6 months ago, I awoke at 6am to head out for my walk to the gym. Before leaving the house, I ran back upstairs and grabbed a photo that had been hanging on my bedroom mirror for 3 years. I snapped a photo of it and headed out the door. On the way to the gym, I uploaded the photo of my two older brothers, Billy and Bobby, my Dad, my cat and myself (age 3) and uploaded it as my facebook profile photo. I have no idea why I did it – it hadn’t been something I had ever thought about before – I just had this idea to run upstairs to do it. I walked past the gym and along Dogpatch toward Pac Bell. I felt uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on what the scoop was but I just felt uneasy.
I spent most of the day walking throughout the city while listening to music and books on tape – jotting down notes for various projects that I was working on. Later that day I made a plan or two and cancelled them because I was still in this uneasy funk that was frankly foreign to me. At about 5pm, I decided that I was done for the day and I would kick it with a glass of vino on my deck, which overlooks the city so it was a great place to enjoy that sunny day. My phone, which was in the nearby kitchen, rang and then the voicemail sounded. I wanted to enjoy the vino and view so didn’t bother to check it out. Then, my wife’s phone rang and the voicemail sounded. My wife told me that it was the parent’s home phone number. Just 2 weeks ago, I gave the number to my parents in case of an emergency. Nervously, I listened to my voicemail of my Mom asking me to please call back – that it was important. She left the same message on Luann’s voicemail. I grew very concerned – something was wrong. At 73, my Dad was in decent shape but he’s 73 and anything could happen.
I called my parents home immediately, hoping for the best possible news – that I was unnecessarily concerned. I heard my Dad’s voice in the background and immediately thought of my two older brothers, my eldest brother Billy in particular. Again, I had hoped for the best when my Mom uttered, “Mike, Billy was in an accident” and I asked how bad. She cried out “he didn’t make it Mike – I’m so sorry – he’s gone”. With the greatest pain I have ever felt, I buckled over and cried violently, for a very long time. I felt so bad for my Mom for having that to happen to her and to deliver the news, and for my Dad, and for Billy’s four beautiful daughters and their Mom, and for my boys who were like sons to Billy even though he didn’t see them often, and for my brother Bobby and for myself since we hadn’t spent nearly enough time together over the last 15 years since my move to the West Coast. It was so incredibly hard on everyone – we lost Billy to a snowmobile accident – something that he loved to do as one of the most adventurous people I knew.
Billy was an incredible person – so amazing to everyone. He was my son’s Godfather, and was in my wedding. I was his Best Man. I learned so many things from him. He taught me about music (fittingly, as I type this in tears, the Kinks just came on my Pandora station – we listened to his Kinks albums 100 times together while sitting on his bedroom floor on our stomachs – they were among his favorite bands). He taught me about “going for it”. I don’t know anyone else who would tackle a project like Billy. He would decide that he wanted to do something and do it. One day he told me that he was going to buy an old Harley and rebuild it. I asked how he knew how to do that and he replied, “I don’t – I’ll buy the manual and figure it out” and that’s exactly what he did. He did this with everything that had a motor in it. He did it with house projects. He just did it.
Billy also taught me everything about persistence. When I was 6 or so, and he was 11, he wanted to make a bow. He spent weeks carving the bow out of wood and when he treated it in his handmade resin boiling thing, it caught fire just near the end of the 8 hour or so process so he had to do it not once, but twice more – carving and curing the bow twice more. He was proud of that bow, and I was proud of him for crafting it. My big brother Billy could do anything – absolutely anything – he was and remains my hero. He taught me about parenting – his daughters were everything to him and that love and priority for children was passed on to me with my boys.
Mostly, though, I remember Billy mostly for his generosity. Raising 4 daughters with a blue-collar job, Billy didn’t have a ton of money to give. He worked his butt off to provide so he didn’t have a bunch of time either. Any spare time that he did have, however, he gave away. He helped hundreds of people with thousands of projects over the last couple decades. I truly don’t think I ever heard him say “no”. He just wanted to help anyone who needed it and sacrificed sleep through his efforts. So amazing was his generosity that none of us knew just how generous he was. We all thought we were receiving special treatment. Only until the services did hundreds of people tell stories about the project that Billy did for which he would never accept anything in return – the stories were amazing. I could go on to talk about how awesome Billy was to me and to so many people. I think it’s best summed up by saying I think of Billy a hundred times a day, every day, and expect and hope that I’ll never stop. When I think of him, I smile and sometimes cry – but mostly I smile. There’s nothing I remember more vividly about Billy than the bright sparkle in his eyes when he smiled – which was almost always. Like everyone who knew him, I miss him a ton.
So why am I writing and sharing such a personal message? Well, for a few reasons. First, I want to thank you all for your tremendous support over the last six months – it means a lot to me and I really appreciate it! I also want those who have been afraid to ask to know that I’m doing well and what his loss means to me and to let you know that you can ask me about him any time. I love talking about Billy and your inquiry invites me to talk about him. I don’t want you to feel like you need to ask but I do want to let you know that I am very comfortable with the conversation so feel free to ask if you want to.
It’s interesting – since this happened, I have met so many people who have lost siblings – and also about a few friends, Jason, Arnie and Dan who also lost brothers long ago. One of my Summit At Sea favorite moments was a discussion that I had with another attendee, Laura. Before boarding the boat, I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about my recent loss because I didn’t want to bum anyone out. Well, a couple days into the cruise I was talking with Laura and about 15 minutes into the conversation I just felt like sharing it with her – I don’t know why. It turns out that she had lost her younger sister in a car accident just about ten years prior – almost to the day. We talked for an hour or two about our siblings, after-life, the chance that maybe they were hanging out together watching us talk about them – we laughed quite a bit and it was a very cool moment – among my favorite on the boat.
The next very important reason that I’m writing this is so that you tell someone you love how much he or she mean to you. Don’t assume that they will be here tomorrow because, sadly, they may not be. Do it now – later tonight – but do it – don’t wait. Life can truly be way too short and there’s no time like the present – just go do it now. I was fortunate in that I spent a couple days with Billy just a few months before his passing. I’m so glad that I had those hours with him and the conversation that we shared – he knew how much I loved him and I know how much he loved me – I was very fortunate in that way.
I think the number one reason that I want to share this is to share how generous Billy was. He taught me that we could always be a bit more caring, a bit more helpful, a bit more empathetic and a bit more giving. Most of us have more than we need – or certainly more than our fair share on a global basis. One way that I wanted to share Billy’s generosity was through this charity: water campaign that was completely funded. So many friends and even some I don’t know were so financially generous, while others were so emotionally generous during that horrific time. For this, I will be forever grateful to you. Let’s have Billy’s generosity be a reminder that maybe you can give a bit more in time or cash to those much less fortunate – maybe not, but maybe.
So, I know I can’t have my brother Billy back, though I wish I could. What I can do, though, is share his message about generosity, going for it, persistence and Love; and in that way he will live on forever. Feel free to share generously – the more people that receive this message, the better, in my view.
Peace brother Billy – I miss and love you so very, very, very much – we all do!
Little brother Mike (and queue The Who on Pandora, his other favorite band – so fitting)