My brother Mark died when I was 23. He was eight years older than me and most of my memories of him are not fond. I remember him picking on me a lot, teasing me until I cried and, once, picking me up and hanging me over the balcony, telling me he was going to drop me.
He was the master of pestering; the kind of brother who, when you shouted, 'stop bugging me,' would pin you down on the ground and poke your chest with his fingers while saying, 'bug, bug, bug...'
Being the overly-sensitive type, my response was to yell at him, tattle on him, or burst into tears and run to my room, slamming the door. But I loved him.
When I was little, he ran away from home. In my memory, he was gone a long time before we knew where he was. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, praying a simple prayer, over and over, asking God to please just bring him home.
Eventually he did come back, but he continued to struggle with life, at least in my eyes. He didn't go to church like the rest of the family and lived by a set of standards all his own. Growing up in an LDS home, I had a hard time with the choices he made. I judged him, distrusted him; I kept my distance from him.
I wish I hadn't. I wish I had known then what I know now about people who are different from me: that they are almost always amazing in a way I can't see. I wish I had spent more time listening to the stories he told me, actually hearing the things he said. I wish I could have appreciated him for who he was and loved him unconditionally.
When I came home after spending a year and a half on a mission in Montreal, I happened to take a trip with my parents and Mark and my brother Paul. It was probably the first time I had a real conversation with Mark. He was working on a little island in Alaska at the time and was home on a mandatory break. He had several more weeks off and we tentatively planned for him to visit me at school, where maybe we would go camping together. I was looking forward to it, but we never had the chance.
The last time I saw Mark, he picked me up at the airport on a layover in Seattle and took me to Pike Street Market. He waited patiently while I looked at almost every silver ring at every jewelry stand, trying to find one that was just right. I don't remember what we talked about, I just remember we had a good time.
I don't often think about Mark anymore. It has been almost 20 years since he died. Today, as I was driving alone in the car, Jesus is Just Alright came on the radio. It is the song he suggested I use as a musical number for my missionary farewell. :)
I sang along, by myself, to every word as tears streamed down my face. I so wish I could know Mark now, as an older and wiser me. I think we would be great friends...