Janet Sheridan: For Lawrence on his birthday

Janet Sheridan
Janet Sheridan
Courtesy photo

Filing into a pew reserved for family members, I looked for my siblings: Carolyn, who became an athlete under Lawrence’s supervision; Bob, who shadowed him and knew him best; Barbara, so young she thought he was the school principal when he came home on leave; Blaine and JL, toddlers who responded to the happiness his return visits brought to our home. I included myself, the middle child who idolized him, and realized I counted only six siblings. Startled, I said aloud, “But we’ve always been seven.”

It would take time to learn to live with his absence.

Waiting for Lawrence’s funeral to begin, I revisited the shock of grief that jolted me from myself when Bob called with news of our older brother’s heart attack and death. An instantaneous sense of profound loss overcame my usual constraints; I mourned, my emotions raw and unrestrained.

When young, I knew my parents would probably die before I did, but assumed my siblings and I would move through life together, dying en masse when very, very, very old. More recently, I understood Lawrence’s problematic heart would one day fail him, but didn’t know when it did so, it would break mine as well with its suddenness.

In the days following the news of his death, I called my siblings; they called me; we called each other a second time as we tried to process our loss, to make it believable, to acknowledge that death had entered our ranks and now walked among us. If our steadfast older brother had died, so could we. We were now the generation that would slip away — a few at a time at first and then with increasing frequency — as the world went about its business.

Vulnerable and sad, we sat together during the funeral, laughing as Bob talked about the fun-loving brother we’d grown up with and weeping as his granddaughter sang “Oh Danny Boy,” a song he’d loved. When we thought we had no more tears to give, they flowed down our cheeks again as “Taps” rang out and a flag was folded.

In the afternoon, following Lawrence’s funeral and the lunch we shared with his family and friends, we found one another. Soon the stories, part of my family’s healing process, began. We honored Lawrence with our tales as he had helped us honor our parents after their deaths.

Many months have passed, but I continue to feel moments of loneliness for my brother. I sense the hand that steadied my bicycle, the voice that made Mom laugh, the teasing that never became mean, the gleeful cackle that punctuated our lives. I see the long, slender, adolescent body stretched high in a cottonwood tree hanging a swing and then pushing me in it when I asked politely.

I remember the Marine Sergeant who answered my letters at length and danced with a pained expression at his wedding. I see the proud young father who posed for pictures holding his first child cradled against him with one hand and his college diploma in the other. I hear the voice of the middle-aged man who wept when he called to tell me his beloved daughter, the same child he held after his graduation, had died at sixteen.

I remind myself that at the last family reunion he attended, during an early morning conversation, he told me he hoped to die quickly.

Helen Keller said, “Those you have loved deeply remain part of you forever.”

I take comfort in the truth of her statement; but my mind still startles when I realize that now we are six.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at on Tuesdays.

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