My Big (and Only) Brother

My Big (and Only) Brother March 13, 2021
My brother journeyed to heaven on Friday afternoon with family, including our dad, bedside. He was just 61 years young.

A fall a few weeks ago led to fractures, several hospital visits, a heart ablation, and ultimately a severe bacterial infection in his blood that could not be tamed. It spread bacterial lesions and masses that shut down his organs, made his joints painful, and created a sort of blindness that happened suddenly. With the nurses and doctors at St. Mary’s in Livonia, we tried everything to keep him here with us, but the infection was just too severe.

I help people with their grief for a living. It’s my passion to help others see that the other side is just a whisper away. Yet here I am in the middle of the night, sobbing uncontrollably, and in deep grief myself.

When my mom passed away in 2006, I had people calling me out on my grief – “If you believe in an afterlife, then why are you grieving?” When my best friend suddenly passed away, I had people calling me out for my tears – “Why would you cry if you believe in heaven?” Yet, I sit here in the darkness of my family room, staring at the moonless sky, a black moon, feeling every bit of that darkness because I’m human.

When I’m sad, I get quiet. I have a hard time texting or talking, although my mind relentlessly screams words that I must get on paper/screen, so I write. I also clean. Hearing the swoosh of the water on the hard tile with the dance of the mop, the vacuum’s hum, and the spray of the cleaner, it’s all I can seem to control in the moments of intense stress.

As my family and I left my brother’s bedside, assured he’d taken hold of my mom’s hand and allowed the angels to carry him to the afterlife, the nurse put her arms around me and said, “You were all so strong”. All I could do was bend my head down and weep because strong wasn’t at all how I felt.

I tell my clients there’s nothing wrong with being angry, mad, and sad when they experience a physical loss. There’s nothing wrong with crying or grieving. In fact, it’s normal. It’s human. Never allow another to dictate your grief in the name of your relationship, your job title, or your strength.

I never imagined the loss of a sibling could feel as painful as it does right now. I never imagined it would feel like a piece of my heart and soul have been ripped away. A sibling is part of a special bond. No words ever needed to be said to communicate volumes of information. So, I’ll be taking some time off. I’ll be taking some time to be with my dad (my brother was his best friend and not just a son). I’ll be taking time to write and put words on screen that scream to me. I’ll be taking time to cry. Taking time to grieve.

If you’ve texted, messaged, or called, and I haven’t responded – I’m sorry, but thank you for the love, thoughts, and the prayers.

I believe in you,
Kristy

***

Duane Raymond Schiller arrived three months early on August 23, 1959. Weighing only 3 lbs, he was considered a miracle. Besides for being premature, he was healthy. He spent a month in the hospital on the Army base in Kentucky, and the reason I would tease him that was why he never liked to go to see a doctor.

Duane and my sister were born only a couple years apart, but I was the oops and Duane was 11 years older than I. He was my fierce and protective older brother, albeit always relentlessly teasing me. It was the way he showed his love.

“Let’s play ball, Kris,” he’d say to me, and I’d happily follow him outside, only to be taunted in the middle of his pickle ball game.

He’s only a handful of people I let call me “Kris”.

“Give her the ball,” my mom would yell, frustrated with my cries that “Dee Dee was being mean”.

“Fine,” he’d mischievously smile, hold the ball out to me, only to quickly throw it away when I got nearby. Like most all brothers would do.

Duane was the favorite of my mom and my dad. There was no denying that. No matter what he did, he was hardly scolded. Even the time he bought a red Trans Am with an eagle painted on the hood, with absolutely no means of paying for it. Even when it was repossessed and my parents were mad, he was still their favorite. Even when he spent a fortune on Bruce Springsteen concert tickets and even rented a limo. Even when he decided he’d be a DJ and go to Specs Howard and even when he took a DJ job in Ionia.

“Dee Dee, your listeners are all prisoners,” I’d joke. (There’s a prison in Ionia, Michigan)

“But they’re listeners!” he’d gloat.

He could do a mean Mr. Rogers impression and did amazing voice over work but decided to quit being a DJ. Duane loved traveling and that led him to working for travel agencies, including Thomas Cook Travel.

Then our mom died in 2006 and his heart was broken, and he couldn’t sit behind a desk anymore. My mom and him had a bond that only a mother and son would understand. He treated her like a queen and expected everyone else to do the same.

Duane loved animals so he quit his job and he started a pet sitting business that was successful. My dad was so proud of him. Duane also loved the ocean, palm trees, and the sunshine and happily traveled by himself, unafraid of meeting new people and having experiences. Mom, him, and I had the same love of books, so a nose in the book was enough company sometimes. We shared the love of reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

He had a sarcastic humor and quick wit that often got him into trouble and led to hurt feelings, him claiming I was “too sensitive”.  He’d remind me of the paper he wrote in school about how much he loved me being his little sister.

“It’s written on paper, Kris, so you can’t be mad at me,” he’d say.

After my mom passed away, he came over every day to visit my dad. When we moved in 2016, he’d come over almost every week, often bringing pizza or subs. He rarely missed a birthday or holiday, and always tried to go to his nieces and his nephew’s events and celebrations, even when he probably didn’t want to.

I could call him on the phone and vent, “Dad’s driving me nuts!” He would listen and calm me. He would call me on the phone upset that dad was trying to preach to him again, and then it would be my turn to listen and calm him. He was my dad’s TV watching buddy, from everything to American Idol to Detroit Tigers, and as we all said our goodbye to him today, my dad muttered, “Who will watch the Tigers with me?” as he wiped his tears away.

I know he is with our mom and grandparents. He’s hugging his very missed dogs Duke and Logan and snuggling his cats Silver and Ozzy. He can show mom around his favorite place – Costa Rica – while they play catch up. One of his best friends, Mike, is there too, along with Mark, our brother-in-law, and so many more.

I never thought I’d have to say goodbye for now to my brother. He was never a hugger, which was weird since my whole family is, but he always told me he loved me. I love you so much, Dee Dee. Give mom a hug from us. We will miss you. Duane, I’ll catch ya later. We’ll talk soon. I’ll try to keep dad here for a bit while you wander about Heaven, but he’s going to miss you so much. I love you.

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