About My Brother

My brother Mark enjoying the woods along a trail in Scott Township.
My brother Mark enjoying the woods along a trail in Scott Township.

I lost someone very special to me last week. My brother Mark died unexpectedly on July 28. I had written about him last winter when I moved him from one apartment to another in “Coming Back Home”.

The new apartment was not comfortable but he was more stable than he had been in a long time and seemed to be adjusting well. I thought he might be slowing down a bit too, just moving slower, seeming to have more cognitive difficulties, and just quieter, his deep voice was softer than usual, and wondered if it was time to find a communal living situation so he would have some assistance and supervision.

Mark had suffered a traumatic brain injury in a fall in 2000 and was left with a disabling seizure disorder and cognitive issues. Medication kept the seizures mostly under control but he still had seizures now and then and it appears that’s what happened while he was alone in his apartment some time in the morning. I knew from doctors’ advice and friends who had siblings, spouses and even parents who had suffered traumatic brain injuries that a fatal seizure was likely at some point in Mark’s life and that it could happen while he was alone, and to prepare myself I imagined scenarios where that would happen. But preparing myself in some ways for Mark’s death was not a new thing for me. Mark had been an alcoholic most of his adult life, regularly losing his job to alcohol, was homeless and destitute, and part of me has been waiting for a call for all these years to tell me he’d been found somewhere. When I got the call in 2000 but he surprisingly lived through that experience, I reminded him he’d had a major reprieve and there was some reason he was still alive. We laughed but he took that seriously for the next ten years as I managed him through every occupational and social rehab and training program I could find for him and helped him find jobs he could manage, but eventually the jobs ended when businesses closed and they were scarce for people with his limitations, and he went back to drinking, sometimes very seriously.

His demons are no longer chasing him. His habits kept me running after him for much of his life but underneath the alcohol there wasn’t a mean bone in his body, and there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t have done for him. Though he was alone at the moment he died, he was surrounded by neighbors and friends who cared and just thought he was a really nice guy, which he was. Even the funeral director said he recognized Mark as the person who walked past his building each morning while he watered his flower boxes, and Mark would say hello as he went past to buy a Pepsi or some ice and walked back a little later. Many people knew him that way.

Mark would have been 60 years old this December and we were planning a birthday party because we laughed and were surprised he lived that long after all he’d done. He will be cremated with no viewing or service, but we will still have a get-together to honor him some time in the next month.

He loved my cats through the years and they loved him, like the day in 1988 that he took a nap on my couch and rescued kittens settled all over him, and one little dilute tortie girl decided he belonged to her and he and his girlfriend took Nikka home. My cats adored him and would play with him all day, and he with them. He was a kind and gentle person, and they knew it.

Mark with the boys.
Mark with the boys. They were always ready to play when he visited.

If his life had been more stable he would have been a great cat foster. Cookie knew a good person when she met one, as Mark gently reached around to pet her.

Cookie steps onto Mark's lap and he gently reaches to pet her, outside while I'm doing the yardwork.
Cookie steps onto Mark’s lap and he gently reaches to pet her, outside while I’m doing the yardwork.

It will take a long time for the fact that he’s not here anymore to become reality for me. He called on Tuesday to see if I could give him some money for ice. I said yes but I was in the middle of working with a customer and asked him to call later, which was typical. He didn’t call, which I didn’t really expect because he often would visit a neighbor with air conditioning, sit outside or visit one of the stores that had air conditioning. That was the last time I spoke with him.

Despite all his issues and large amounts of time apart through the years due to his alcoholism, I felt closest to my brother, probably because we are closest in age and grew up together, but I just miss him, and I always will.

If you are on Facebook you may have already read my post, but in addition to losing him, other events and the circumstances on those days created a strange reality for me, and I will be a long time both getting used to my brother being gone, and thinking about the context in which I lost him.

Falling trees, no communications, and fortuitous timing

My house is behind all those trees.
My house is behind all those trees.

You may be familiar with the big trees around my house which I adore and call Cat TV and also “my air conditioning units”. I’ve also mentioned that they are old and frail, and as much as I love them they needed to be removed because they were becoming unsafe. The tall wild black cherry has lost a small to medium sized limb each year for the past decade, and because of the level of moisture and plant sugars in the wood, branches are soft and heavy when green. The old maples are hollow, and a branch fell from one onto my electric service line and cable line week before last that knocked out the computer in my studio. A dozen more are in line to do the same.

