Monday, June 08, 2009


My brother James officially turned 41 on Thursday, but we were going to celebrate on Sunday (I was going to attend by phone). Saturday morning he was killed in a collision. Mom had just taken his birthday cake out of the oven when she got the news.

I don't know what happened to the cake. I'm a bit afraid to ask. I just know that if my sister got her way, they threw it in the backyard that evening, then she and Dad took turns stomping on it. Mom might have joined in. Not sure what Tony would do.
(Christmas, 2002?)
My baby brother (which is the only was I am able to think of him presently) never knew a stranger. As a more reserved person who has spent the last twenty years living in cities, it sometimes made me nervous to witness him strike up conversations with anybody, anywhere, at any time. Sometimes people were put off by it; even with familiar folks, James didn't always read his audience well. But he was just as likely to end up having a warm lively chat with a new friend. Frankly, given how sensitive, even thin-skinned James could be, I have to assume he got this response far more often than not. Perhaps he tapped into the ethos of our hometown more effectively than the rest of us. Even with a population of 40,000, Richmond can still feel like a small town, and James was very much at home in it. He knew how to talk to people. He bantered cheerfully with middle-aged guys at the gym. At one point one of his bowling buddies was a woman in her sixties. (Mary and James in the kitchen at Ragoora, Co. Sligo)
Actually he had a special rapport with little old ladies. More than one lady living alone came to depend on him for weekly drives to the grocery store. James loved to drive. From day one, we all knew he would be behind the wheel as soon as it was legal. Mom joked that he came out of the womb clutching a matchbox car in each hand (I don't want to imagine what that would feel like). I still see him, as a four year old, using a Frisbee, paper plate or any flat round thing he found as a steering wheel. Had he actually been behind a wheel back then he would have been only turning donuts, since 'steering' at the time seemed to mean constantly turning corners. At a very early age he could identify makes and models of cars. I still can't do that. Even back then poor James would start to tell me the finer qualities of a vehicle and it was as if he was blowing a dog whistle for all the sense I got out of it.
I suppose it's possible he was making shit up though. Around that same time, if any plane passed overhead, he'd look up and exclaim, "hey, private jet!" He wasn't trying to fool anyone; he honestly believed every single freakin' plane he saw was owned by some tycoon. It used to drive me apeshit.
(Atop Knocknarea (noc na RAY), Co. Sligo 2002)

(James and Mary, Knocknarea, 1993)
James loved board and role-playing games of all kinds. Sadly for him, he was born into a family of people who hated such things. As a teen and adult he managed to find a large circle of friends who shared his passion, but he'd still try at regular intervals to rope one or more of us in. By funny coincidence, I've found myself playing games with friends more in the last couple of years, especially the last six months, and enjoying myself quite a bit. I was a little wary of opening the floodgates, but had planned on accepting James' offer at least a few times, when I went to visit in August.
I can't think of anything I'd like to do more right now, than play a game of Scrabble with my baby brother.
(Myrtle Beach, 1998)
In the summer of 1993, we decided to take a family vacation for the first time in at least five years. The three children were all adults, I was living in Seattle, but Mom and Dad had spent most of the previous Spring in a farmhouse in County Sligo, Eire,they had become chummy with many of the local farmers, as well as their landlord and his wife and they just had to show us. So off we went. While there was a glitch or two in housing five strong-willed adults in one small Irish farmhouse, the magic of the place touched us all, and we had a fantastic time. We ended up taking family vacations a few more times to other locations after that, heading back to Ragoora (as the farmhouse is known) together in the Fall of 2002. For reasons that presently escape me, Mary, James and I got in the habit of buying the same (or similar) article of clothing before each trip. One year it was green shorts. Another it was hats that made us all look like Chico Marx. I still have mine. Another year it was straw hats. And one year (see above) it was Hawaiian shirts. I still have that too. Funnily enough, once you have a Hawaiian shirt, opportunities to wear it start to pop up. The Chico Marx hat, not so much.
James was a big fan of hats. Most of them were rather dashing, but as he got older he got more willing to court the ridiculous. He had one fur-lined job that (especially if it wore it with his greatcoat) made him look like he was off to patrol the Swiss border. He was also fond of brightly colored converse sneakers. Mary once pointed out that when James went off to the gym, he usually looked like Neapolitan gelato; a bright orange t-shirt might top red shorts, and be finished off with purple sneakers. He also liked bow ties, and would wear one that had belonged to our maternal grandfather to special occasions. Like most kids, James preferred to blend in as much as possible; for that reason I liked watching his rather eccentric style form over the last twenty years. It seemed to me he was carving space out for himself in ways I would have never predicted.
(Mary and Tony's Wedding, 2006)
("Shake the Bunny!" Laceyland 199?)

