Yesterday afternoon we were standing next to a car underneath the shade of one of the giant oaks lining the street.  The sunlight was shifting through its branches as the breeze blew in such a way that made me want photograph it, but I didn't.  Instead, it was as though time stood still for a moment and I captured it with a still frame in my mind rather than a camera lens.  

My brother David opened the rear car door, retrieving a small cardboard box from a larger box on the floorboard.  He handed it to me, the top open, I glanced down at lid of the small white urn inside.  Although it was small, it felt heavy in my hands, and in my heart.

And so it was there, standing in the street in front of the house in Mobile where our baby brother died last Sunday, my brother handed me my portion of his remains. 

For we are all dust and to dust we shall return. - Genesis 3:19

My dad, my brothers & me 
San Francisco, 2013

Tonight I sat next to a sweet friend at church who is also facing a difficult time in her life.  She told me that she's been running, that she feels as though she must.  "It's the only way to get the pain out," she said.  I nodded.  "I get it," I whispered. 

 That's why I write. 

Just four days ago David & I sat next to one another at the memorial held at our family's cabin high on a ridge in Alta, California, overlooking Tahoe National Forest.  We had each planned to share a few words with the family that was to gather, but we could both barely speak about having to do so without our hearts moving upwards into our throats.  We'd arrived early that day and shared a bottle of wine and stories and laughter, which eased some of our uneasiness, but didn't keep our hearts from creeping up into our throats as we stood to speak.  

Alta, CA - 2016

These are the words I read on that lovely afternoon in honor of our brother, Joe: 

Sometimes I am paid to write words and sometimes I am paid to speak words - but that still does not make writing or speaking these words today any easier.  

You know some may think that because we never actually lived together as siblings that we may have missed out on some of the stereotypical roles of my being the big sister with the annoying little brothers – and while we may have missed out on certain things, I can assure you that Dave & Joe were always working double time on annoying me during my visits with them.  For those childhood years, it seemed it was them against me during our times together; but as we grew up, we formed an alliance of sorts and it became us against dad.  

Some of my best memories of time spent with Joe will always be us making fun of dad together – and Dad laughing with us, even though he knew we were laughing at him.

And that is how I will always remember Joe.

I don’t know that I ever told him, or whether or not he ever sensed it, but I always felt that we were somewhat kindred spirits in many ways.  Like me, he was easygoing (sometimes to a fault), he was fun loving, and adventure seeking.  Both a free spirit and late bloomer of sorts, it seemed for a time that we were both meandering through this journey of life rather than taking a more direct or strategic approach to it.
Eventually, I found my way as best I could and somewhere through the years, it seems he lost his.

And that is where I am at a loss for words of my own and where I want to share these words, from one of my favorite books, “Accidental Saints”: 
“Often, when someone dies, we feel a combination of love and something else, and this, too, is holy.  And entirely human.  And they don’t cancel each other out.  Love and and anger.  Love and disappointment.  Love and emptiness.  We always love imperfectly.  It is the nature of human love.  And it is okay.”
As his sister, I want to thank you for loving him so perfectly imperfectly and without condition.  I am so grateful to be a part of a family who loves so well, and I am so grateful that so many of you demonstrated love to him and cared for him in ways I never had the opportunity to. 

Even though we were always separated by geography, in my mind, there was always more time.  More time to know him better, more time to love him more, more time to laugh with him, more time to make fun of Dad with him...

But that’s the thing about time – and death.  It awakens us to the reality that time, both the past and the future, are merely illusions.  

Here and now, this moment is the only reality.
One of my favorite verses in the bible says this:  “Teach me to number my days, so that I may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). 

As we face the reality of the brevity of life, and of the end of Joe’s life – the loss of our brother, your nephew, your cousin, your son – we can choose to walk wiser through our own numbered days, to choose to remember the best parts of who he was at heart, to remember his laugh, his smile, his kindness, his sense of humor – to choose to relive only the best memories and allow the darker ones to be laid to rest.  We can choose to forgive one another, to laugh hard and to love even harder, to live our lives to the fullest and to do it in the honor of our Joseph.  

Because in the end, all that will matter is how well we loved, no matter how imperfectly that may be.

Only God has perfected love.  

And in closing, I only know and can only say about God what I’ve experienced to be true in my own life and what I know for sure is, as Nadia Bolz-Weber once said, "that God is always present in love and in suffering".  I believe, with all of my heart, that God was present at the moment Joseph entered this world and I believe with all of my heart He was present at the moment he left it, loving him back into His arms.

In loving memory of my brother,
 Joseph Morris Sharifie
11/21/1985 - 08/28/2016


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