On May 3rd, 2019 my whole life took a tailspin when my older brother took his own life in the basement of our family home. I had witnessed the pain of an as yet undiagnosed dysfunction which snowballed when his fingers were unable to hold a pencil that morning when he got up. As illustration was his greatest talent and passion, his suicide note read a few weeks later after being released from police evidence, told the story, “When I got up this morning my fingers didn’t work, the writing was on the wall. There was nothing left for me, please remember us, MOM, DAD, DAVE AND ME.” He also talked about not wanting to burden his family with his painful death or suffer a valueless, functionless existence.
There were three urns sitting atop the fireplace mantle, holding the ashes of Mom D.O.D 2010, Dad, D.O.D 1997 (both of cancer) and my younger brother David, D.O.D 2018, who died by complications of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. As I slugged my way through the old family Cape Cod, which was left for me to rehab and sell, I found a huge galaxy of work created by not only my brother with the illustrations, but my parents wrote stories. There were the letters Dad wrote Mom from Yale in the 1940s and the stories were created in that same decade. I felt both shock and wonder that I didn’t get to read these while my parents were still alive.
I felt like I lived underwater for most of the rest of 2019 and then of course I felt further isolated with my thoughts when the pandemic was in full swing in 2020. I had to take the three urns one hazy hot day to the funeral home where they would be joined by the one created for my brother, Chris. That day, was the day I needed to believe there are angels you can’t see. Something lifted me up in my near hysteria, when I placed my family side by side in August of that year, with my younger brother, nephews and other family standing by.
If ever there was a feeling of powerlessness, loss and regrets, I tried to and finally kept it at bay. I simply had too much to do.
My brothers illustrations numbered in the thousands. Mostly hand drawn and filled in with colored pens and pencils featuring his skill for drawing human anatomy, a proof of his weightlifting activities. He captioned some and had the characters talk to each other. He drew animals doing crazy things, and the range of work was daunting. I categorized, filed images and began assembling two adult coloring books. My brother had been so busy care taking his family and friends that he overlooked his own potential and health. I guess I wanted to honor “not forgetting them” in big way and the art was just too good to sit in frames on my walls.
Sure I still have days I crumble. My front drawing room in my home houses a lot of memories of my family that is gone. I have gone through survivor’s guilt, pangs of real sadness and loss, but it is quickly replaced by energy required to execute the schedule I have set to share the love that was passed to me in a very magnificent and mysterious way.
My brother Chris caught a chipmunk for me with his bare hands, when I was small. I followed him around and often I think with a sense of wonder at what he could do with his hands. Transforming the world around him with his unique comic style and fine detail was where the images came in. Sculpting incredible forms from the sandbox in our childhood backyard sandbox. And all of it to delight the people in his world, to help them smile, laugh and wonder.
At a certain point in our early brother-sister development, he just didn’t want me around anymore. His focused involved boyhood antics and when he was seriously fashioning his art, he didn’t want anyone peeking in until it was perfect.
During the year of fixing and selling the family home, I also sold his car, and made sense of the thousands of pages of personal literature that were stacked in trunk in crawl spaces. He often said to me, “I’ll leave you something good.”
I realized there is a door on the other side of grief and for me it was a the gateway for discovering what I have been searching for all my life. That was romance, gratitude, respect, adventure and love. The stories, the letters, the images had given me access to everything I was chasing with the magnificent literary flavors that came from an era inhabited by my mother an father.
Everything I needed to make rewrites and tweaks was handed to me. Editors excited to be part of my journey and the stories. Web masters eager to share my brothers unique art. Even a house with a front study complete with entry French doors, hardwood floors and high ceilings whose walls are now saturated with images, family pictures. A dining table from our family house acts as a drawing board and reading table for stories, letters and an autobiography.
I can’t tell you how much I will sell of anything. I only know that the love that fills all this work will find its audience. I am learning the language of Instagram, how important algorithms are and I feel the momentum as projects come together, with the art, clean up in photoshop adding title and captioning. When the stories light a fire under a new illustrator and they unveil their scenes for the first time.
To my list of accomplishments, I can now add curator, publisher and the hardest talent in writing; the ability to retain the integrity of the original story and relevance, keep the fire and prepare for our current and coming world.
I know also that my family would want me to be well and content, so I have this year put a greater focus on self-care, so that I build with the energy of the work, and not get crushed under.
Mostly, I am no longer chasing anything, but I am trying to enjoy every day and what it brings me, knowing that I don’t have to leave my house, my memories or my mind to enjoy all the glories that love expressed has to offer. I will be ready to leave this earth also when it is my time. My aim is leave you something good that will delight you over and over.