The entrance to my house.
The entrance to my house.

When it seemed I might be able to get the work done this year I contacted my tree guy in January and got an estimate that included painting his business information on one of his new trucks; I painted signs for him before I moved in here 26 years ago and that income became part of my downpayment. Expected money did not come through and I’ve been concerned to frightened in each storm that has passed through that a large branch would come down, or a whole tree. The cherry is at the side of my yard and at the corners of two neighbor’s yards and is at least 60 feet tall, and was hit by lightning two years ago. That upright dead portion is actually still solid and pretty well-cured wood, but the branches attached to the living part were big and heavy. The whole thing would need a bucket truck to get to the top branches and no paved area is near the tree but my driveway, which is almost too far, so it’s not a simple job. The two big maples in front have to go as well because they are hollow and only a thin ring of trunk is left.

At about 7:50 am on Wednesday, the bottom branch on the cherry tree creaked, groaned, made a horrible splitting noise and landed on the ground. All the cats ran into the basement and it was hard to tell at first where it came from until I saw the extra light coming in the north facing casement window. This branch had actually reached to touch the house curving upward, and in storms bumped against the corner of the roof, but it didn’t damage a thing when it fell. There was no storm and not even a breeze, it was just a hot sunny morning.

You can see the branch curving upward outside the window in this photo from last winter.
You can see the branch curving upward outside the window in this photo from last winter.

I was pretty shaken up by that and called my tree guy again. He said he’d try to stop by to take a look at it in a day or two. All morning the branch continued settling onto the ground, cracking and rustling, but eventually it stopped and I could get some work done.

Then around 4pm I began hearing cracking noises again, louder and louder and then deeper. I kept going outside to look at the trees to see if I could determine where the branch might be, and I determined it was the cherry tree again. I called my tree guy to see if he could stop out that day, like right then, and was standing in the front yard talking to him on the phone when the splitting noise started again and I saw it was the rest of the cherry tree, all attached to the trunk in one spot and splitting off, starting to slowly fall toward me and the house. It leaned far over the yard and over the roof, and could have hit the roof and side of the house and done a good bit of damage. Instead it twisted and separated and fell on the ground in the front and back yards, only scraping the siding and pulling down the cable/internet/phone service line but not touching the electrical line just two feet above it.

I was shaken up by this, and without communications. I made an appointment with Comcast for Friday and decided to get work done then head out with my smartphone to find a wifi I could use to check email and even phone messages, and pulled out my annoying little Tracphone I keep for emergencies.

The next morning was cloudy, cooler and drizzly, and I went to a local coffeehouse to send a proof to a customer and read messages. I had envelopes to deliver to a printer and though I wanted to go back home I felt nervous and apprehensive. I thought likely I was still stressed over the tree falling, and though I didn’t really think that was the cause I decided time away from the house and the tree all over my yard would be good for me, so I drove off to deliver the envelopes with a stomach full of butterflies and a furrowed brow, hoping nothing bad was about to happen. The feeling stayed with me but started to fade as I left the printer. Back home I got more work done and in the early evening headed back to the diner’s parking lot to check messages before I went to the library’s music hall to see a show.

As I sent another proof and then checked messages, I saw a call come through from the aide who takes care of my brother’s medications and thought that was odd at 6:00 pm. I couldn’t answer it, but logged into my voice mail and read the transcript. Mark hadn’t answered the door in the afternoon when they delivered medication, and his phone wasn’t working, and he was worried. I am always worried when my brother isn’t where he’s supposed to be because of the reasons I’d described above, but it happened and he’d always turned up. I called the aide back and he said he had called the landlord to do a wellness check since I didn’t answer. I briefly explained my tree situation and said I’d go over too since I was less than five minutes away. The landlord is a friend and he and I and his twin all went to Catholic grade school together, and he has always been helpful whenever things came up with Mark, so I knew we’d at least get into the apartment and other areas in the building right away.

When I arrived the door was ajar and I heard a voice that was not my brother’s calling Mark’s name. I knocked on the door and asked if Mark was in there. The person turned out to be another of the landlord’s brothers who is an ER nurse. He told me not to come in right then, answered me that Mark was there, but that the situation was not good. It appeared Mark fell and hit his head hard enough on the wall to smash the drywall. I think I might know when it had happened too, remembering my nervous apprehension that morning.

