The two year long battle between my oldest brother and me ended just in time for us to spend the last six months of his life as friends - and in time for me to learn a rather startling lesson from him.
I suppose siblings need to fight among themselves in order to gain strength and adequate skills to survive in the external world, much as bear cubs need to fight among themselves to prepare them for their world.
But I'm happy that my brother and I got beyond our disagreements and back to a comfort level, where in one of my last visits with him he could say to me in his uniquely confrontational, yet playful style, "Boy, you ain't brought me no flowers! I don't want you bringing 'em to me when I'm dead! Flowers are for the LIVING!"
Smiling, I shot back, "Man, I'll go get you some flowers!" As I reached to put my coat and gloves back on, his wife said, "Ah, Vincent, don't worry about going back out - Aubrey is just joking!" To which he replied, "No, I'm NOT!"
But his wife still insisted that I and his other visitors simply sit down and stay for a while. We did.
As his other visitors talked in another room, he and I talked about an intriguing painting of his on his nearby easel. It was a painting of a Native American village with a dirt road which ran in front of a teepee towards a distant mountain. I told him that I liked it and that it reminded me of some of my favorite drawings of his from our childhood.
Though I thought the painting was finished, he told me that it wasn't and that he had to add an invisible horseman riding on the road in front of the teepee. But because he was so weak and frail and, from time to time, had even startled his wife when his illness caused him to fall late at night, I thought there was no way he would ever be able to complete the picture as he described it to me.
As we were leaving for the evening, he took one more shot at being a big brother and reminded me, "Vincent, don't sweat the small stuff! And, remember, it's all small stuff!"
I smiled and thanked him for saying such a healthy thing to me and promised that I would remember it and that I would bring him some flowers the next day.
I had never given him, or any other man, flowers before - Southern men from my generation just didn't do that! - But I'm glad I did!
When I brought the flowers back to him the next morning, I was astonished at the look on his face! It was a look of deep satisfaction and validation! He had finally gotten a family member to respond to HIS view of things! And in that instant of seeing him so weak, yet so happy, I not only saw his view of things, but FELT it! I EXPERIENCED it!
But I was even more astonished when I saw that he had successfully painted the invisible horseman in full gallop riding in front of the teepee! Seeing that addition to the painting immediately opened my eyes and caused me to do a double take at the picture. When I looked around the walls of his bedroom, which he had converted to an art studio, I finally noticed how powerful the theme of flowers was in his paintings!
Though I had seen his paintings all of my life, I hadn't noticed the theme of flowers with their intimations of renewal before, nor would I have, had we not given each other enough of an opportunity to renew our friendship.
My brother died January 23, 1996, the night he finished his work on the invisible rider, but it is still amazing to me that through all of that weakness and all those challenges he faced throughout his life, that there was still enough love of painting remaining in that great right hand of his to finish what he set out to do - to finish what he was compelled to do.
To him on the third anniversary of his death I wish to say to him a poem which I wrote for our mother,
It was a blessing having you in our lives
All I can say is, "It was a blessing!"
The King may have ALL for which he strives
Because, for me, it was enough of a blessing
Having had YOU in our lives!