Monday, September 14, 2009
Today, September 14, 2009, is the third year anniversary of my brother-in-law, Jim's, death. It is one of those defining moments - things that happened up to that date, and things that happened after.
I first met Jim back in 1971, when he started dating my sister, Linda. He was a fine specimen of a man - tall, dark and handsome, especially in his Air Force uniform. Jim had the most beautiful blue eyes that would truly twinkle when he laughed or played a joke on you. He worked at the 928th Air Force Base at O'Hare Field, first as an airplane mechanic, and working his way up to Chief Master Sargent. Jim loved America and he loved the Air Force.
Jim came into my sister's life at a great time. She had just experienced a bad break up from her first real love, and thought, as we all do when we are young, that she'd never find true love again. Then in walked Jim. Linda worked at the government offices at O'Hare field and joined the bowling league that had a mixture of players from both the 928th and the office.
Jim watched Linda loft her bowling ball down the lane and said, "I can teach you how to bowl."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Sometimes I'd go out with Linda and Jim and we'd have a great time. I have wonderful memories of the three of us sitting in the front seat of Jim's car, singing to the radio while Jim drove us around in his gold and white Chevy Caprice.
In our many goings out, I met Jim's brother, Jerry. He was the total opposite of Jim - longish hair, a little on the wild side, he had the kind of bad boy thing going. I won't go into that now, because this story is about Jim.
After only a few months of dating, Linda and Jim were crazy for each other and decided to get married. They married within 11 months from meeting. Some people thought that they were rushing things. But just looking at them, you could see they were deeply in love.
Within the next year, Jerry and I married. How close can two couples get? Two brothers married two sisters. We spent almost every weekend together. It was great.
Linda and Jim wanted children so badly, but she had problems getting pregnant. Finally after three years - success! We are all so ecstatic! But 6 months into the pregnancy something went terribly wrong. The baby died inside of her. We were devastated. How did Linda get through this tragedy? It was Jim. That's all Linda would have to hear from Jim was that, "It would be okay."
A few months later, baby Jaime entered their lives through the foster parent program that they had signed up for that would allow them to take babies/children in emergency situations. Little did they know that Linda was already pregnant with her daughter, Kelly. They were able to adopt Jaime, and suddenly they were a family of four.
Two years later, Linda and I were pregnant at the same time with our sons, albeit 5 months apart. Jim was as excited as we were for the upcoming birth of my baby.
Another two years later, Linda and I are pregnant again, this time 3 months apart. Things are going great in her household, but not so much in mine. My husband had started acting different lately, staying out later, just "odd" things I couldn't quite put my finger on. We had two vehicles - one sporty and one station wagon. Jerry didn't have gas in his sporty car to go to work, so I said, "Take the wagon. I'm not going anywhere today." Later on, Linda and I planned to go shopping, so I grabbed my son, put the car seat in the back of the Camero, opened up the trunk to put in the stroller, and found..... a blanket and two wine glasses. One glass had lipstick stains on it. Shit. I foraged through the ashtray and yes, found cigarette butts with lipstick stains, too. The glove compartment? A picture of a woman, who looked younger than me. Shit, shit, shit. I drove to Linda's house, tears streaming down my face. I told her what I found. She said, "Let's go see Jim."
It was Jim who put his arms around me and held me while I sobbed. "Don't worry, Patty," he said, "I'll build extra rooms in the basement, and you and the kids can move in with us." This from a man, who's BROTHER was my husband.
It was Jim who took me to the hospital the night before my scheduled c-section to have my daughter. He sat with me the whole evening.
It was Jim who sat with me the morning of my surgery and saw me naked from the waist down when the nurse pulled the covers back to check for contractions because she didn't believe I was having them. (Even though I told her I was, and that this was my second child.) I quick scrambled to pull the covers over my unmentionables and said, "THAT is NOT my husband!" And the nurse replied, "Well, who the HELL is he then?" Jim and I laughed about that for years and years.
It was Jim who drove me home with my precious new bundle while my family waited to welcome me home.
It was Jim who I called when I need "pads" from the store after surgery and I couldn't drive for a couple of weeks.
It was Jim who readily took me and my two children under his wing and shouldered the responsibility that his brother didn't seem to want to do.
It was Jim who loved my kids like his own.
It was Jim who would readily spend any money he won on football pools, or lottery scratch offs, or even awards, on other people.
It was Jim who always wore a goofy mask at Halloween. He was always a kid at heart.
It was Jim who told the corniest jokes.
It was Jim who always wore those musical ties at Christmas. Also a Santa hat. He had to have a Santa hat.
It was Jim who had to eat "Peeps" at Easter time. He loved his peeps.
It was Jim who had the respect from every person who he had worked for and who had worked for him at the 928th.
It was Jim who cried as he helped the EMT's carry my sister-in-law's body to the ambulance after she lost her fight with cancer.
It was Jim who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within 5 weeks of the prognosis.
It was Jim who we were honoring as all of us siblings stood in a semi-circle in the driveway, trying to be strong for my sister, as they wheeled his body past us.
It was Jim who still looked handsome in his Air Force uniform, the American flag displayed proudly above his casket, all of his medals pinned to his chest.
It was Jim who more than 1,000 people came to see and pay their respects that night at the wake.
It was Jim whom everyone loved.
It was Jim that the members of the 928th were honoring when they formed two lines for the casket to be led down at the church.
It was Jim that Linda stood by at the funeral home, not leaving his side ONCE throughout the night, her hand on his chest, grasping on to that last little bit of time left to touch him.
It was Jim that my siblings and I bought flowers for with a ribbon that said, "Our brother from another mother."
It was Jim that was honored with a 21 gun salute and full honor guard burial.
It was Jim who was laid to rest that bright, sunny day. And our lives have never been the same.
I love you, Jim. We all miss you down here.
(all pictures courtesy of my brother, Bob.)