I spent the next couple of hours talking to police and making arrangements. Mark has no money for a funeral so we would have no viewing, only cremation. I saw him in his apartment where he’d fallen, just to have some closure, and his familiar shoulders and beefy arms and legs in the new t-shirt and shorts we’d bought just a few weeks before were oddly comforting. I went home to call my sister and my niece and start making other arrangements.

What are the chances?

I was completely without communications at home except my Tracfone until Saturday morning, and no one knows the number for that Tracfone because I’d never given it out. If I had not been using the wifi with my Smartphone, which incidentally does not have phone service, for that single 10-minute period right when Mark’s aide called, I’m not sure when I would have found out because no one would have been able to get in touch with me except by coming to my door. I wouldn’t have been home from the show until about 10:30 or later, and have been going out to check messages every couple of hours.

Mark with shirt

I look around at things and at my schedule and everywhere see things in progress with my brother, his monthly shopping trip coming up the first week of the month where lately instead of him going off with his cart I’d been guiding him around the store asking if he needed cereal, milk, canned soups, and if he really drank a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi each day then we should get 31 bottles of Pepsi instead of running out in the middle of the month. He used to go with me to some of the festivals and places where I set up as a vendor and would help me set up, then wander around or just sit sometimes, and listen to music if there was entertainment wherever we were. The photo at the top of this article is one I took of him when he came with me to a trail cleanup for the Scott Conservancy, and I used the photo on the cover of the brochure I designed for them. He was always happy for little adventures, and unless he was having  a down day was fun to be with.

If you want to

Mark lived on a small amount of Social Security each month, and there was no way to save for this. I had always hoped I’d be in the situation where I could handle it when the time came, but it’s a little much for me to cover cremation and final expenses because he won’t receive his next Social Security check. I am selling things like his TV and a few pieces of furniture on craigslist and below is a “Donate for a Discount” for him the same as I do for cats in need. His bank account will change but I am his Rep Payee and you can send a check in my name for him, or send a donation to my Paypal account bernadette@bernadette-k.com and I will deposit it all in his account. The funeral director is understanding but will eventually need to be paid. It seems I’m always asking for money, but sometimes too many things pile up at once and there’s no way around it.

Thank you for hearing me out. I will have to return to regular business beginning today.

Donate for a Discount

Many of you readers have often been generous in helping with the costs associated with rescues, and when I set up my new website I included my favorite reward program as one of the pages, titled “Donate For a Discount”. I will give you a gift certificate toward shopping on my website in thanks—for every $25.00 you donate in goods or cash I’ll give you a gift certificate for $5.00 off a minimum $25.00 purchase.

  • $5.00 off $25,00 when you donate $25.00
  • $10.00 off $50.00 when you donate $50.00
  • $15.00 off $75.00 when you donate $75.00
  • $20.00 off $100 when you donate $100.00
  • and so on

Because this will come to me I will know already that you donated.

  • I will send you your gift certificate (discount code).

How to use it:

  • Each certificate is good for $5.00 off your order of $25.00 or more.
  • Use for individual shopping trips or all at once.
  • Use for your own shopping, give as a gift, or keep for later.
  • Certificates are good until December 31, 2016, and I can renew them if you haven’t used them by the end of the year.

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Weekly schedule of features:
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And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!


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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

32 thoughts on “About My Brother

  • Pingback:Rescue Story: Coming Back Home ~ The Creative Cat

  • May 16, 2017 at 12:39 am

    Dear friend Bernadette,
    I just encountered this deep in my mailbox. What a terrible shock. I feel so sad for you, to have lost the earthly presence of your sibling who was such a large part of your life for ever and ever.
    Mark seems to have been a gentle and loving soul. I think I would have enjoyed his company. That your cats adored him means the world.
    I can tell that you were a caring, helpful, supportive sister and friend to him. Please take some strength from knowing that.
    Sending hope and love from afar,

    • June 8, 2017 at 12:01 am

      Thank you, Meg. For the most part Mark was a messy alcoholic, but I knew what was underneath.