(Christmas 2002. We all got PJ's)
James also had an abiding love for Tweety-bird. I don't really get that one either. If you look at pictures of him as a little kid, he looks a bit like Tweety-bird, frankly. Some might even see a resemblance now. Whatever the cause, he loved that bird, and managed to find some weird memorabilia related to it. I was particularly impressed by him finding -and using, like, in public- a Tweety-bird bowling ball. In the last year he was part of a team where he was the only non-Jehovah's Witness. They would have lively discussions about evolution and such things while bowling. For some reason the image of James getting up from a debate about a literal interpretation of the Bible, say, to throw his Tweety-bird at some pins makes me really, really happy. I think those guys were devoted to James, even while they despaired of his everlasting soul.
(Christmas 1989. Sybil always knew which was her best side.)
(With Lilly 1985)
(With Fang, 2002)
James inherited the Lacey love for animals, with a special mention for dogs. Like me, he spent some time earning money as a dog walker and pet sitter, expanding his network of canine and feline friends outside the family circle. When we wandered about town, he was just as likely to be warmly greeted by a four-legged friend as by a human one.
Fang seemed to have a special fondness for smooching James on the face. We theorized that the bristly texture of his beard reminded her of her mother. Dad's curly, full beard doesn't have the same dog-muzzle quality. I speak from experience, having been regularly kissed by them both.
Dad has always been an affectionate guy, and though we had to weather some shoals during my adolescence, we came out the other side still able to hug and kiss one another. There was a period where I wondered if James indulged us, the kissing in particular, because he knew it was important to us, but given his preference, we might have been a bit more mainstream manly in our expressions of affection. If that were ever the case, though, it clearly stopped being true a few years back. At that point James made a point of kissing and hugging every single one of us after every meal we shared together (he'd thoughtfully save the dog and cat for after the humans). I don't know what prompted him to start and maintain that ritual. I wonder if he adopted it as a reminder to savor every moment, to cherish the time he had with each of us. It came to mean a lot to me (though I never said anything to him about it) since I'm the only Lacey who lives far away, making family time a rare and special thing.
( Christmas, year ??)
(By Yeats' grave, Co. Sligo, 2002)
So far my three days of grieving seem each to have had a theme. Saturday I was an incoherent, watery mess, pacing about trying to find something to do, by which I mean, make James not be dead. Yesterday I refused to believe it was true, and dove into a staged reading, grateful for an involved task and some human contact. Today, have to say, the regrets, even guilt, are starting to make an appearance. I'm brooding on missed opportunities. I'm wondering if James knew, REALLY knew I loved him. I wondered often over the years if James was happy. He was the family member I was least able to read, and I think the rest of the family felt the same way. Sometimes I thought he was just a straightforward kind of guy; other times I thought he played things close to the vest, keeping sorrows and fears deeply buried.
There were also ways in which he, poor guy, could never escape being the youngest, I think. It was always easy to dismiss, even snap at him, in a way that the four of us would never dream of doing to one another. I keep replaying the tentative expression on his face and tone of his voice when he would invite me to play risk or go bowling, already half-steeled for the 'no' he knew he was likely to hear, wanting me to know he wasn't hurt or disappointed by my refusal.
No, don't worry, I'm not going to wallow in this. Regrets and guilt are useless emotions, and most of the time they're self-indulgent. I know this is one of those times. There is nothing to be gained from self-flagellation, so I won't. I'm just accepting that this is part of the process. This is today's theme.
To be honest, I'm not sure I believe in an after-life, but like my sister, I am deriving great comfort from the fact that James did. He firmly believed that after death you were reunited with all your loved ones, including the dogs. I picture James driving in the mustang he coveted, or maybe flying his private jet, carting his beloved little old ladies and dogs all over creation, stopping off for treats and a game of scrabble whenever they want.
Oh, James. Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I miss thee. I hope thee's happy, but I wish thee was here.
(Ox Mountain, Co. Sligo, 1993)
James Andrew Lacey
June 4th, 1968 to June 6th, 2009


Greg said...

