“They are not lost who find the light of sun and stars and God.”
My one brother, Ronnie, passed away on October 7, 2010, in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the age of 62. It was strange, and heartbreaking, that none of his family had the opportunity to be with him in the end. Dying of liver failure, he wandered back to the place he had loved more than anywhere else, to find peace, which he said he truly did, and to meet his maker.
It seems that when a family member passes away, the relatives closest to him or her gather to reminisce. Often this includes family photograph albums. There are tears and laughter, special moments and regrets. At times an unexpected confession or an old secret festers to the surface of grief.
We were fortunate to have communicated with Ronnie during the last two years of his life, as he traversed from Las Vegas to Cabo San Lucas. We four Lewis kids, originally from Lewiston, Minnesota, came together in conversation regularly, through the wonder of e-mail, reminiscing and sharing nearly forgotten snippets of our past.
Through Ronnie’s illness and death, my sisters Mary, from Rochester, and Jean, from Eugene, Oregon, became acquainted with his dear friend Julio (no, not a romantic union,) who proved to be a godsend. He was at our brother’s side when he passed away. Julio made all the arrangements for his cremation and a memorial gathering to scatter his ashes over the ocean. He told us that Ronnie was the kindest person he’d ever known. He left home after his graduation from Lewiston High School, and joined the Air Force for a four-year stint. He then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada. He was employed as a sales representative for Bron Company in Las Vegas until his illness became chronic. Family members visited Ronnie whenever we vacationed to Las Vegas throughout the years. Though he was always receptive to our brief stays, there remain many missing years that are unaccounted for in his mysterious life’s story.
On one of those visits, Pat and I were directed far out of Vegas, in the middle of the barren desert, to a frugal, albeit disarming dwelling, which was the rugged, handmade abode of my wandering bro. His technical prowess was obvious through his gifted cognizance of invention. Though impressed, Pat and I returned to our functional room on the Vegas Strip for more glitzy R & R. I recall that Ronnie said he had compiled a book on desert horticulture, but, shamefully, it slipped my mind. Too late.
Future visits found him in a home in a gated community in Las Vegas’ residential section, where he lived comfortably with his canine buddy, Chewy. We were caught off guard by his collections of impressive artifacts, sculptures, and paintings by renowned artists, which he had never mentioned to us.
Ronnie had two failed marriages, earlier in his life, and no family of his own. He left his things behind when he returned to Mexico, to live frugally. Julio sent Ronnie’s scant personal belongings to us, except that which we gifted to Julio. There, among some inexpensive silver jewelry and a paper trail leading nowhere, was his tattered baby scrapbook, its cardboard cover barely hanging on.
Mother had compiled one for each of us kids, with scads of photographs from early years. Throughout his journeys, Ronnie had carried along this touching memento of his roots. The empty, yellowed back pages were to be adorned with photos from special occasions and of cherished friends and travels throughout his adult life. They were all blank. One has to wonder — where had he left his footprints on life’s sojourn?
One of Ronnie’s close friends, during their school years in Lewiston, remarked that he was one individual who could go anywhere and do anything he set his mind to...
...and maybe that’s exactly what he did. Even though there remain missing years in our brother’s legacy, in the end he returned to us, however briefly, and nothing else is important.
Janet Burns continues to reside in her family’s hometown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org