  • August 9, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you to everyone who has commented here, and everyone who has donated. Reading your comments has been wonderfully comforting. People like Mark don’t leave much of a legacy, and he will not be well-remembered, but at least here I’ve let more people know of his better person, and most of you have never met me let alone him, and yet you care enough to stop by and read and comment. I know some wonderful people, and it’s not only electronically. I believe now his expenses are covered too, and that is a huge relief.

    Each day is different emotionally, of course, and practically as I contact people, work on cleaning out Mark’s apartment, meet people to see the few things I have to sell from him, pursue possible funding for his aftercare and talk to those who worked with him and knew him.

    I’ve also had work in progress as well as plans for an upcoming exhibit and events that I have to and want to follow through with. And a few new things came up that are good things and will change my future if they work out. It’s all very different, and I come and go kind of unexpectedly. I can’t wait for a day to just sit still and take it all in. By the time evening comes around and I want to sit and write a post and answer comments, I fall asleep at my desk!

    His apartment is nearly cleaned out and cleaned. I have planned a memorial picnic for him for tomorrow, Wednesday, and on Thursday I will welcome the sameness of my everyday, and integrate this into my life.

    It’s very different to lose a sibling, even one whose death you’ve oddly expected for so long. I look at these photos of him and I still can’t believe I won’t see him again. That will take a very long time. Today I was discussing the food we’d put together for his memorial picnic tailored just in case we didn’t have too many people to be something Mark would like in case we had a lot of leftovers…he always happily took any leftovers from every event, every show, every benefit performance at the library, but not anymore. Step by step. Each of your comments has helped me with one more step.

  • August 6, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I’m so sorry.

  • August 2, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    We’re so so sorry about your brother and hoping fervently that Peaches and all her siblings were there to greet him. From Karen and Lily, Henry & Jane

    • August 9, 2016 at 8:57 pm

      I”m sure they all were, Karen, all the way back to Bootsie, my first cat!

  • August 2, 2016 at 10:07 am

    What a lovely tribute to your brother. And I know you know this, but cats always tell us who the good people are. I love watching my cats interact with people. So your brother was such a good person since the cats loved him. You take care Bernadette.

    • August 9, 2016 at 8:59 pm

      They had his number from the beginning, Marg. The boys will miss their tabletop hockey games.

  • August 1, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    B…I send my sincerest sympathies to you and your family. I am very sorry to hear about
    Mark. You are all in my prayers ♥♥♥♥♥ L

    • August 9, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks so much, Tabbies. We sincerely appreciate your sympathies and prayers!

  • August 1, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    B, I’m so very sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. Sending love and purrs to your beautiful heart!

    • August 9, 2016 at 9:01 pm

      Thank you, Chris, I believe my cats caught the purrs and have been doling them out as I need them.

  • August 1, 2016 at 6:06 am

    I am so sorry to read about the loss of your brother. Please cherish all the warm memories deep in your heart. My thoughts are with you, Bernadette.

    • August 9, 2016 at 9:02 pm

      Herman, I know how you feel about your brother. Mark will always be one of my favorite people. Thank you.

  • July 31, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. From what I read, he was a kind and sweet man.

    • August 9, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Ellen, he was. I am happy to remember that about him now.

  • July 31, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss.
    Sending you love and hugs and purrs.
    Nancy and the kitties

  • July 31, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Bernadette. Get some extra hugs and kisses from your furry support systems as you work through your grief.

    • July 31, 2016 at 5:14 pm

      Lesley, they have been very entertaining. Apparently making me laugh is something another kitty passed down to the family years ago. 🙂

  • July 31, 2016 at 11:48 am

    You are so very strong and amazing. Love to you at this time.

    • July 31, 2016 at 5:13 pm

      We all are Cat as long as we stand in our own truth. I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t help him unless he stopped drinking, but I knew he was doing the best he could and filled in where he could not.

    • July 31, 2016 at 5:11 pm

      Thank you Island Cats, right now purrs and hugs are a great comfort.

  • July 31, 2016 at 11:29 am

    I am so very very sorry for your loss and I will keep you in my prayers.

    • July 31, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Thank you, Debra, and thank you for sharing the story too, I’m so glad others could read it.

  • July 31, 2016 at 9:41 am

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain. Sending you all our love and wishes for healing.

    • July 31, 2016 at 5:08 pm

      Thank you so much for listening Momma Kat. Knowing people have now read about him helps me know he won’t be forgotten.


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