There is nothing that can really prepare you for what it’s like to get the news that one of your dearest loves has left this world. You hear stories of grandparents, children, brother’s and sisters lost but they always seem so far away. Like they could never happen to you.
I remember the day so clearly. People say this all the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder if I always will. It was July 3rd, 2005, the day before the 4th. We were leaving a friend’s house on Folly Beach and walking to a party down the street. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I was wearing my favorite purple maxi dress, the one with yellow and white flowers. I loved it so much that it was being held together with safety pins. This dress always made me feel good. I never wore it again.
I don’t know why but I decided to check the messages on my phone while walking. I am pretty bad about answering calls as they come in (sorry friends!). I had a message from a North Carolina Ranger Station. I thought it was strange so I mentioned it to Luke and he said, “Well, where is your brother this weekend?”
Lewis had been rock climbing since I could remember. He loved it. He loved it like some love to write, to surf, to sing, to worship. It was his greatest passion. Every chance he got, he was headed to the hills.
I remembered that he had gone rock climbing this weekend. I didn’t really know the details of who he was with or where he was going. I only knew that my parents wished he were coming to their week at the beach on Isle of Palms.
I called the station back. I told them who I was and that I had a message from them. They asked me if I was with my husband, a question that I thought was strange at the time. They told me that my brother had fallen, 80 feet, and that he hadn’t survived. He died.
I froze. I asked them if they were joking, but who would joke about that? What? What? That can not be. I stopped, became silent, then called for Luke who was walking a few feet in front of me. He took the phone from me and got as many details as he could think to ask. We both spoke to my brother’s friend, Joe who was climbing with Lewis when he died.
Joe and Lewis had been friends since the third grade. I have so many fond memories of Joe. Running around the neighborhood at Harmon Road, boating on Lake Murray, late night little kid shenanigans, waking up the neighbors and making prank phone calls. I was glad that he had been with Joe; glad that he was with a friend who clearly loved him.
Luke and I turned around and headed back to our house. We got in our car and headed over to the Isle of Palms, where my parents had just arrived to start their vacation week. I have always been glad that I was the one to deliver this horrible new to my parents. I have hoped that in some small way it made the news easier to hear. When we showed up at their door, faces red from crying, still unable to believe the news we had been given, my parents were happy to see us but wary of what had caused our grief. How do you tell your parents that their son had died?
Fast forward 11 years to today. Today we are up in the mountains together. In the cabin that my parents bought to be closer to the land my brother loved. We have many blessings that have come from our loss. We are closer. We hold each other closer. We forgive quicker and love more freely.
And in all the sadness of living without my brother, I am grateful that he died doing something he loved. I am grateful that he was with Joe. I am grateful that he was on a good path in his life, working and going to school. I am grateful that he was at my wedding. And most importantly that he was in my life since I was one year and three days old. Siblings are the jam.
Do you know that when my brother died we found all these lists in his room of things he could do to improve himself? Stop slouching. Have dinner with Nanny more often (if I told you how sweet he was to our grandmother, you would cry). Stop beating yourself up about stuff and so many more. You could fall in love with that boy from these lists alone, they were so vulnerable, so human.
Today we hiked to where he fell. Well, actually we navigated and climbed huge boulders to get there. We took Fleet and Luke with us. We didn’t tell them that Lewis died here but Fleet asked and so we told him. They loved climbing around on the rocks. We recarved the rock that his friend Tommy originally carved in his honor. We watched some other climbers climb the route. Fleet said, “Mommy, thank you for bringing us here.”
We were probably about 5 and 6 here.
The first day of school my junior year, his freshman year.
My wedding, two months before he died.
Lewis and Nanny.
Fort, Dad and Lewis
My Dad surprised us all a few years ago with this tattoo. It’s perfect.
“Oh for the touch of a vanished hand. And the sound of a voice that is still” -ALT
“In remembering days gone by, the fruits of joys shall last”
Thanks to my Dad for these two beautiful quotes.
I miss this boy.