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20 November 2011

Charlie My sister called me an hour or so ago to tell me that our youngest brother Charlie died this morning of a massive heart attack. He was 42. [More:]

I can't quite take it in at the moment, can't believe that I'm not going to go home at Christmas and see him come walking in with a Tim Horton's gift basket for my mother as he always does, and give him his Christmas present, which is wrapped and ready in my closet at my parents' place, and which was $25 worth of socks since I've heard him say several times he goes through socks like tissues.

I said so to my sister, and she said she felt the same way, that he'd drop in on his way back from his Christmas run delivering chickens. (He worked for a small, family-owned chicken packing plant.) I added, "Or he'd show up under police escort..." and we both managed to laugh. One year Charlie got into a car accident just outside of the little town where my parents live. He was fine, but his truck was totalled. (It was 100% the other guy's fault so he got a new truck.) The cop who arrived shortly after and wrote up the report gave him a ride to my parents' place. I've always wished there had been someone looking out the front window to see Charlie arriving for Christmas in a police cruiser. As it was, he told us he had, and he seemed remarkably calm and unrattled all day for a man who had been in a major car accident, and he and we all cracked jokes about it all that day. But then he was like that. He was a quiet guy, and very sweet-natured, and he almost always seemed contented with his life.

Dead of massive heart attack at 42. That's not supposed to happen, and so there is to be an autopsy. He had always been a very heavy drinker and smoker, and his job was so physically demanding — so much heavy lifting and driving under bad conditions and long, split shifts with only a few hours to sleep in between. He was never one to go to the doctor unless he "needed" to, which was never, as he was never ill. And then there was the matter of his teeth, which were in horrible shape and probably needed to come out. Maybe there was some infection that got into his blood stream.

Nothing's been decided yet about his funeral or burial. He was technically married, but he and his wife have been separated for what must be over five years now and he's been living with another woman, Joanne, and her three children for the past several years. I have never even met Joanne, though my parents have. The only thing that's been settled so far is that my parents will be making the decisions about the funeral, but that Joanne will of course be attending.

I can't take it in. I have three brothers — I had three brothers — and Charlie was my favourite.
i'm so sorry for your loss Orange Swan. it's never easy to lose someone, especially unexpectedly, but around the holidays seems to make it more poignant, more palpable.

{{{{Orange Swan}}}}}
posted by mollycase 20 November | 19:21
My condolences on your loss. Sending warm thoughts to you and your family.
posted by Twiggy 20 November | 19:27
The shock must be awful and your family has to be reeling. So very sorry for you all. Heartfelt condolences and hugs.
posted by mightshould 20 November | 19:28
Oh damn, Orange Swan, I'm so sorry... what a horrible shock. So very sorry. :(
posted by BoringPostcards 20 November | 19:33
I'm so very sorry Orange Swan.
posted by LoriFLA 20 November | 19:39
I am so very sorry for your loss, Orange Swan. You and your family are in my thoughts.
posted by deborah 20 November | 19:47
Oh no...I'm keeping you all in my thoughts. *whuffles*
posted by sperose 20 November | 20:02
Oh Orange Swan I am so sorry for your loss. What a terrible tragedy. You wrote so beautifully about him, he sounds like a great brother and friend. Sending you a hug, I feel so sad with you. ((((((((orange)))))))
posted by Kangaroo 20 November | 20:03
So very sorry, dear :(
posted by ThePinkSuperhero 20 November | 20:28
Oh, that's rotten. I'm so sorry.
posted by theora55 20 November | 20:37
I'm so sorry. Y'all are in my thoughts.
posted by bluesapphires 20 November | 20:43
My condolences, Orange Swan.
posted by Ardiril 20 November | 20:59
Oh I'm so sorry to hear this. Deepest sympathy to you and your family.
posted by mygothlaundry 20 November | 21:15
Dang Orange Swan. My Condolences
posted by rollick 20 November | 21:21
So sorry, OS.
posted by rainbaby 20 November | 21:29
So very sorry, Orange Swan. What a shock.
posted by gaspode 20 November | 21:30
How dreadful. I am so sorry. That is way, way too young to die. A big virtual hug from here. {{{{{{Orange Swan}}}}}}
posted by bearwife 20 November | 21:34
Deepest sympathies, OS. It has been a mortality-confronting year for me and so many other people I know. It's crazy.
posted by mykescipark 20 November | 22:18
A young man. A hard day Orange Swan, such a loss for you, your family, for Joanne.

