My brother, James, was a gentle man...easy going and carefree. Mostly. He did have a stubborn streak, and believe me, you didn't want to cross him if he made up his mind about something.
We were two years apart in age and as kids we were very close-in fact we were all close-Jim, Debbie, Dan and I-and often preferred to play together, just the four of us...building forts in our back yard, or putting on horse shows or circuses for the rest of the neighborhood kids.
In middle school Jim and I took private music lessons together. I played the accordian and Jim played guitar. We always thought we would start our own band. (We never did.)
But, when we got to high school, we went our separate ways. I became fully ensconced in the social scene and Jim preferred to be alone in his room playing his guitar.
After high school I went off to college. Jim graduated by the skin of his teeth and started working. He ventured into the entrepreneurial world and started a couple of businesses of his own. Eventually, he settled into learning the Glass Glazing Trade and that is what he did for the past 20 years of his life, most recently working for the University of Wisconsin glazing the windows of buildings on the Madison campus and the the new University of Wisconsin Hospital (of which he was so very proud. He relished pointing out his beautiful work to me while we were there for his treatments last year. But, I am getting ahead of myself....)
I graduated, got married, and began raising a family. Our worlds were very different in those years and as a result we didn't see a lot of one another.
From almost the beginning of his early adult life, Jim took winter vacations to warmer climes. At first he went to Florida for a week, then two. Then he ventured farther south to places like Jamaica for three weeks, and Costa Rica for four. It wasn't long before he had figured out a job-share where he worked for six months here during the spring and summer, and went to Central America to live for six months over the fall and winter. He loved hot weather. He loved the ocean. He loved to fish, and snorkel and dive. He told me recently that he always felt more at home there in his tropical paradise then he ever felt here. He said he had found the place where he belonged.
About 10 years ago, my husband, Tom and I took our family to Costa Rica over our spring break to visit Uncle Jim. We spent a week there together enjoying the magical place he so loved. We made some wonderful new memories and re-established our close bond. Our family liked Costa Rica so much, the next year Tom and I took the kids to nearby (relatively speaking) Belize over spring break. Then we convinced Jim to go there the following winter instead of Costa Rica. He did. He said he knew instantly that was where he would make his permanent winter home. We went to visit him there a couple years later. He taught Tom and my son, Austin, how to scuba dive. He took us deep sea fishing and snorkeling at his favorite haunts. We drank red wine and savored the island foods. I will forever cherish those special days we spent together.
Four years ago, my confirmed bachelor brother fell in love with a beautiful Belizean girl. He brought Daria home that spring and they had a simple wedding in our back yard.
Eighteen months after that, Jim was diagnosed with Stage IV Esophageal Cancer and the fight for his life began. For much of the past two years Jim was sick and/or incapacitated. But, he never complained. Not ever.
I spent many of those days with him. (As did my mom, who was such a source of strength to him. She literally put her life on hold to help care for Jim.) We spent time reliving childhood memories. And, we talked a lot about the future. He had such big plans.
On February 15, 2010, at his home in Belize with Daria by his side, Jim lost his battle.
I will miss him terribly.