I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve started this post. Maybe I shouldn’t write it if I can’t get my thoughts together, but maybe it will help? I don’t know.

My brother, my big brother, my first friend….Phil….died on July 23. To say that I’m heartbroken or to say that my family is devastated does not seem to really say what we’re feeling. I don’t want to speak for them, but any parent who loses a child, whether 2 months old, 14 years or 49…it’s unspeakable, unfathomable. And my brother-in-law lost his partner of nearly a quarter of a century. My brother was the younger of the pair. How does this man, who was with my brother not only throughout the years but through the past few weeks of pain and uncertainty and thankfully with my brother as he took his last breath…how does this man go on without having Phil there to make him laugh every single day?

How do the rest of us?

If you know me well or if you’ve known me for a long time, you know I looked up (literally and figuratively) to my brother. He was a giant in my life, and being 6’6″, a giant in most people’s lives. He was always naughty, like in a Groucho Marx kind of way. He was incredibly kind, especially to his family and friends. He loved us with everything he had and it showed. I don’t think I realized how good he really was until I saw him with my son.  Watching my brother read to my son or play action figures with him or chase my boy with a squirt gun not only made me happy, but it allowed me to watch another person become completely enamored of my big brother and with good reason.

Phil made us all laugh until we cried. He could find humor in nearly every situation, no matter how dark.  He listened. He was never afraid to be himself and encouraged that in others. Hence the photo.


He loved to cook. He loved to try funky foods because he knew he would never travel again and that was how he could “vacation” or experience life to the fullest. His music tastes ranged from Weird Al to Adele to show tunes. His taste in books were as varied as his taste in music. He loved Stephen King and other horror writers, but he enjoyed Liane Moriarty, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and MAD Magazine.

But he was also a writer. A really good one. I have some stories and poems he wrote years ago, including a story he wrote me for one of my birthdays, that portrays himself as a monkey. Which is perfectly fitting because he had a thing for monkeys. He was finally published a few years ago by Forbidden Fiction with some of his gay erotica stories. And before you start judging, you should read some of it. He always said that his erotica (and most others) were really romance but with a bit of nastiness thrown in. Love, not sex, is the true focus of erotica.

Phil was an amazing human being. And I miss him. But even saying that doesn’t sound right. It’s so much more than missing someone. I’ve had this constant ache in my belly since he died. I’m so tired and I feel heavy and even when I think I’m ok, something will trigger a memory and I’m caught off guard and I’ll let out this quick little sob. I try to hold it back, but what’s the point, really?

My brother is in every room of my house. He was here nearly every week for the past decade, either to visit with us or babysit my boy after school or here for family gatherings. He has a pair of slippers here that I bought just for him after my husband and I bought this house. (His size 16 feet were not easy to buy shoes for.)  There’s a box of Splenda in my cupboard for when he came over for a cup of tea. He has his own profile on my Netflix account. He’s everywhere.

And yesterday, we even scattered some of his ashes around the outside of my home. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, but my boy did. He knew right where Uncle should be. And once we scattered a few of Phil’s ashes, my boy said, “I’m never going to wash my hands again.” We squashed that idea immediately, but I knew exactly what he meant. I didn’t want to wash my hands again, either. In fact, I kept rubbing them together, trying to embed some of my brother into my skin. Later in the day, when I started to wash dishes, I realized what I was doing and pulled my hands from the water like I had been burned. I was so mad at myself. I forgot. I fucking forgot. Rationally I knew I had to wash my hands at some point but did it have to be then? Couldn’t I have tried to hold on longer?

But here’s where everything gets *really* difficult.

Life goes on.

How the hell does that happen? Actually, I’m not even asking how right now, but why? Why does it have to? There’s a big chunk of me missing. That person I used to watch the Oscars with, the relative my boy would look forward to seeing each week, that guy I’d talk books and writing with….fuck.

Easter, all of our birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Phil was here for all of those things.

And now he’s not….and I’m just…..


10 thoughts on “Broken

  1. I know it was a painful, but loving tribute to write. You did a great job in expressing the essence of who Phil was. And as tall as he was, he looked up to you, as well. He especially admired and was so proud of the way you raised Briar. He so enjoyed watching him, as it was like being a kid again with his best buddy. He got joy in pushing the rules of Unclehood just enough to make you squirm. lol And believe me, he knew he’d have hell to pay if he let Briar do some of the things he was just itching for him to get away with. I see a lot of him in Briar. Mostly in how outspoken and original he is with his thoughts. I see another talented writer on the horizon.
    When my dad was in the nursing home , the year before he died, I would walk over every Sunday and spend 4 or 5 hours with him, and eat supper together, sitting across from each other. He’d scoop what he didn’t want to eat into my plate, even if I had enough, and I’d eat it anyway. After he passed, at first, I hated Sundays. I would be in a funk all day, and would have tears pouring down my face as I ate supper, because he wasn’t sitting across from me anymore. After a while the day went better , but Supper time was still the killer. Eventually, I would get wrapped up in cooking, and turn on my favorite PBS show, and watch it while I was eating. Afterwards, I’d realize I hadn’t cried. I almost felt guilty, for enjoying supper and a show. But I remembered how he loved watching the old PBS comedies, Mr. Bean, Benny Hill, Monty Python, and The Black Adder, and then looked forward to watching my favorites on Saturday nights, and my drama shows on Sundays. I still have the occasional Sundays , especially when I’m not feeling well, that I really miss him. But it’s more the sporadic , moments of sudden sadness and crying at any time of any day, that still surprise me out of no where, that I think will be with me always, …though less and less as time goes by. I find it amazing like you said, how when a person close to you dies, a part of you dies with them, it leaves with them, and a gaping empty hole is left. Even the air feels lighter because there is more space where he was, can feel it, sense it, almost feel the spot he exited. I like to explain it as …when a loved one goes, the end of that umbilical cord that connected your love at the heart, gets torn free to take with them, and when you’re time comes, that umbilical cord connected to them will lead you back to them and reconnect. It may sound too simple , or stupid, but it’s the only sense I can make of it. And the reason why they have to take our end with them , is so they can exit this life without keeping the pain and suffering at it’s end. They are free of the pain, free of the restrictions of life, and are healthy and whole again. We aren’t , but they are. I guess it comes down to , if we didn’t know the pain of losing someone we loved, how would we measure their true worth while we had them. Hope this helped a little…or will in time. Love you.

    • Thank you, Pat. He did love pushing those boundaries, didn’t he? And thank you for sharing your experience with your dad. Especially the part about almost feeling guilty of going on. I know he wouldn’t want me to feel that way, but it’s nice to know others have felt it before, too.

  2. My heart bleeds for you. I lost my second son, and my favorite aunt and there are no words that can fill the void we feel losing someone we are close to. Though I did cry reading this, it was so well written. Wonderful tribute to your amazing brother. Hugs friend.

  3. My dear, dear Holly, I just found out. My heart aches for you. I’m very happy that I did meet Phil, he seemed like a real sweetheart with a ready smile. It’s such a shock and a devastation when we lose our core family, our original ones, our beloved siblings and parents. Even though we may try to prepare ourselves mentally, it doesn’t work. Cry and cry some more Hol – don’t hold back the grief. Contrary to the saying, time does not heal these wounds. But little by little we learn to go on. We learn to adjust – think on all of the good that Phil was and did in his life. Thank you for sharing your memories. I love you, Hol.

    • Thanks so much, Laurie. You’re right. We tried to prepare ourselves for a long time, but that doesn’t work. Or at least it didn’t for me. I think I just hoping and wishing this would never happen. But now it has and I’m feeling lost.
      I love you, too, Laurie.

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