My sincere condolences to you and your family.
posted by dancestoblue 20 November | 22:18
That's terrible, Orange Swan. I'm so sorry.
posted by lysdexic 20 November | 22:29
Oh, Orange Swan, I'm so terribly sorry. Your stories about him are lovely. My thoughts are with you and your family, and will be in the days and weeks to come.
posted by Elsa 20 November | 22:42
I am really sorry Orange Swan. My dad died right before Christmas, as did my wife's dad. Really makes for a horrible holiday. *hug*
posted by danf 20 November | 23:05
I'm so very sorry, Orange Swan. I wish you and your family lots of love and strength in the days ahead.
posted by Miko 20 November | 23:07
So very sorry Orange Swan. I send you inadequate internet hugs.
posted by arse_hat 21 November | 00:29
I am so very sorry, Orange Swan.
posted by halonine 21 November | 00:53
Sorry to hear that. It's always terrible, such a shock when it's so sudden. Take care.
posted by TheophileEscargot 21 November | 01:23
I've got so many memories coursing through my mind.

Charlie was a born driver. We have a newspaper clipping featuring a picture of him at aged three, gazing adoringly up a huge tractor at a dealership opening. He drove everything he could get his hands on. He loved to build models and draw cars. When he turned sixteen he had to send away for his birth certificate before he could get his license and he stood guard over the mailbox for weeks. It was no real surprise when he became a mechanic and a trucker. One year he gave me a Christmas present wrapped up in a car model box. I was chagrined that he would give me a model until I opened the box and found a Kermit the Frog mug. Which I still have thirty years later.

I remember him at 12 or 13, coming into the house from the barn one raw spring night and announcing proudly that he'd helped a ewe birth a lamb. When I was nine and putting on airs about learning how to knit, he got my mother to show him how to knit just to prove to his bratty little sister that she had nothing on him. Mum said it was a shame he only knitted a little bit just to show me, because he picked up the skill really quickly, much more so than I did.

The day he got married I could see his face during the vows, and his eyes shone like two beams of blue light.

One evening soon after his marriage his wife Maggie had called me and we were talking and I could here Charlie yelling out in the background, "HAS SHE GOT A MAN THERE?" I said to Maggie, "Someone needs a spankin', and she said to Charlie, "She says I should spank you!" This elicited a prompt, "WHOO-HOO!!!!" from the background.

One of his favourite things about Christmas was putting up Christmas lights. He had a wordless contest going with his next door neighbour as to who could get the most lights on his house. Charlie would put up his lights in early December and keep a few strings in reserve. That day, they'd see the neighbour come home and stand stock still in his driveway beside his car, staring at the house. The next day the neighbour would put up his lights. Charlie would put up one of his extra strings. The neighbour would put up some more. Charlie would buy more as necessary to keep it going. The house wound up looking Clark Griswold's and they were pretty sure someone was flipping the "auxiliary power" switch down at the power station. After they moved from that house to another, Charlie tried to get another contest going with his new neighbour, but it just wasn't the same.

He was always so ready to do things for anyone. It meant he got taken advantage of sometimes, as skilled tradespeople so often do. One time I head my dad say to him, "Johnny [one of my other two brothers] was pretty disappointed that you didn't have time to work on his car." Charlie stared at my dad for a beat, visibly took a deep breath, and said, carefully controlled, "I think I've done rather well at finding time to work on Johnny's car given that when he got it, it didn't have an engine." Johnny, of course, had not seen fit to mention that the car needed some extreme amount of work.

The day I moved in my first home, a condo, and it turned out I had to move a day sooner than planned, he dropped everything to come to Toronto to help me, and we drove along the Don Valley Parkway with very excited me shaking my newly acquired keys out the window at random cars.

