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I still can't believe my brother is dead. Barry O'Donahue was one of the most vibrant people I've ever known. Even though he was my brother, he seemed bigger than that. He was always full of energy, full of enthusiasm. He could bring a boring party to life with just a few words.
One day shortly before he died, Barry came over. He was thin, and so pale. The light in his eyes had dimmed, but his eyes held a mischievous fire that could not be extinguished. The sparse hair he had left quickly grayed. To compensate for his balding crown he had let his facial hair grow. It was also gray. His voice, so rich and deep, had become thin and difficult to hear, like an over-used whistle. He spoke in short breathy sentences, with long breaks of silence in between. It seemed to me that every word was a struggle, as if the thoughts were so big, he had to gather enough wind to force them out.
My heart broke for him. For all the life he had exuded, he did not deserve to die this way. I always felt he'd have gone out in a flame of glory, like my gallant knight fighting in a medieval war. This pale, thin man sitting on the sofa across from me, in clothes that almost fell off of him, was almost a stranger. This was not Barry anymore. Here was just a thin, faded memory of my brother.
He told me he wanted me to handle his funeral, and "a few other things." As he went over the other things, I marveled at the way he thought. His focus was on others, not himself. This change happened in the last six months. Before this sad story began, Barry lived life in terms of himself, always with a plan, always his plan, with little regard to whether his plan was the best. Before this incredible saga began, it was all about Barry. This final plan was about others, not his death.
Barry gave me a list of people he wanted to invite to his funeral. He told me these people were "the most special people"in his life. They needed to be there.
"When you meet these people and hear their stories, Mel, you will have your adventure," Barry replied. For a moment, the sparkle returned to his eyes. His signature smile, a bit lower at the right corner returned as well. The smile that always warned me something exciting was on its way did not last long, and he appeared to have used a great deal of energy pushing the smile out from behind the pale face. He sat back and rested for a moment, possibly thinking of the many great times we shared after similar smiles.
As he was leaving that night, he embraced me and told me he was ready to begin his next adventure. He knew he had been blessed throughout his life. He knew God had guided him to the people he met and places he visited during the last few months. He believed he was on his way to an eternal adventure. He assured me these people would help me see life in a way I never would have considered.
Each responded in a very similar way: Each quietly acknowledged Barry's death, promised to get there, and expressed excitement about meeting "the others." This last response was odd, yet intriguing.
I thought maybe Barry was right. Maybe I should look at this as an insight to Barry's last few months. Maybe I should chronicle this time. Maybe these people have something to tell me that I have been looking for to write about. Oddly, I began to look forward to the funeral! Little did I know this meeting would forever change my life and bond the six of us together in a way, none of us would have ever expected.