A Brother’s Goodbye

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Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. If we’re not we’re missing something.

-Judith Butler, Precarious Life

At approximately 9am on Sunday February 23, I arrived at the hospital in New York City after hearing that my brother, Tim Trombley, was in the ICU suffering from acute pancreatitis and kidney failure. As I walked down the hallway towards the elevator, my phone buzzed. I answered and heard the broken voice of my mother on the other end – I knew immediately what she had called to tell me, Tim was dead.

My brother lived without fear – something I always admired and envied about him – and he reveled in extremes. The acronym YOLO – “you only live once” – applies unequivocally to the way he lived, but thinking back on his life it’s not the time he went skydiving, the partying, the tattoos, the fast driving, or any of the other extreme activities he survived that calls that phrase to mind. Instead it’s the times he loved and laughed, the connections he built with others – human and animal – and the care he gave unquestioning to everyone he met. YOLO, you only love once.

Tim was the victim of his vices, but he was also the victim of a harsh, uncaring, and indifferent system. Working 16 hours a day 6 days a week to keep afloat in an city and industry for which he was just so much disposable labor, he turned to alcohol to ease his emotional and physical suffering. About a month before he died, he went to the emergency room for symptoms that could have indicated the pancreatitis that ultimately took his life. Faced, no doubt, with a host of other, more immediate emergencies, the staff ignored his relatively minor complaint and sent him home with pain killers. Lacking insurance and fearing reprisal from his employers, he avoided seeking help from a doctor when his pain became unbearable. By the time he got to the hospital about 12 hours before he died, it was already too late and there was nothing that could have been done to save him.

Undone. I can think of no better word to describe how I feel – how we all feel on hearing about his passing. He was a big presence for everyone in his life, and we are all undone by his loss. But it’s only the case because he allowed himself to be undone by us. He opened his life, his world, his heart to all of us, brought us in – at times despite our protests – and gave us one of those big bear hugs that hurt, but also felt so comforting. I will miss those painful hugs. I will miss you, my brother. Goodbye.