Imagining my brother at 60

Today marks my big brother David’s 60th birthday. I doubt he ever imagined himself at 60, so youthful was his entire sense of being, but I do. I try to picture him every year on March 13, marking the march of time, celebrating that he was born, guessing at how he’d look each year, and what he’d be doing, had he lived.

Since he died at 47, the same age I am now, I’ll never get to witness how gray his hair and beard likely would have become or the way the laugh lines around his eyes would have deepened. I almost downloaded one of those apps that pretends to age you, to upload a photo of him as a young man and watch him grow older onscreen. But I had so hoped to be living alongside him for that process that I don’t quite have the stomach to artificially project his image into some future that doesn’t exist.

I desperately wish he were still here.

When I consider David now, it’s difficult to think he wouldn’t still be practicing medicine, brightly striding through the halls of his hospital in his pale blue scrubs and sneakers, then settling in to read x-rays and scans in a darkened room full of other radiologists murmuring over their findings. He had a wonderful scientific mind and compassionate bedside manner, plus many colleagues who adored his enthusiasm and curiosity. Now, he’d just be even more experienced, more trusted, more beloved.

I also see him continuing to pursue the athletic endeavors that gave him such sense of purpose and accomplishment despite whatever aches and pains settled in over the years. No doubt he’d be riding his bike at every opportunity and taking early morning runs before shifts. He’d probably still be interested in old-school orienteering despite the prevalence of GPS technology these days. He’d still have a broad circle of dear friends, and surely a close crew who would persist with him through adventure races. And he’d definitely be dreaming about traveling around the globe to compete in all kinds of exotic places.

This pandemic lockdown would have given him terrible cabin fever. But we would have had Dr. Dave to explain the ins and outs of the virus and crisis. Just one of a hundred times I’ve wished for his expertise and patience in explaining things. He would have been working doubles to help out. I would have been equal parts grateful for his contribution and worried about his safety. Which sounds funny now — given that it was one of his outdoor excursions that got him killed.

What else might have happened for David? Would he have finally gotten married or continue being a heartbreaker? Moved away from our childhood city of Houston to somewhere with wild landscapes he loved? What other stories would he have regaled us with after traveling to a new place or conquering some new discipline? How many more younger athletes would he have passed on the way to some finish line? How many more times would he have stopped in the middle of a race to help someone who was injured? How many more kids would he have inspired by giving his trophies to them?

How many more Christmas breakfasts at Mom’s might we have enjoyed together? How many more nights would we have stayed up talking over beers? How many dinners would we have eaten out after which he’d refuse to let me pay again? How many more times would we have laughed about our childhoods and bonded over relatives we didn’t understand?

His company was such a gift, I know I am greedy to want more, but I always do.

I am regularly lonely for David, even almost 13 years after we lost him. I’m lonely for my older and wiser sibling’s advice. I’m lonely for his incredible hugs and abiding encouragement. I’m lonely for his passion for life. I’m lonely for a future I imagined him having, a future that will never come. I still mourn all the things that won’t happen.

I’ll continue to envision him on his birthday each year, though it will get harder and harder to conjure up over time, as it’s so difficult to think of him as ever being an old man. Sixty is not so old, and it especially wouldn’t have been for him. I just wish he was still showing up 20-somethings in cyclocross races, giving them a run for their money.

Photos by Glennon Simmons at the 2008 Primal Quest adventure race in Montana

12 thoughts on “Imagining my brother at 60

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  1. That was absolutely beautiful Anne. Your brother sounds like an amazing man and you are keeping him alive with your stories.

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  2. I can only imagine your pain. Excellent writing, Anne. September 17, 2020, would have been my dad, Odell R. Ballard’s 100th birthday. , which we celebrated with a Zoom birthday party. It was kind of chaotic with so many relatives, but I was lucky that a younger cousin could set it up for us. It was fun to reminisce and reconnect with several folks.

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  3. Beautiful. I wish I didn’t understand your pain. My baby brother age 40, who arrived when our sister was 22 and I was almost 19, died of SCD on May 27, 2019. Only hours after he had sent out a Facebook post reminding locals about the Siesta Key Memorial Day beach cleanup that he would be attending with his wife, and their 5 and 9 year old daughters. Many, many hearts were broken because everyone loved Greg.
    I’m thankful to have had a group text running over the weekend between Greg, myself, my youngest son age 24, and our niece age 37. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we chatted, sent photos, and connected. I miss him so much. So do my sons, and his family is hurting as they navigate life without him. I miss our conversations, and I miss the special connections I had with my nieces through him. Huge loss.

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  4. i relate intensely to this. my brother died at 35- we are just 14 months apart- and the hardest part is letting go of our future together- what would have been, what was supposed to have been. i always took for granted that we’d grow old together, as my father and his sister did. i still struggle with how to be at peace with this.

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