My Brother's Eulogy | Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely
While I was overseas my older brother, Josely Elie, died. He was in a hospital where members of my family visited him as he faded. I was told that doctors gave him three months, which would've given me time to visit as well. That didn't happen and I was in Korea while he passed away with my parents watching over him. I wasn't able to go to the wake. I wasn't able to go to the cremation ceremony. I was, however, able to write a eulogy that would be read in my place. This is a modified version of that eulogy. It’s written here to be more diary-like with, selfishly, more Alex-centered details than the one I wanted read.
A few years ago, about ten, Josely and I were wasting an hour playing video games. This happened more often then I liked, but I had a lot of free time. At twenty-one, I’d quit college, and I quit my job. While pursuing a doomed dream to start a publishing company, I decided to read some books, write a little, and think a lot about the world in which I lived. In those months my brother and I spent a lot of time together, and I was constantly asking him questions about his life.
Years before, I had slowly become aware of the fact that Josely was dying. I was never told this directly but instead learned it through the osmosis of family rumors until one day it was common knowledge that Josely's time on earth had an expiration date that was far closer than mine. I wanted to write stories, and I knew that Josely’s strange life was full of cruel, funny, and sometimes sad bits and pieces that I thought I could fit into whatever little thing I was putting together.
That day he had told me a couple of stories. He told me about the first time he had sex. He told why he picked up amateur boxing–to try to get close to my father (his step-father). He told me, in detail, what it was like to go through the jail system. He also told me about the first time he took drugs.
Shaking his head in regret, he described himself as a kid recklessly willing to try anything new. All it took for him to light a pipe to his mouth was to be told by a girl he was dating to “smoke this.” From that point on his life was no longer his.
Household items started to go missing and my parents began putting locks on the doors and cabinets. When I was thirteen, he conned me out of the $100 my godfather had given me for Christmas. I borrowed some multi-hundred-dollar video game system from a friend and couldn't explain to him a week later why it was gone.
"My brother said he left it at his friend's house. I'll have it back next week. I swear."
Of course next week never came, and I began to realize that the brother I looked up to as a child had become more than just the black sheep of the family.
By twenty-one I had gotten over it. I asked questions not because I wanted answers, but because I wanted information, and one day the brother I loved very much would no longer be able to tell me anything at all.
I was conscious of this as he told me how the end of his life began. When he was done, he cursed the woman who ended it, then he looked me in the eyes with a quietness that was rare for him. He told me never, ever to do what he had done.
We continued to play the video game. He eventually won and laughed about it afterwards.
Then he asked, “Why you asking me so many questions? I feel like I’m being interviewed, or something.”
I told him why, and he said, “Oh. Well, so, you gonna write a book about me?”
I said, “Probably not. But I might use parts of your life in a book.”
He said, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing about me.”
I paused the game we had restarted and listened.
“I never felt right in this here,” he said. “I never felt like I fit it, you know? That I belonged here." He shook his head. "This just ain't my world.”
In that instant, Josely had explained to me what drove him. For many of us, the decisions Josely made in life just didn’t make sense. They were extreme, but for him they were the only way he knew to search for something that would make him feel whole, that would take him away from the pain of isolation so abundant in this world.
Perhaps he was looking for love or a sense of belonging to something greater. Whatever it was, that search led him in several different directions. On November 21st of this year, that search ended.
Although he certainly went about it in a dangerous way, Josely’s search wasn't so different from the one we all share. We all want to be loved. We all want acceptance, and we all want to feel like we belong to a family, a world, that we believe cares about us. It is peace that we all want.
Today we are saying goodbye to my brother, who has finally found that peace. A brother who taught me not to be scared of my emotions, who taught me to be confident in who I am, and who helped me understand that life is bigger than I thought.
Josely, you will be missed. And as you always were, you will be loved.
*note: In the photo, from left to right, is my cousin Diane, my sister Stacey, me and my brother Josely.