I’d never felt love like that. The protectiveness, the awe. The wonder of this little baby who came into our lives and made our family complete.

We had your typical brother/sister relationship. He loved to bug me. But as he got older we became more friends than siblings. We bonded over music. He loved to hear about the concerts I went to. He introduced me to Eminem long before Eminem was on MTV. He loved hip hop. He made me cd’s, mix tapes. Bob Marley, Tupac, Biggie. And Lenny. Lenny Kravitz was our music. We both loved Lenny.

He made me tell him, over and over, the story of my first Lenny Kravitz concert. We were supposed to get hooked up with backstage passes. I was dying to meet Lenny. It didn’t happen. The guy gave them to someone else. So of course me and my friends stalked Lenny after the show. We waited by the tour bus with a small group of die hard fans. Finally, he walked out. A giant crocheted hat on his head, dreadlocks trailing beneath. The crowd was hushed. We had waited for over an hour and no one said a thing. Right as he passed in front of me I yelled out, “Lenny!” He lifted his chin in greeting, “What’s up, ya’ll.” Then everyone went nuts as he climbed on to his tour bus. My brother loved that story. Every time he hung on every word as if he didn’t know how it was going to end. A year before he died we got to see Lenny in concert. It was the only concert we ever got to see together.

Remember the times… that we used to share,

You got to remember the times… that we used to share, that we used to share…

Today I’ll remember that concert. I’ll remember the Halloween party we went to at my friend’s house- that he later told me was the best night of his life. Today I’ll remember how he always had us all laughing. His impersonations. Pecking at his plate like a chicken at Thanksgiving dinner. How he would put his finger up in front of me and my sister and say in the most serious tone, “Hush. No talk-y talk-y.” How it always made us stop whatever big sister lectures we were giving and had us cracking up.

Today I’ll think back on how he invented the selfie way before cell phones were in every hand. He would finish up every role of film on my mom’s camera with extreme close-ups, always making crazy faces. I would always flip through the photos, anticipating the pictures at the end of the roll. The ones that I knew would make me laugh. The ones that were always different. You never knew what was waiting for you at the end of the stack, but you knew it would be funny.

Today I’ll laugh when I think about how he would take baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene my mom set out every Christmas. Every day baby Jesus would be missing. My mom would feign annoyance, but she would erupt in laughter when she would see little baby Jesus perched somewhere unexpected. Sometimes she wouldn’t find him until cooking dinner that evening. Or doing laundry. Or going to the bathroom. It was The Elf on the Shelf way before anyone had even thought of that creepy guy. Baby Jesus was always lurking, hiding. Always some place different. Sometimes completely inappropriate. Always hilarious. A tradition that my niece continues in her uncle’s honor every Christmas.

Today I’ll remember how we got through 18 months of chemo and radiation treatments. How he kept us all laughing through it all. His goal was to make his very serious Oncologist laugh. It didn’t take long. He quickly cracked through the veneer of a man who spent every day treating sick children.

I’ll never forget how he still loved to mess with my mom. He loved little pranks. He would sit at the kitchen table while she would flush out his IV line and right as she was pushing saline into the tube he would scream “It’s burning!” She would laugh every time, right after she had jumped in alarm. He loved to trick us, to pull one off, but he was truly happiest when he was making us laugh.

He had a way of making you fall for the same joke over and over. He would call me at work as he and mom were leaving treatments and doctor’s appointments. He would pretend to be one of my customers. I sold pagers to corporate clients. He would use different voices and accents and call me with crazy complaints, irate fake tirades and real creative scenarios of where he lost his pager. He would always erupt in laughter once he was sure I had fallen for it again, then quickly say “Where do you want to meet us for lunch?” It was impossible to get mad at him.

But the only way for you to survive

Is to open your heart, it will guide.

You wanna stay in this world of music and life,

You gotta turn around, Spread a little love and get high..

So, today I’m going to laugh. I’m going to remember every funny Todd story I can think of and I will laugh. I’m going to hold all my happy memories close to my heart and be thankful there are so many to choose from. I’m going to go to lunch with my mom and eat a giant cheeseburger in his honor. I’m going to remember his smile. His voice. His easy going nature that drew people to him. Today I’m going to remember the times that we used to share. And I’m going to listen to Lenny all day.

49 Responses

    1. Thank you… so much. I am definitely going to work on the happy memories today. It may take a little effort, but writing this helped and support from my blogging friends definitely helps. Thank you for that…

  1. In this piece you’ve definitely found the beauty through the pain. Your brother sounds like a wonderful person who unfortunately was taken too soon. Hugs <3

  2. So sorry for your loss…this is beautiful..what a moving tribute. Your brother sounds like he was a riot. I’m not really a hugger..but I would hug you right now. I think I’ll go home and hug my kid an extra time today.