The next day after the move he and his then wife came to visit as she had been anxious to see my new place, and the brought some wine with them. We sat out on the balcony and enjoyed the view, and I had a few too many glasses of vino and christened the kitchen sink about twenty seconds after the door closed behind them.

I renovated my condo, and I hired Charlie to put up crown moldings and new baseboards. He had a good time making fun of me at Home Depot when he discovered he could do math in his head faster than I could. He accused me of trying to make him fat at lunch as he was helping himself to his third piece of maple apple cake. And when I accidentally spilled the beans to his wife that I was paying him to help me (it seems he hadn't mentioned the money to her), he said to me, "You are sooooo dead."

And I find one of the things I regret most — well, besides not dragging him by the scruff of his neck to a doctor and dentist a good five years ago — is that he never saw Swan's End, though I've been here for five years. He was never able to come any of those five Easter dos I've held here. At Thanksgiving, which was the last time I saw him, I told him I was going to host it on Saturday this coming year so he could be there, and he said he thought he could make it. I wish I could remember him as having been here in my home.

I just can't believe he's gone. Can't at all.
posted by Orange Swan 21 November | 01:45
When someone close to us dies, our brain does this strange thing. It's like emotional airbags go off within it and everything seems unreal. Everything seems like it's at the end of a tunnel and nothing seems quite right. It's our brain's way of protecting us from the saddest of realities.

How fast that unreality goes away is different for everyone. All I can say with authority is that it will, in fact, go away eventually and you'll find yourself in a new reality. I wish you peace on your journey and many happy memories of your brother.

And, of course, I'm always available to you and to all of you, at any time. I'm only a phonecall away.
posted by ColdChef 21 November | 02:08
"All I can say with authority is that it will, in fact, go away eventually and you'll find yourself in a new reality. " That can be very, very many years.
posted by arse_hat 21 November | 02:13
Sorry for your loss. It's never easy, but even worse when someone is so young.
posted by dg 21 November | 02:21
I'm sorry Orange Swan. *big hugs*
posted by brujita 21 November | 02:48
I'm so very sorry Orange Swan. Please keep the lovely anecdotes coming if you feel able to.
posted by gomichild 21 November | 02:52
Oh sweetie. I am so deeply sorry. (((((hugs)))))
posted by rhapsodie 21 November | 03:09
Swan, I am so terribly sorry. Thank you so much for sharing your stories of your brother. My hope is that you find comfort in your family and friends in this period of time sharing these stories of a man who is quite dear and will be seriously missed.

((((((Orange Swan))))))

posted by msali 21 November | 05:46 swan, I'm so sorry. Thank you for sharing your stories, they are wonderful.
posted by pinky 21 November | 06:22
So sorry, Orange Swan :(
Deepest condolences.
posted by goshling 21 November | 08:22
So sorry to hear of your loss, Orange Swan.
posted by Splunge 21 November | 08:27
Our deepest condolences to you and your family. He's gone too soon.
posted by Pips 21 November | 09:03
Big hug to you Orange Swan. Am so sorry to hear this :( He sounds like a wonderful person.
posted by peacheater 21 November | 09:11
Just back checking in this morning, Orange Swan --- really just an excuse to send you a hug down the wifi: (((Orange Swan))).
posted by Elsa 21 November | 09:36
Sending you a hug too, Orange Swan. Be good to yourself. I'm sorry to hear this.
posted by Sil 21 November | 10:03
I'm so sorry to hear that, Orange Swan. Your anecdotes are fine tributes. Do try to take care of yourself.
posted by altolinguistic 21 November | 10:22
You were all lucky to have him and he was lucky to have all of you.
It's all so sudden, don't expect anything, there is no template for this, what you will go through and how you will process it.
I do have one suggestion, because of what little I know of you from here: perhaps you should make a memorial/tribute site. Continue to write here, I think we all appreciate you writing and projects, but maybe if you created a site dedicated to Charlie, it would give you a project of expression as you go through the different levels of dealing with this that also gives other people a chance to contribute and focus. There are lots of benefits to writing and helping others who are probably similarly at a loss.
I'm sure you can figure out how to do this, but I'd be happy to help if you like. Email at will.
I think you are in Canada? so at least there is not Thanksgiving baggage to add to it.
Take time and be with your loved ones. Take care.
posted by ethylene 21 November | 10:35
I am so very sorry for your loss, and so glad that you have many memories to share. Keep them coming, and know that you are in my thoughts.
posted by Madamina 21 November | 10:44
Thank you for telling us about Charlie. He sounds like he was a really cool brother. And you will always have three brothers. One of them is just not here right now.

