The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Monday, February 8, 2016

Happy Birthday, Big Brother

Jeff (missing tooth) and Yours Truly, c. 1947
My big brother and only sibling, Jefferson Brian McCarthy, died in January 2010, a little over six years ago. He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut on February 8, 1941, so today would have been Jeff's 75th birthday. A day doesn't go by when I don't think of him, and miss his presence in my life.

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 went to West Point, graduating in 1962, and after a year at Georgetown University, I went to Annapolis, graduating in 1967. Because my grandfather and father both served in the Army, I suppose I was a bit of a black sheep who broke with tradition. But Jeff and I never saw it that way and were proud of each other's service. Our only serious disagreement came on the day of the Army-Navy game.

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.

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