    1. It is only fitting that you could make me laugh right now. Honestly, you remind me of a combination of my brother and sister. My brother cracked me up and my sister is so not a hugger. We tease her about her “hugs.” Have you ever see the scene at the end of StepBrothers with Will Ferrell and John C Reilly doing the awkward hug? That’s her. One time we recorded that scene and had it playing on a loop when she came to our house. So thank you for saying you would hug me. And definitely go home and hug your kid. Smother him in hugs. It’ll really freak him out I bet…

  3. I laughed through my tears remembering all of these things like they happened yesterday. I miss him so much… As always Gretchen, beautifully written. Love you!

    1. Thank you TD. It’s a struggle sometimes. I wrote this to force myself into a better mindset. And the fact that Samara planted the Lenny Kravitz seed, that got me listening to him. And his music always helps.

  4. I’m feeling your every feeling today. And so sad for you.
    But I can’t help but feel there is a Silver Lining, as Lizzi would say. This is how we became friends. This is why I emailed you.

    1. Samara, that day you emailed me I was overcome with emotions. I felt like you were a kindred spirit and there was so much of what you said I could relate to. And maybe I’ve said all of this to you before, or not. But it’s how I feel. I am grateful you understand. And that we’ve become friends. And that you reached out to me that day. And I’m grateful that you randomly posted something about Lenny yesterday and planted the seed that I needed to listen to him. It honestly helped. The timing is just crazy. I mean, Lenny was a thing for me and my brother. I even played one of his songs at my wedding in his honor. And listening to him today made me feel better and made me thing of all those good times. You were helping me and you didn’t even know it… <3

  5. Your brother sounds like an *incredible* guy, and if his sense of humour was half so awesome as you’ve written it here, you all must have had SUCH fun with him around. He sounds like the kind of prankster I’d like to be if I had the confidence to pull it off. What brilliant memories you have of him to keep you smiling 🙂

    I’m sorry he’s not still here, and I’m sorry your family has to live through missing a guy who sounds like he lived life in HD, with surround-sound and a great soundtrack.

    Enjoy Lenny. Enjoy as many good memories of your brother as you can. And good for you for even being able to share this story with a positive attitude.

    1. Oh, Lizzi, I love what you said. If I conveyed even a little of how freakin’ funny he was, that makes me so happy. His humor and pranks were so effortless for him. It’s just who he was. And it was always in good fun, never hurtful or mean. And I feel like you get it. A sense of who he was. Which makes me so incredibly happy, I can’t even explain. He DID live his life in HD, with a great soundtrack. That is THE perfect description of him. He used to say, when he was going through treatment, “I don’t have time for cancer” and he meant that he was going to have fun, dammit! And now I really wish I could have used your brain to come up with a title. I would totally have titled this “A Life In HD.” …. Bless your boots. (I’ve been dying to say that)

      1. You conveyed – even while I was reading and sad for you for missing him, I was smiling at the pranks he pulled on you and your mum…he sounds brilliant. 🙂 And kudos to him for never making them hurtful – I know that’s a line I’ve not always managed to stick within. And as for the “going to have fun, dammit!” – that’s an awesome attitude. I’m smiling now to think of it 😀

        As for the ‘life in HD’ thing – feel free to help yourself to it 😀 And LOL at you blessing my boots. That’s awesome 😀 😀 😀

    1. Thank you Racheal. I love that you see his joy in his pictures. I wish I had some of the crazy ones here but most of those are at my parents’ house. I do feel incredibly lucky to have had 18 years with him. It wasn’t enough but he did a lot of living in that short time.

  6. I really enjoyed reading that, however sad it is. I don’t know how you get through something like that. I’ve been worrying recently that my almost estranged younger brother’s depression and OCD might get so bad he doesn’t want to be here any more, and I don’t know how I’d cope with it, even though we don’t even talk any more. We were so close some years ago, and those memories are what would kill me.

