My brother died one year ago
This week marks the one year anniversary of my brother Kenny's death from the complications of seizures after a brain tumor surgery 16+ years ago. I did not post when he died, to avoid conversation and to give myself time to process what I can only describe as a captivating and heartbreaking experience. My sister Renee has likely experienced the most loss from Kenny's death - they were very connected like mother and son. I am sending Renee all of my love this week and I hope that her wounded heart continues to heal.
Kenny and I weren't close. In fact, I didn't really like my brother much growing up. He was often cruel to me as a child and blamed me for having a father. Kenny's father was a cruel man who caused harm to our mother, my sister Renee and to Kenny. Kenny's father disappeared when he was very young, but the deep emotional damage was ingrained. I believe Kenny spent the rest of his life in search of the approval that his father denied him. My father became Kenny's step father, but there was never a bond formed and Kenny grew up at a great deficit without parents who loved and adored him unconditionally. For this, I hurt deeply for him.
I also believe Kenny struggled from a premature birth that affected his ability to process right and wrong. Kenny had a genius mind with a criminal bent. He lived dangerously and tried to commit suicide multiple times. He also struggled with drugs and alcohol most of his life. He wanted to die most of his life, until he was sick, then he wanted to live more than anything. You might be asking yourself why I'm sharing these things about my brother. The answer is simple - it's my distorted version of the truth from my point of view. This is not the end of his story though, nor is this who Kenny was. I am only describing some of my brother's behavior and my judgments of him.
2015 was possibly the most transformative year of my life. It began with the suicide of my sweet friend, the death of my brother and the failure of my engagement - all in a few weeks time. Through these challenges, I learned many hard lessons and I hurt about as much as I could possibly tolerate. I thought I was going to implode, but I found something I needed in this chaos. It came from hitting the bottom. In the ashes with nowhere to go but up. In this emotional trough I learned and embraced new ideas that have made me stronger, less judgmental, more curious than ever, raw, open, vulnerable, and far more loving than I could ever imagine. The sum of these experiences gave me a new priority and focus - total and unconditional love for myself and others. From the depths of this emotional and psychological shift, I now look at my brother with fresh eyes and I love him exactly for who he was. I am still learning to love without judgment and I can see the light.
I also forgive Kenny for the cruelty he was taught. I remember his good parts and I feel his childlike vulnerability - always the fearless man with a death wish, Kenny was terrified of snorkeling after his surgery, even with a life vest. I also appreciate that he made my Easter baskets when my mother forgot. I love the way he laughed so loud that people stared, and when he ate like a wild man because eating was a waste of his time. It's so oddly random what comes to mind when I think of my brother... I also have regrets; like not experiencing more of my brother when he was alive. Kenny was disabled for many years after his surgery, but he was still the witty, silly, brilliant, dreamer, schemer and obnoxious brother that I never wanted to acknowledge. If I could rewind a few years, I would have let myself know Kenny better and given him my love. I cannot go back, but I am sharing his story with you now.
Kenny lived a difficult life, but he always found something to laugh about. I respect him for that, especially in his final years when he was confined to a chair following a stroke that took away his autonomy. Even then, Kenny laughed out loud and dreamed of building a sailboat to travel around the world with a woman that loved him. This wasn't possible and it was tragic, but either he didn't know it, or he just ignored the reality he faced. It proves to me that the mind can expand past the limitations of the body. We must admire him for the desire to live beyond his limitations. I certainly do. Kenny behaved poorly at times and he did things that are simply not okay, but who am I to pass judgment onto him. I have made countless mistakes in my life - we all have. I sure want to be forgiven for my blunders. Kenny deserves to be forgiven for his mistakes. I know this -the people who hold onto resentment and anger suffer the most.
Kenny was a flawed human who was handed a pile of shit from the start of his life, but he survived, laughed and experienced. He was loved by many people along the way and he lived on the edge. He was a comedian and a clown. He loved the best he knew how and he craved our love more than anything else. He was a gentle human being and he was our brother.
Kenny has been gone now for a year and I really miss him. I was with my sister at his side when he took his last breath. It was the hardest and most beautiful moment at once. I was shocked at my own strength and ability to hold his hand, even after he died, and I was no longer scared for him or for me. Kenny's death made my heart open and strengthen in the way I needed most. He may have even saved my life with the release of his. How ironic that is. The impact of that day, one year ago, was monumental for me and I am different now. I want to thank my brother for the life he lived and the amazing daughter - my niece, he gave us. Kenny didn't change when he died. My perspective changed. Only now do I see that he was perfect.
What more can we want when we go to the next level, other than the love we receive and the love we leave behind.
Rest in peace Kenny Phinney. You live on in our memory and our hearts.
Your loving brother.