As is more and more common, I come from a family with a complex web of relationships. Growing up I only met my half-brother Burrell once, on a trip South with my dad. The next time I saw him was with my half-sister, Vicki, on the day of Dad’s funeral last year. The weekend of the funeral was only the second time I had ever seen Vicki in my life and our visit with Burrell turned out to be one of my treasured memories with her. Dad’s funeral was also the second time that the three of us half-sisters had been together. Standing with them is one of my clearest memories especially as the oldest, Julie, let us know she had just been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. So many emotions.
My thoughts have mainly been focused on the reasons I am grateful for having moved to South Carolina. One is that I had some of the best moments I’ve had with my dad before he died. Another is that I was here when Julie needed support, asking me to visit Burrell for her since she wouldn’t be able to during the months of her cancer treatment. Burrell had lived for decades at the Whitten Center in Clinton, SC. His brain had stopped growing when he was two and as he got older, the family needed assistance taking care of him. Back when there was lots of family around, he would come home regularly and he still referred to people and places from that time. As I recently told a friend, Burrell’s mind was limited but his heart was not. While I would have wished a full life for Burrell, he was a source of love and joy for those who knew him.
Although his health had become increasingly fragile, Burrell’s death on Saturday was a shock. He seemed to be holding his own since we had a scare earlier this year which landed him in the ER and CCU. Thankfully Julie had recovered enough from her treatment that she could join me at the hospital. I will especially cherish the time I spent with Burrell and Julie, witnessing their close connection. As I learned his vocabulary, I recognized familiar people, places and memories. From requests to go to Aunt Maxine’s house to happily singing “Jesus loves me this I know.” I am also grateful to have had the chance to witness the love and care Burrell has had over the years. I will always remember that after losing his balance and falling, he jumped up reaching out to me for a hug. I’m so glad that he experienced his world as a loving place for he gave it to all those around him.