My Brother’s Grief

My brother lost his best friend a little over a week ago, a very sad day.  Brian was a good guy and always a blast to have a beer with.  My mom suggested that he use his amazing ability to write to help with his grief and so here is his Chicago Sun Times Column:

My best friend in the world died last week.

Brian Patrick Michael Monahan was born on the Southwest Side and raised at 115th and Western. His house was the center of almost all neighborhood activity. His mother, Pat, was and still is the second mom to more people than I’ll ever know.

Brian’s dad, Frank, worked for a labor union and made enough money to give his family a relatively comfortable life. To say Frank was a dyed-in-the-wool, South Side Democrat would be the understatement of the decade.

“I think if Jesus Christ was running as a Republican, my dad would still vote Democrat,” Brian used to joke. It was an exaggeration, of course, but not by much.

Frank passed away several years ago, but the lessons he taught Brian never faded.

The only area where Brian and his dad really parted ways was his father’s desire for stability in life. Brian moved from job to job for as long as I knew him, and he never really had a “normal” gig. Brian had a strong desire to make a quiet difference in this world, and that’s what he did, day in and day out, but in his own way.

Long ago, Brian organized college students into a strong legislative force via the Illinois Student Association. Over the years, he registered thousands of voters and supervised the registration of tens of thousands more. Among other things, he was an organizer for a couple of different unions after moving to Kansas City, Mo.

He never once sought the limelight. He had no desire for fame or fortune. He didn’t yell and scream and try to draw attention to himself. Brian just wanted to do good the only way he knew how.

Brian was the type of person I admire the most. I think a lot of others feel the same way about people just like him. That was clear when Gov. Quinn threatened to shut down funding for private social service agencies last summer.

It wasn’t just that necessary services would’ve been eliminated that bothered so many of us. People who provided those services would have been out of jobs. These are the quiet heroes of our state. And those heroes, who take care of the less fortunate, the poor, the disabled, the sick and the elderly, were being used as pawns in a political game of chicken. Brian didn’t live in Illinois, but he never would have stood for that if he had — Democratic governor or no Democratic governor.

Brian was considering a move back to Illinois the week before he died unexpectedly at 46 last week. A job opening here had caught his eye and his family and friends were overjoyed. Even though we talked on the phone as often as we could and saw him whenever possible, we still missed him terribly and we wanted him back full time.

I also wanted Brian here because his state needed him now more than ever. The multiple crises facing Illinois are greater than at any time in our lives, so we desperately need all the good, strong people we can get.

It wasn’t to be.

Brian’s friends and family have been through a wrenching week of agony. My own heart feels as if it has been shattered into a million pieces. But everyone reading this and everyone who is not is the poorer for his death. The good he could have done here, no matter how unnoticed by the naked eye, would’ve surely helped us in these horribly dark days.

And if you’re feeling generous…

The Brian Monahan Children’s Trust Fund
c/o Pat Monahan
2800 W. 111th St.
Chicago, IL 60655

My brother called tonight, I think just to talk.  He’s been having a rough time these last few days and my advice to him was to use Brian’s death as a way to improve his own life.  We aren’t getting any younger, and the days we could smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, drink a fifth of whiskey and work 18 hours is long gone.  I hope some good comes of Brian’s death, I hope that my two brothers that live to work rather than work to live wake up a little.  I used to be that guy, working 80 hours a week and never home.  I woke up one day and my kids were grown, I was divorced and I wasn’t any richer, any better looking or any younger. 

With the amount of death that has besieged our family in the last few years I know what my brother is feeling today.  I know how hard it can be just to function at a time like this, but we do, day in and day out.  The Miller in us kicks in, the almost military precision to accomplish tasks that was either passed on to us through our father’s German genes, or beat into us by his regimented parenting style.  It may not be the healthiest way to grieve, but it is our way, it allows us to feel like we have accomplished something when everything seems so screwed up in the world.

But at a certain point you have to take a break, to get away from it all and just reflect.  I hope my brother finds that time and someday I hope to find it myself.

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