Today, June 12, 2008 my late brother would have been 43 years old. Every year when his birthday rolls around, I think of him and how many times he made me laugh during his lifetime. Additionally, I also think of the many pains and issues that compounded my brother’s life that resulted in his death by suicide. The death of a sibling is a very difficult thing to accept, especially when the death is unexpected and sudden. My brother’s death happened on a cold December 7th and he was gone from our lives in the blink of an eye. Often I think about the sudden flash that brings one from living life to suddenly being part of the kairotic grip of death. As a Catholic, we believe that suicide is morally wrong. However, when it comes to knowing the reasons and purposes for a tragic death are often unanswered forever.

My brother Stephen was five years younger than I was, three years younger than my sister Karen was. When he was born both my sister and I waited in great anticipation of our new baby brother. My Mom and Dad even let us pick out a name for our new sibling…we named him after another Stephen that lived in the house beside my paternal grandparents…his name was Stephen Marakowski. Both Karen and I liked the name and the kid that lived next to my grandparents, so Stephen it was. I often think of the great individuality and personal fortitude that comes with the choice of a name when a baby was born. In addition to having admiration for the neighbor’s Steve, we associated our brother Stephen with the first martyr of the Catholic Church, Saint Stephen and always reminded our brother to celebrate that feast day and the strength of his spiritual patron.
Birthdays celebrate life. Whenever I think of my brother on his birthday, I celebrate his life. He was full of mischievous energy, enjoyed every party and stayed out way past when the cows came home. He always went to Church, even if going to Church and Mass meant attending Mass from the entrance of the Church, where he could have a cigarette and worship in his own liturgical space. He lived for times and opportunities to make me crazy…like jumping out on me from a closet, scaring me in bed or just telling me to “Chill Out!”

My real point in writing about his life is to remember to tell everyone to enjoy and appreciate each moment we have with our loved ones. We never know when the time we have together will be cut short, and we return to our heavenly Father. In the same manner, it helps to recall the good times and the things you learned from people that are no longer with us. My brother and I liked to go swimming at the New Jersey shore after the lifeguards departed. My brother was the better swimmer, and in much better shape physically than me…and in a strange juxtaposition of roles…I always felt safe when swimming with him. I have not gone into the Atlantic Ocean after hours since his death, because I lost a strong companion that would “save me” regardless of our sibling differences.

An important lesson here is this, each one of us has a purpose given to us by God. We don’t always know what it is in life. However, as a Christian people, we need to celebrate all aspects of our lives from conception until death…even if that death is sudden and premature. To this day, I have no idea what motivated my brother’s sudden self inflicted death, but I do know that all of us wrestle with the powers of the Evil One in our lives. Our sacramental participation in Eucharist strengthens us in this perpetual battle with the many guises and vices that afflict our human society. That is why we need to always be especially supportive to all of our brothers and sisters in faith that are tormented by temporal and spiritual demons.

I miss my brother more each year. Maybe it is because when we all become middle aged we recall the events of our lives that should have or could have happened differently. Always present in my thoughts is the notion of hope in God regardless of how terrible things seem to get. I know that my brother hoped in God, especially in God’s mercy even though he was plagued with issues and problems. As Catholics we should always pray for the departed, because they are still with us, only transformed into a new existence with God.

I don’t think I will ever swim after hours again in my lifetime. My swimming companion that knew no fear is gone. However Stephen is here in a mystical way that still makes me laugh at his antics, check under the bed and behind doors looking for his pranks. Celebrate life, celebrate the memories of those who have lived and touched your lives and celebrate our mysterious journey of life to death and rebirth in Jesus’ eternal life.

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