    1. Autumn, my heart breaks to hear that. I can’t imagine how hard that is for you. It’s so hard to watch someone you love in pain. And I imagine a completely helpless feeling. I obviously don’t know your situation but all I can say is I hope that you can find some way to reach him. Or that someone can. I know that’s an impossible thing to say, but I hope there will be something that will change for him and for you…

  7. Beautifully articulated Gretchen. The way you haven’t over-sentimenalised his memory but have instead drawn us into your joy as well as your pain speaks to the closeness of your relationship. Altogether uplifting. Beautifully written. My deepest sympathy for your loss, 6’3″250lb hugs. Respect REDdog

    1. REDdog, thank you so much. What you said was beautiful. And really affirming for me. If this conveyed how close we were, then I feel like I did him justice. Thank you for saying that and for the giant hug.

  8. An absolutely beautiful tribute. I love that you keep him alive through your words, through that moving baby Jesus, through your own choice to celebrate life. We should all be remembered through the words and music of a hard-rocking man in a crocheted hat.

    1. Thank you. He would be pissed if he thought we (me and my family) were wallowing in pain. I know he would want us to celebrate and crank up some music and laugh. And nobody could rock the crocheted hat better than Lenny.

  9. You know how much I love when you write about your brother, and this one I especially love. I feel like I got to know HIM, not his death. And he sounds like the best! It seems he gave you a lifetime of smiles in 18 short years. Hugs to you!

    1. I can’t tell you happy that makes me- that you feel like you go to know him. Because he was so much more than how he died or how old he was when he died. That’s one of the reasons I hate this day so much. It’s so hard to not think about the details of what happened. But writing this helped me so much. And then to have people respond? And for you to say you feel like you got to know him? That totally turns this day on it’s side and makes this day I dreaded feel completely different. Happy and warm and full of love. One of his quotes in his High School yearbook was “Remember me with a smile.” Today I feel like I really was able to do that. And over lunch today I told my mom about your response when I commented on your post about your brother’s wedding. She was just as moved as I was. It is something I’ll never forget that makes me so glad I write and that I’ve written about him and that I’ve connected with you. Thank you, Kelly.

      1. Oh geez. Now I’m getting all weepy. I honestly think that the love you have for your brother fuels you to write amazing words. But I am glad that me telling you that has made this day better for you, even if you were the one doing the amazing thing. Your words combined with the pictures of him you posted really painted an image of who he was. And every time I imagined him in my head, he was smiling 🙂

  10. Gretchen, I think this is so beautifully written. I can’t help but smile, especially about the baby Jesus. Your brother sounds like an incredible guy an his spirit is alive and well in this post. I am so sorry that you and your family have to know this pain. Although I can’t stand the thought that this wonderful person you write about is no longer here, I’m happy that you have so many perfect memories of him.I know it isn’t nearly the same. I may be taking a liberty I’m not entitled to here, but I would think that Todd would be thrilled that these fun things are what your remember on this sad day. Hang in there, friend. I’m thinking of you.

    1. Sandy, thank you so much. For you to say his spirit is alive with this post, that is all I wanted. And you are so right on the money. He wouldn’t want us to be sad and to think about his illness or his death. He wanted us to laugh and party and celebrate. Sometimes that’s the only way I keep from sinking too far into sadness, I remind myself what he would want. And I know without a doubt that he wants us to have fun and laugh. (And the day ended up being emotional but really so special. It was amazing to have people respond and to talk about him. Some of his friends responded on FB and that was really cool. Thank you for being a part of making this day so much more bearable.)

    1. Ha! Thank you Kat! Baby Jesus definitely found his way to some interesting situations over the years. I’m glad that made you laugh. It makes my whole family laugh every Christmas when my niece hides him in my brother’s honor… and thank you for coming here to read this.

  11. This is a turning point only you know when to reach. My dad died 14 years ago. It’s hard to believe. Some anniversaries go by hard and painful like barbed wire. Some are numb. And then some … well, you remember the things about them that you miss, the things you see of them in yourself, the sublime and the ridiculous.

    Turn up the Lenny. Pull a prank. I will do both today in his honor, too, for being such a great brother to you.

    1. Eli, I’m so sorry about your dad. I think part of the hard part with dealing with the anniversaries is you don’t know how bad or not bad it will be. If it will be like “barbed wire” or “numb.” To me, it’s almost the anticipation of the day that’s the worst. I spend days before hand reflecting and getting down. But this year, even though I was sad, this is the first year that it felt different. Writing this and the overwhelming response ( a huge response on FB, especially from people who knew him) was like a big warm hug. Really. I felt so comforted and weepy and it really was a beautiful unexpected thing.

      I am honored that you would listen to Lenny and pull a prank in my brother’s honor. That is so cool. I did keep Lenny playing most of the day. But I didn’t pull a prank! Damn! I didn’t even think about that! I think next year I’m going to plan a huge ingenious prank in his honor! Thanks for the idea…

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