Eulogy on the Sudden Death of My Brother

February 10, 2014 - Ralph Cissne

The archangel Michael was a leader in the army of God against the forces of evil and known as an angel with the power to heal. Fire is the element of transformation – a duality between creation and light, destruction and purification. In the end the fire that was my brother’s life consumed him. And while the wounds of his passing are fresh and deep, let us find comfort and healing in the arms of the angel he has surely become.

Our father taught Mike and me how to stand our ground and how to fish on the boat docks at Lake Hefner. Our father was larger than life and made us laugh. When he died I was ten years old. Mike was six. The loss of our father was our deepest wound, the heartbreak we shared that forged our bond and ultimately set our lives on paths that must be walked alone.

Our mother was unwavering in her love. She was a prankster and a scrapper. Mike got those qualities from her. She worked two jobs and took a night study course. On the evenings she was away Mike and I would eat TV dinners, watch the Addams Family or wrestle in the living room. I was four years older so I would start on my knees. Mike did not care and would not back down.

We loved Looney Tunes cartoons, Mad Magazine and Alfred E. Neuman was Mike’s alter ego. Our exploits were not like Wally and Beaver Cleaver. We were more closely aligned with Heckle and Jeckle and the Three Stooges. There were only two of us, but we always welcomed another stooge. In our neighborhood there were many.

One afternoon mother took us to the Lake Hefner boat docks to fish. It wasn’t long before Mike, conducting a radical casting maneuver, fell into the lake with a dramatic splash. He immediately screamed for me, “Buddy, help me. Help me.” He did not call for mother or Jesus to save him, which was a boost to my self-esteem. I extended my hand and pulled him up. He was shivering, but once he was safe we started laughing. Mother ended that.

Late in life Mike’s hands were rough and broken. You did not have to read his palm to know the story. The pain from his wound was clear, but I recall when his life was fresh and new and the wonder years when he was my companion and closest friend. Mike was full of mischief. You could see it in his face and shameless grin. You could see him coming and welcomed whatever mayhem followed. His stunts predated Evel Knievel and rivaled the carnage. Mike would take any dare. “Watch this,” he’d say then off he’d go. In the aftermath I asked two questions, “Are you okay?” and “What were you thinking?” He always thought he was going to make it. And most of the time he did.

Mike and I spent countless hours playing baseball, riding bikes and exploring the frontier of our neighborhood. Mother taught us how to bowl and play cards. She laid down the law and explained the facts of life. When I got my license Mike was riding shotgun for my first legal drive, a fearless passenger in mother’s Ford Falcone. Within minutes I made a wrong turn in the Classen Circle – a slow motion nightmare Mike and I shared – and I had to jump the curb to avoid a head-on collision. “Dumb ass kids,” a driver yelled. We sat in the car on the grass median and laughed.

One Friday night when I was home from college mother and I were waiting for Mike at the kitchen table when heard his car horn. I raced to the front door and found Mike’s Corvair almost on the front porch with four punks pounding on the windows. Mother grabbed her Louisville Slugger. I asked her to call the police then stand down. I engaged. Mike jumped out and we fought them until they’d had enough. Lucky for those kids mother wasn’t forced to use that bat. They could tell she meant business. That’s what Mike and I told her. And we weren’t kidding.

In our twenties Mike and I would often spend a quiet weekend afternoon playing chess and listening to music, recanting our glory days of mayhem and laughter. I moved away, but we always stayed in touch. Time passes. Life happens. The seasons come and go. One Christmas in the late 90s Mike had a boat on Lake Texhoma where he was a fishing guide. “Let’s go to the lake,” he said. “Come on, we’ll nail some stripers.” It was freezing cold that night, but we bundled up in the boat cabin. At dawn the water was like glass as we motored onto the lake. It was an adventure and we caught several nice stripers we took home to mother. That may be the best day the two of us ever shared.

Our final conversation was a few days before he passed. We talked about golf and the summer we worked at Trosper Park Golf Course. He said how much he missed our mother and that he was sleeping better with the breathing exercises I had suggested. I encouraged him to take a deep breath, to be inspired, to take in what he needed and then let go. As I repeated those words I realized I was speaking to both of us, the brothers who passed through time together.

Mike shared how much he loved me, how much he loved his sons Chris and Brian and how proud he was of my son, Russell. I encouraged Mike to press on, to keep going and to know what a difference he made in my life.

As I sifted through the ashes of his apartment to gather what remained I became upset that, in the end, Mike possessed so little. After days of reflection I have come to realize that Mike had everything. His struggle is complete and his spirit has been released to the great unknowing, to that place beyond time and space that mortal men wage war to claim as their own. Yet heaven cannot be possessed. Righteousness is not worth the fight. Who am I to judge? All I know is the certain rapture of love and the courage required to transcend our fear and longing.

All I know is the love of my brother. And I will celebrate the memory of his laughter for the rest of my days.