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We all have things in our lives we regret—grief and losses that weigh us down. My brother Grady's death is one such grief for me. He has been dead for 17 years, but it's a rare day I don't think about him, remember something from our childhood when he was the boy who loved me best. He was big brother to me, but often played the father role as well. 

He was the one who took off the training wheels and ran along side my wobbly bicycle as I learned to ride. (As many of you know from my earlier blogs, our father was crippled by a grenade during WWII) It was Grady who tightened my roller skates with a key he kept on a string around his neck, taught me how to climb trees and shoot a Beebe gun. In the third grade, Grady took me to my first, and only father/daughter dance. I was so proud of my handsome, big brother. After dinner, when weather permitted, we played outdoors with the neighborhood kids until the street lights came on and told us it was time to go home. 

On warm summer evenings, after we’d had our baths and were dressed in pajamas, our mother would sometimes spread a quilt on the grass in the backyard. Grady and I would sprawl out on our backs and look up at the stars. He’d point out the big dipper, but I couldn't see what he saw. He told me to connect the stars with an imaginary line, like in the connect- the-dots books that entertained us on rainy days. And it worked--I saw the big dipper for the first time. 

It was also Grady who helped me move into my dorm room and later my first apartment. He used to visit me at the University of Delaware and take me out for dinner. What do I regret? My beautiful brother gained an enormous amount of weight as a middle-aged adult. He became so heavy it was hard for me to look at him. I never, not once, stopped loving him, but I did stop looking at him. And I'm deeply ashamed of that. Beneath the weight, my brother was still there.  And all I needed to do was look into his eyes to find him.  I miss him so much. Each spring when the forsythia bloom, I look at those clusters of yellow blossoms and think of him.  

There are no streetlights in my neighborhood now. But when night falls, I often look up into the star-studded sky and imagine him there, gathering the dust and sprinkling it on the people he loves. It took many years for me to write a poem about the day he died.  I will share a portion of it with you—the part where, by the magic or poetry, he is brought back to life. Ironically, I wrote it on the 17th anniversary of his death. It came pouring out of me, as if it had been inside all along, just waiting to be seen. 

In the photograph that precedes it, I am three years old and Grady is six. He was a beautiful boy. Adored by his little sister. And now that he is gone, I wish I'd loved him better--especially at the end when it would have mattered so much to him.  He loved his family and his church. When he was mobile, he was the first one to offer help to others.  And when he was no longer able to move around so easily, he had a telephone ministry with those who were in need of a gentle giant with a sympathetic ear.

My big brother taught me many things in life. In death he taught me to always remember love is so much bigger than embarrassment or shame. None of us are perfect. And maybe it is the imperfect who are the truly beautiful people--the real heroes among us.



On the March day my brother’s big heart
stopped beating, forsythia burst into 
yellow blossoms outside his bedroom window
and one crocus opened its purple-petaled eye. 
Each blade of grass seemed numbered as it bent 
beneath black boots that marched him across his yard.
Neighbors spoke in soft whispers, 
clutched Bibles fat with mercy for their home-bound
church brother. As his body was taken away,
they hung their heads, then hurried home 
to bake him chocolate cakes and casseroles.  
How easy it is to love what is gone.

As minutes tick back into memory, I disassemble 
my big brother and me. Break us apart like 
pieces of a gigantic puzzle, fragments of love 
stronger than obsession, fear or shame.
When I connect them to the place fantasy and longing merge, 
we will stretch our arms, weightless as wings, and fly. 
Together we’ll wade barefoot in the shallow creek 
behind our house in Collins Park, listen to our mother
sing hymns in the garden while sun dries our mud pies 
on the flat rocks. We’ll hold our funeral processions 
for dead birds, oatmeal-box coffins lined with
fragrant orange peels that linger on our fingertips.
The ebony trill of my clarinet in the summer air. 

Susan Clayton-Goldner


Gail Miller
04/03/2016 1:06pm

Just so beautifully written...I'm so glad you're Martha's friend!

