I wanted to write about my brother, today, on the anniversary of his death. Unfortunately all my first attempts were about grief rather than Ken. As much as he meant to me, I didn’t really know him. He was just shy of 23 when he died; I was just 18. There are memories from growing up together. In many ways, he was the most important person in my life. But our chance to know each other was cut short when he was suddenly struck down by a brain aneurysm. There would be no exploring of hopes and dreams, no sharing of memories, no reflection on the events of our growing up, no sharing of sorrows or joys, no true adult relationship.
So I don’t know who he was. Not like I wish. And my attempts to write about him end up being about me and my grief, bits and pieces of my memories.
I can’t even tell his story very well. I have seen pictures of him speaking to the woman selling eels in the fish market of Copenhagen. He was about four, I guess. I heard stories that he picked up enough Danish to translate for my mother when someone came to the door. My earliest memory concerns some kids cleverly inciting a chase and pulling a rope taught across an asphalt driveway to send someone sprawling. It must have been Ken who got hurt. I think I remember seeing a butterfly bandage underneath a chin. I was maybe four, but Ken would have eight or nine. He would remember. That act of cruelty affected me. How did it shape Ken? What does he remember about the day mom had to have our dog, Fritz, put to sleep? Was he there? How did that shape him? I just remember sitting in the living room and everyone being sad.
How was he shaped by our life together, Ken, Mom and I? What did he remember when our stepfather came into the picture? What did he think? What did he feel? I learned later in life that the woman I remembered in the bright green dress at the wedding wasn’t my mother but my aunt. What did he remember of that day? What did he think of this change in our life?
Who were his friends growing up? How long was he a boy scout? Was he always a leader or just that day when they met at our house? When did he meet his friend Bill? How did they talk Mom into letting them go on a ship to Hawaii? How did that adventure shape him? Which of the stories he told me were pulling my leg and which were real?
What did church mean to him? Did he serve as an acolyte as I did? Is it true that Pastor Farness suggested St. Olaf College? How did college shape him? I know that he had an impact there: many faculty and staff came down from Minnesota to attend his burial in Des Moines.
Why did he decide to go by his first name, Erik, when he went to college?
What was he thinking about the draft? What happened to him in boot camp? Who had he become? Who did he hope to become? In the letter he wrote me as I began college – that arrived after his aneurysm – he said that he had found his faith again. What did that mean? What did it mean to him?
Nearly every memory of him is of a kind, thoughtful, responsible person who people looked to as a leader. He seemed both wise and good. But I have a memory of him dancing with delight on a Swiss(?) hillside with a bottle of wine in one hand and a big loaf of bread in the other as we were about to have a picnic. I would like to have known more about his joy. I would like to have known more about his passions. I would like to have known more.
So there it is. I remember my brother and miss him. And I profoundly miss the chance to truly know him.