My Brother’s Keeper

Posted on September 12, 2020 under Storytelling with one comment

Road warriors


“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9

Death, that most unwelcome of guests will pay all of us a visit someday. Every minute of every day, somewhere on the earth, someone takes their last breath. Those of us left behind grieve and mourn. The pain dulls with time, but it never leaves entirely.

One year ago today, our youngest brother, Thomas Patrick MacDonald took his leave. He had suffered the scourge of cancer for the better part of 10 years and finally succumbed. Even though he knew, and we knew that his time was up, his passing left all of us bereft. I know many of my readers have had family members pass in the last 12 months. Every time you post a picture of your mother, your son, or your grandmother, the pain is visceral. It leaps off the page.

I have thought of Tom nearly every day since he died, during one of the most challenging years of my life.

In this space, I have documented Tom’s memorable life. He was a pretty remarkable guy who had boundless energy to go along with countless spreadsheets! We often referred to him as ‘Tornado Tom’ as he always seemed to have somewhere to go and something to do. More often than not, he was doing something for someone else. He was an experienced marathon runner and coached many other people to do their first marathon. He volunteered at the cancer clinic in Victoria with boundless optimism and empathy while he was dealing with his own suffering.

My brother Gerard also possesses the maniacal marathoner’s DNA. It must be a family trait as I too ran a few in my day but nothing compared to these two. I’ve lost count but I think they each ran more than 20 marathons, several of them together. Misery loves company! Of course, I mean the pain of running 26.2 miles (42km) and not sibling rivalry!

Today they will run together again.

Gerard was supposed to have collected his Boston Marathon finisher’s medal earlier this year, but Covid-19 put an end to that. Gerard is a doctor and, while disappointed that the race would not proceed as scheduled, he realized that there were bigger fish to fry with a global pandemic.

To honor Tom’s memory, Gerard is running a marathon today in Amherst, Nova Scotia. By the time some of you crawl out of bed, he will be well into his run. The P.D.’s are early birds and he’ll hit the pavement at 6:00 a.m. This is not an official marathon. Many of his friends from the Amherst Striders running group will accompany him for parts of the run. Family and friends will be there to cheer him along the way.

While there is apt to be a bit of heaviness in his heart, Tom’s indomitable spirit will lift him up when his energy is flagging as it certainly will. It is often said that there are two halves to a marathon: the first 30 km and the last 12km. I would never classify the first 30km as “easy” but it’s not too bad. Right around this time, weird things start happening to your body. I don’t have the scientific explanation of what happens when your body slowly falls apart! The last 12km can be quite excruciating.

I mentioned that Gerard and Tom would be running together one last time. Yes, Gerard will be carrying some of Tom’s ashes.

And if Gerard dares to falter, there is one other person who will be there to give him a swift kick in the arse. Mother T., our late mom, who watched Gerard run his first Boston Marathon in 2001, will join her boys on the run. I will be there in spirit.

“Long may you run”, Gerard.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

He is my brother’s keeper.

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