My heartfelt condolences for your loss.
posted by TrishaLynn 21 November | 12:12
I am so, so sorry. Talk to us about him some more, if you want to.
posted by Senyar 21 November | 13:37
oh man :( I'm so sorry for your loss. My condolences
posted by Firas 21 November | 13:44
Your stories are wonderful. Please keep writing them. They will keep him alive for you and all who knew him, and those of us who wish we had. I will tell you that it helped me a lot to sit and write about my dad after he died.
posted by bearwife 21 November | 14:25
Oh Orange Swan, I'm really sorry. 42 is way too young. He sounds like he was a great guy & brother. I wish you & your family the very best.
posted by chewatadistance 21 November | 18:56
Really sorry to hear this. He sounds like a terrific brother.
posted by JanetLand 21 November | 21:19
I'm very sorry that you lost someone special.
posted by jason's_planet 21 November | 22:08
Last Christmas Charlie and my next oldest brother Johnny showed up with bad hair. Charlie, who has almost always sported a short beard since hitting adulthood, had let it grow longer and also had a crazy neckbeard. Johnny was overdue for a cut and his curly hair was looking poufy and he had little bangs. I quipped that Johnny had copied our mother's hairstyle (honestly it looked JUST like they'd gotten some two-for-one special at a hairdresser's) while Charlie had chosen to emulate some more distant ancestor. Everyone laughed, except Johnny, who went out the next business day after Christmas and got his hair cut. Charlie didn't care. He said, "People at work make fun of me for it, but when I'm up on the truck bed with someone else, loading chickens in sub zero weather, I'm not the one complaining about how my face is cold!" He also thought it was just as funny as the rest of us when my niece Clementine, who was then about twelve, walked into the dining room "dressed as Uncle Charlie" one day: she'd put on Charlie's jacket and ballcap and had a scraggly old wig dangling from her teeth in place of a beard.

When Charlie was little, he had a favourite book called What Would You Do With Charlie? He made my dad read it to him every night for about three years straight. To this day, Dad can quote it from memory. One night my brother commented to my dad that if he ever had a little boy of his own when he grew up, he was going to call him Charlie. Dad, probably at least partly out of revenge for having to read the same storybook for over a thousand nights running, started calling my brother Charlie. All his life he got called Charlie at least half the time, and he was pretty sure there were people he knew quite well who didn't even know it wasn't his real name. And people would ask him how he got the nickname and he wouldn't tell them. He didn't mind the name or the back story and he even named the boat he had for awhile "The Little Charlie", but he just liked to keep people guessing. About ten years ago at my dad's suggestion I tracked down a copy of What Would You Do With Charlie? online (the original had disintegrated years before as you might expect) and we gave it to Charlie for Christmas. I still remember his grin as he opened it.

One time when Charlie was about eighteen my father thought he was partying too much and needed a little discipline. So, one morning after Charlie had gotten home at three or so, my dad went into his room at about seven-thirty, shook Charlie awake and said, "I need your help cutting wood back in the bush today." Dad made a very hung over Charlie use the chainsaw all day. Neither of them made overt mention of his hangover or the fact that Dad was deliberately torturing him, but of course there was lots of subtext. Charlie thought it was funny.... later. I actually heard about it from one of his friends who said that Charlie told everyone about it and laughed. As a corrective measure it was ineffective, though.

