Today, I was reminded that this is the 10th anniversary of the death of my older brother, David. I knew it was this month, but I actively try not to remember the specific day, frankly. After all these years, his death still hurts. However, since I was reminded (passively, via my sister’s Facebook status, so I don’t blame her for disturbing my dissociation attempt), I felt it was appropriate to say a little something on this occasion.
My brother wasn’t a saint. Some people found him too rough around the edges for their tastes. Some found him likeable. Some confused him with another David Hoyt in the same graduating class of the same high school (Stow, OH, 1977 — for the record, my brother was the trombonist, who was fond of black leather and motorcycles, not the football player). Few found him cuddly and teddy-bear-y, although my sister and I saw that side of him more than a few times.
Growing up, we battled constantly. And I don’t mean just arguing, but knock-down-drag-out fighting, usually resulting in me getting injured, since David outweighed me by a good hundred pounds. People wondered why I rarely got into trouble at school, why I did everything I could to avoid fights, when I seemed to enjoy a good argument (okay, so I was a bit of a jerk in high school) — it was because I had enough fighting at home. When I left my parents’ house, there were a lot of bad feelings both ways, and I resolved to leave for good. (I kept that promise to myself; I’ve never returned, even when it would have helped, financially.) For a long time, I didn’t speak to anyone in my family.
Somewhere along the line, I figured out that family meant something, no matter how fractured the relationship. (This is why so many people from broken homes end up in therapy — because those relationships did mean something to them, at an instinctive level if nothing else.) Sometime after that epiphany, about the time of my father’s heart bypass, I started reaching out to David, started doing what I could to repair what was obviously a broken relationship. I flew to Ohio to look after my dad the weekend after his surgery, and David picked me up at the airport. He took me to a biker bar for a steak dinner and we talked about Dad and why I wasn’t on speaking terms with anyone any more. I realized that my father’s health was more important than our petty disagreements, and that day I made the first steps toward building a working sibling relationship with David.
David didn’t take a step toward me that day, but we did get closer later. His progress was slow, but it was progress. I resolved to be patient, letting him take the time he needed to come to the same realization I had about the importance, the influence, of family. The mark he’d made on me, and I’d made on him, that helped make us the people we were. It was a slow process, but I knew it was worth it. That he was worth it.
David had already starting turning his own life around, steering away from drugs, alcohol and violence, and, with the help of a woman he loved, turning toward a responsible, grounded life, centered around family. (She had two teen/preteen children, and he talked to me about how terrifying it was to gain an "instant family," even though the kids would never really think of him as a father.) I know David loved her, because he died protecting her, his passenger, when the motorcycle he was piloting had a blowout and they went down on the expressway. She survived the accident, but David lapsed into a coma that ultimately proved fatal.
We were still in the middle of our journey when the accident occurred. David never recovered from the coma; I never got the chance to tell him that I was proud of him for trying to rehabilitate his life. Never got the chance to tell him how much our newly-repairing relationship meant to me. Never got the chance to apologize for pushing him away so many years before.
I was surprised how much his death affected me. We were still only cordial, not really friends, per se. I didn’t have a lot of happy memories to reflect on. Look, he’d always said he didn’t expect to live to 40, so I’d been expecting it for years at that point. Why should his death matter to me any more than that of a distant cousin? But it still shook me, hard. On a purely self-centered level, it felt like a part of my life had been ripped away — the parts we shared, specifically. I felt as though without his affirmation, my memories were just lies, and they’d fade away over time, eventually robbing David of his own legacy — the memory of his very existence. I came to understand that this was just a natural reaction to the death of a close relative, and I moved on.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve never forgotten my brother. I think of him frequently, of what his life meant to me, and I try to apply those lessons to my own relationships (especially with my wife and kids). I remember and honor his memory every week. I hope that there’s some form of afterlife, and that he’s found his version of peace in it.
David Hoyt, big brother, on this the 10th anniversary of your death, Rest in Peace. You deserve it.