09/05/2016 5:42am

This post made me cry. It reminds me of how close my husband is to his best friend who died eight years ago. Grief can truly break us. If only there's a way for us to know if the departed really is in a happy place. The truth is they are. And from there it also hurts them to see us crying.

04/03/2016 7:06pm

This brought back memories of my childhood and the brother I cherished so much. He's been gone 35 years but I'll always love him. Thank you for reminding me.

04/03/2016 8:54pm

It's very moving to read about your wonderful memories of your older brother when you were a young girl who had no idea what sadness the future held. Great blog and poem, as always.

Margie W.
04/04/2016 6:48am

Wise, beautiful and moving.

Martha Miller
04/05/2016 7:59am

You did it again! Made big, fat tears come to my eyes. A beautiful post that brought back memories of my own big brother. There's something special about big bros--our first role model, our first teacher, and our first big loss. Thank you for helping me remember.

Andreas Goldner
04/05/2016 9:48am

As always a deeply moving poem and blog. We all need to remember that who we are is not just our physical being but far more important its what is inside that counts. Just close your eyes and see the real person

susan domingos
04/05/2016 10:27am

Beautiful and touching. Thank you for reminding us to look beyond appearances to the real person. This is my favorite blog of yours. Forsythia reminds me of my mother. Susan

Anne Stabile
04/05/2016 5:22pm

I remember when my big brother Charlie passed away in 2012. I wandered around for weeks afterward feeling unsteady and worse, uncertain. The world without him in it seemed to be spinning off kilter and I couldn't adapt to its new motion. Then one day in the grocery store an acquaintance told me how she felt when she lost her brother, "So this is what the world feels like without you," she said. Her words were so simple, yet they made me realize that I was waiting for the world to right itself again. But after what she said, I began to understand that the world would never be the same for me again. All I could really do was learn to live with it. I think that's when my healing began. Thanks again for another beautiful post.

Patricia HAY
04/05/2016 6:05pm

Susan, it's beautiful and I know exactly what you're saying. I talked with our son one week before we got the news that he had taken his life. I had never heard him so low and when he said " Mom there's just no end to it" never in a million years did I realize what he must have been going through. I wish I had of probed more and maybe, just maybe I could have said something to have helped ease what pain he must have been feeling. When I ask him if I could hear him smile he tried to laugh and I will forever remember that laugh and his words, Mom there's just no end to it.

04/05/2016 6:53pm

Oh Pat,
My heart aches for you. We have to find a way to forgive ourselves for what we didn't say or do. I write to open my heart and to open the hearts of others. It makes me happy to know that your heart is open and that my blog about Grady triggered something inside you. It hurts, I know. I love you. And I hope to see you again soon. We have so much to share. Hugs to you, Ira and Deloras

04/06/2016 7:25am

Andy is right on here. You have an amazing ability to make John Steinbeck's quote come alive, now in this beautiful Spring: “Maybe the hardest thing in writing is simply to tell the truth about things as we see them.”

04/11/2016 9:35am

Memories shared often become a healing balm. It is a gift to hear stories that reveal the deep and abiding love you had for one another. I, too, know how it feels to have been loved by Grady Hamm and I am better for it.

Linda Wilkinson
04/11/2016 10:03am

I believe revealing is healing..... You do this better then anyone I know. I love you so much.....

Martha R
04/28/2016 3:44pm

Incredibly moving. The details are like connect-the-dots that make a picture of your childhood, and give us a strong sense of this "gentle giant with a sympathetic ear." Bravo, Susan.

06/20/2016 11:07pm

This is just so beautiful. I can feel the emotion, making its way through my heart as I read each line of your poem. I can see glimpses of your wonderful childhood with your very loving brother. I am sure that he had found his refuge now in the arms of our Lord, happily watching over you and your family and loves you very dearly. I hope you have the strength to continue your life carrying with you the love and care your brother gives. God bless!

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