One time my brother Johnny had a friend or co-worker who was stranded due to his company car breaking down, though it had supposedly just been repaired the day before. Johnny called Charlie, and Charlie opened the hood of the car and laughed uproariously at the wiring job the company mechanic had done. He fixed the car in short order. Johnny's friend then asked him to write a note that he could show his company mechanic saying he'd had a Ford mechanic look at it, and Charlie obligingly wrote (spelling as in original): "Lern to wire. Any fool can fuze," and signed it. I think finding out I'd made such mechanical errors on paper would have undercut any sense of superiority I'd felt over the automotive mechanics, but it didn't for Charlie. His foot was on his own turf and he was secure in his belief that the other mechanic was an incompetent idiot.
posted by Orange Swan 21 November | 22:23
Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful stories of Charlie, Orange Swan. He sounds like a heck of a guy, a great brother, someone I'd have been happy to sit down and drink a beer with.
posted by Twiggy 22 November | 00:27
Orange Swan, I'm very late to this, but I wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I lost my best friend a couple years back, when he was 39. There's something especially tough when someone is lost so young, and so unexpectedly. I'm so sorry.
posted by richat 22 November | 09:37
Late to this as well. Many hugs to you, and condolences.
posted by Stewriffic 22 November | 16:46
I am late to hearing this, Orange Swan, and you and your family have my deepest condolences. I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. You are in my prayers and thoughts.
posted by redvixen 22 November | 19:55
My parents have asked me to write something, like a poem or just a little speech about Charlie for the funeral. I'm trying to give it some thought. You'd think with all I've written about him here I could come up with something, but the idea of distilling all my memories and feelings about Charlie into one short speech or poem seems impossible at this point. I don't know if I can come up with anything suitable, or if I can get through it without breaking down.

Some more memories....

Shortly before Charlie got married I was maid of honour in a friend's wedding on what was the day before Father's Day that year. My sister-in-law asked me all about it as she wanted some ideas for her wedding, and she decided immediately that she would get bubbles for her wedding as my friend had had at hers. Everyone went crazy with the bubbles at the wedding. The floor got slippery. I remember seeing my brother's stepdaughter put a floor cloth down and then do a combined boogie and twist dance on top of it to wipe up the soap. Charlie came up to me and said, "For your wedding, I'm going to rent a bubble machine."

Also at his wedding his best man told us all about how a group of Charlie's friends whom he'd had since high school had a tradition of having an annual all-night poker game. Part of the tradition was that if anyone fell asleep the other guys would do stuff to him. A couple of times Charlie fell asleep, and one morning he was surprised to find himself waking up with a blow up doll. Another time he was scratching his beard in his sleep, so his friends put a pail over his head. Charlie scratched that pail for half an hour before he woke up and took it off.

Charlie always took such delight in his nieces and nephews. Almost immediately after his wedding ceremony he came walking up to my then 21-month-old niece Peaches, whom her mother was holding, and handed her a balloon. Peaches laughed delightedly and leaned over to give Charlie a kiss, which made Charlie look just as happy as Peaches had over her balloon.

Peaches would always make up to Charlie whenever she saw him. I'm trying to find a photo I know I had of the two of them with her snuggled up in his lap. One time she said to him, "You're my favourite uncle that's here today." He looked at her narrowly and said, "I'm you're only uncle that here's today." She laughed uproariously and he laughed too. As you may have gathered, Charlie always liked a joke, even when it was on him.

One time Charlie and a friend of his had planned a camping and road trip. They had decided they would come up to my brother's farm the first day and camp there for the one night. My oldest brother decided it would be hilarious to call my brother's the morning he was to leave, disguise his voice, and tell him his car insurance had been cancelled. Charlie fell for it and was all, "WHADDYA MEAN IT'S BEEN CANCELLED?"

After all that had been straightened out Charlie and his friend came up to the farm as intended. My nephew Luke, who was then perhaps four or five, was always thrilled to see his uncle. The next morning he was so excited to have Uncle Charlie there that he went running out to their tent before seven o'clock and woke up Charlie and his buddy.
posted by Orange Swan 23 November | 08:39
Don't think about it that way, it is not a summary or the last word on him. Just pick a story. Make them laugh or cry, it's up to you.
posted by ethylene 23 November | 10:10
Rebecca Black's Friday meets Black Friday || HAPPY BIRTHDAY NICKYSKYE!!!!!!!