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In Memory of a Great Brother

In Memorial

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March Anniversary
In Memorial

For Nate
March 20, 2004
 

When I agreed to stand here and tell you about my brother, I knew it would be hard. But I wanted to share with you what I know of him and why he was so loved and will be greatly missed. Father warned me that this would be hard. He wasn’t kidding. I once thought giving birth to my two children was tough...I’d do that a million times more, than have to do this today. So forgive me if I get choked up, bear with me if it takes me a while to finish a sentence, but please listen to what I have to say.

My little brother was born when I was 9 years old. By default that made me an automatic babysitter for years to come. My first recollection of my brother was his inability to keep down his bottle. We use to live across the street from Randall’s (then Madsen’s) and my mom would say, "just going to grab a few groceries" The door would shut and Nate would puke his bottle up all over me, himself and the floor. I left it. I’m sure that was always a pleasure for my mom to return home to see on the carpet! The ironic part about this is when I had my daughter, Lanie, Nate held her and said, "She’s not going to throw up on me, is she?" And she never did. Some guys have all the luck. A little payback would have felt good for me!

Shortly after we were joined by another brother. And I learned quickly that my role as a ‘little’ mother was about to change. Once I started dating they became the ‘official’ greeters. And I don’t mean greeting my boyfriends at the door, I mean greeting us in the driveway with flashlights as I ‘tried’ to kiss them goodnight. Or coming downstairs as I ‘tried’ to watch a movie alone....I can never be sure if my parents sent them to check on us or if Nate started it. Either way, Nate’s protective attitude had already emerged. No one was going to get to his sister without first getting past him.

When my sister came along I thought I finally had an ally. But she followed right along with them, even enjoying their hobbies like hunting and fishing and playing hockey.

Nate was a natural at sports. I don’t think I even need to go into detail about hockey. He lived hockey. And he was good. He was good without even trying. And the days he tried, he was awesome. Usually though, the days I went to a game and paid the ‘tournament’ admission, he’d spend half the time in the penalty box. My mom and I learned all hockey rules through Nate’s penalty calls. One year it was icing, then offsides (oh man, was offsides a problem for him) There goes that Richter again...offsides. Then later high sticking and checking from behind. However, there were a few hat tricks too and celebratory skates across the ice that will forever make me proud.

One other sport that Nate excelled at was golf. Well, I say he excelled only because when he was about 5 or 6 and I was probably 15, our dad took us across the street to the park and said, "I’m going to show you how to hold the club and swing" Well, we did. Mine went about 10 feet, Nate’s about a hundred. (And really, that’s not an exaggeration)

As my brother got older, it was a little easier to bond with him. He made only a few trips to the cities to visit and I’ll tell you why: he got lost every time. Nate was awful with directions. I always wanted to buy him a map and laminate it. My husband would say, "Nate, write the directions down, then go." And Nate would already be out the door. But calling about 15 minutes later from the wrong road. He came to the cities for a job interview a few months ago and ended up taking a scenic tour of the western suburbs (as well as Wisconsin, I hear) and finally arrived at my house 2 hours later. He said, "Jen, how do you do it? I couldn’t handle driving 2 hours a day just to get home!" I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he toured the countryside. Had he read a map it would have only taken an hour.

There were things I was looking forward to sharing with him when he was more like me and married and had children. And maybe then he might have understood why there was no way I was going to allow my brother to put my two children in the back of his four wheeler and haul them all over the countryside. He probably thought I didn’t trust him...well, ok, I didn’t! All I could picture was kids flying all over the place!

When I found out my brother was having problems, I didn’t realize and I still don’t understand the extent of his illness. The more I learn, the more I see how lucky we were to have him for 21 years. And however short the hospital time was at the end, I am also glad I got a chance to say goodbye. And I know I am not the only one that feels that way. Nate was so good at hiding his illness from family and friends and part of me is sad about that. Because as we see now, he would have had a tremendous support group if he could have only opened up and if we could have helped. But although our help was limited, I will not allow my family to feel guilt. My parents are wonderful parents that dealt with a disease they had no knowledge about and no tools to handle it with. They were surrounded by the stigma of fear and embarrassment. And I think even Nate felt ashamed that he could not be as "normal" as everyone else.

I realize now that not only my family knows how special Nate was. On Monday night the waiting room was full of family and on Tuesday morning there were so many friends that there wasn’t an empty chair left to sit on. As family we struggled to watch him breathe, but as friends you bravely walked in there and shared your love. That means more to us than you will ever know or we can ever explain.

My brother was the bravest man I know. He died for peace and to help us live with one less problem. However misguided that was, I don’t know many other people that would die for our family. His death is a tragedy, but a lifesaver for us. Our family is stronger, more open and more loving because he has been here. Our hope was to donate his organs to save someone else and when that wasn’t possible we still allowed them to take at least his corneas and heart valves and tissue and bone. We wanted to know that we could help another family, we wanted to know that he lived on, in some small way. But now looking out at you I see that we were wrong. Nate doesn’t live on in the body parts, he lives on in your hearts. And if you are here, he must have touched you in some way, and to know that brings comfort to me and my family. I know I will never forget him. I hear his voice when Scott speaks. I see his eyes when I look at my son. I watch my sister play hockey and remember the times I sat rinkside for him. And I look around my parents house and see all the pictures of him, happy.

My 3 year old daughter asked me this morning where I was going. I said I was going to church. She pointed to my ribbon and asked, ‘what’s that for?’ and I said for Nate. And she said, "You’re wearing that so Nate can see it?" And I said, yeah, so Nate can see it.

Dad, it’s five o’ clock for us now. It’s time to say goodbye. Nate, we love you. Miss you. And you’ll always be with us. Take care, kiddo.