|Jeff (missing tooth) and Yours Truly, c. 1947|
Growing up together, but separated by four years, we probably had the typical big brother-little brother relationship. We fought and wrestled and played together, and shared everything. And I could always count on Jeff to be the protective big brother when I needed reinforcements. Our personalities, though, were as different as day and night, and yet we seemed not to notice or be bothered by the differences. He was by far the smarter, always among the top students in his class, always willing to do the extra work needed to achieve the highest grades and win the prizes and awards. I, on the other hand, found that my interests didn't always coincide with the subjects taught in school, and would spend more time on that which aroused my curiosity. I did what was necessary to earn acceptable grades -- high enough to prevent parental interference -- but I was never a candidate for valedictorian. I suppose our mother understood us best. She once said, "Jeff's the smart one, who wants to please others; but Dana's the clever one who wants to please himself." I'm still not sure if that was a compliment or a criticism.
|Our dad, John McCarthy, and Jeff at West Point on graduation day - June 1962|
|Dana (me), our Mom, and Jeff - Summer 1963 at home in Chatham on Cape Cod|
Jeff's sudden death from heart failure shortly before his 69th birthday came as a shock to me, especially since I'd always assumed he'd outlive me. I know that sounds strange since Jeff was almost four years older, but to me he'd always seemed healthier, at least until his last few years when his health began to deteriorate. Although his decline during those final years was evident, I didn't realize how ill he was. I suppose that's not uncommon: the failure to recognize and accept that one we love is near death. Based on some of our last conversations, I suspect Jeff knew he was approaching the end of his life. I just didn't realize it until later, when I played those conversations back in my mind.
If I learned anything from Jeff's death it's that we should treasure every moment we have with those we love. Indeed, as Pope Francis is fond of reminding us, we should treasure every person we encounter, every child of God, and recognize the presence of Jesus Christ within them. That's a hard lesson to learn and put into practice.
Rest in peace, big brother, I'll see you again soon enough.