A beautiful tribute, indeed.

Birdie said...

Ah, Patrick. Your love for James is so transparent. How could he not know? We all have moments of regret, including James. Do you doubt his love? He knows you love him, sweetheart.

Java said...

This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing your James with us. What a special man.

Jay Simser said...

My prayers are with you. This was a beautiful tribute to your brother. - At times like this I have found the following helpful.
Thomas Wolfe wrote the following:
Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year: something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die. I know not where.

"To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing:
to lose the life you have, for greater life:
to leave the friends you loved for greater loving:
to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth --

" -- Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending - a wind is rising and the rivers flow.""

I believe that when we pass we continue on until at last we find our oneness with God. I wish I had known your brother. Thank you for sharing him with us.

Marta said...

patrick dear, thank you so much for this. i have been thinking about you and your family so much today as i did my housework, and wondering what james was like. this is a beautiful tribute, and helps me to know him a little bit. i look forward to other opportunities to hear more about him.

you're very brave. this is going to be hard. but you're right not to indulge feelings of guilt and self-doubt. i have no doubt your brother knew how much you loved him.

all i know to do now is to hold you all in my prayers. if there is anything else, you should let me know.

please kiss your dad for me! my dad has a beard too, so i know just how it will feel. and your mom and your sister too, if they wouldn't mind kisses from a stranger.



Jeaux said...

Soon as your blog opened, I thought it best to pour myself a whiskey. Tink, brother Patrick, and one for James too. I would have liked him. Car crazy as far back as I can remember. There was a Tweety decal on my old Mustang. Good lookin’ lad wasn’t he, your baby bro. The baby is always the tallest.

There are few things more memorable than a crestfallen look, doubly piercing when it retreats behind a forgiving spirit and a plucky smile. Ow. I felt that. Love hurts. And when there’s nothing else left, maybe because there’s nothing else left, love heals. Love prevails. Love lasts.

What’s next, boobie? Will you go to Indiana? Kiss and hug each other after dinner, OK? From now on.

Jess said...

I can't get halfway through before my eyes fill with tears. The words to express how I feel for you and your family just won't come. I am so sorry for this terrible loss. Were you within range, I could wrap you in a big hug, but it's better that you're with your family. I wish I knew what else to say. If better words come, I'll share them, not that we can change this. Be well, my friend, and remember the love around you. Let that guide you through these days.

Anonymous said...

An amazing tribute!
So, so sorry for your loss!


Jackie Gordon said...

I am so sorry Patrick! I was extremely moved by your beautiful tribute to your brother (tears streaming down my face...). My experience has proven that this inevitable part of life absolutely sucks. But our loved ones who have passed on live through our memories, which you captured so eloquently here. I am going to go hug my brothers. Peace & Love, Jackie

Anonymous said...

I was just reading Java's blog when she mentioned the loss of your brother. I was sorry to hear that. Your writing about him makes me feel like I have lost someone who would of been great to know. Sorry for your loss....praying for you and your family.

Melissa said...

A beautiful thing Sweetest Patrick. All about sending the universe, and James, a reminder of the love that exists here for him.

The space he has left in your family is boundary-less, and this full and gorgeous piece of writing is a memorial in the best of ways.

Adrienne said...

My heart breaks for you and your family Patrick. Loss is never easy and when it is abrupt it can definitely turn you upside down. I am approaching the 3 yr. mark since my mom died (after long illness) but I can't imagine losing my "baby" brother. Much love to you and yours.


jcprud said...

My love to you my dearest friend. My love to Mary. My love to your mom. My love to your dad. I am so glad that you have each other my dearest darling P. I am thinking of you.

Paul G said...

That is a beautiful tribute, Patrick, one I'm sure hard to write, because we never want to have to write something like that.

I loved the pictures too.

What character your brother had.

My thoughts are with you and your family.

Catherine said...

James to the life, James alive. Love does that, of course.

Butch said...

Patrick, my gosh, I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved brother. I think he would have been embarrassed of the tribute you just gave him, but proud, never the less. You and your family will be in my thoughts.

Steven said...

My deepest sympathies on the loss of your brother Patrick. May your fond memories of James and the help and strength of those close to you provide you comfort in this time of loss. (((((Patrick)))))

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to read this. It's extra hard because it was so sudden.