Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Blog Special: My Brother Bob: In Memoriam

The following blog is in honour of my brother who passed away while I was filming in Portugal. I will leave this memorial on my blog site for one week in order for interested parties to read it. It will then be deleted and my blog on Portugal will begin!

Robert Charles Byers: December 4th 1935 to June 30th 2009

My earliest recollection of my brother goes back to when I was about three or four years of age. I remember accompanying him to various places but the most vivid was one evening near our then home in Zabbar, Malta. It was carnival time and I recollect a costume that I wore with a cape. My brother was dressed like a Roman soldier and had a toy sword. He took me out celebrating and waved the sword around so devilishly that a young girl who saw us approach went screaming into the alley way that I figure was near her home.
I also remember him trying to teach me about fire crackers. He and a friend lit one and gave it to me forgetting to tell me to throw the darn thing and it blew up in my hand somewhat stinging my fingers. We then went out into a nearby field to collect the left over blasting caps used during those days.
The relationship with my brother remained quite the same as both of us aged. It seemed like I was a perpetual "tag along" since he took me everywhere. If it wasn't a ride "side saddle" on the handlebars of his bike, it was on a date with one of his girl friends. I think that I single hand idly ruined his love life!
As he got older the rides on the bike turned into going to the show or to a cottage or just for a ride to a beach. No matter what we did and where we went, we had fun-----actually it was more than fun, it was a relationship which knew no conflict. We never had a fight or a bad word. Not that Bob didn't have a temper. He seldom used it (lucky for all!!!). He was mild mannered, soft spoken and kind. His long marathon singing sessions (many of which took place in the bath room) were legendary to the family and possibly to the neighbours who heard. And of course, there was this relationship with Elvis. Bob loved Elvis---his songs and his persona! He actually imitated Elvis's singing very well.
Our relationship was not of the "putting up because we're related" type that one would imagine brotherly relationships to be. While family was important, it wasn't the fact that we were brothers that kept us "together". We genuinely like each other. We were different yet similar. We shared our interest in travel, gardening and wine but approached things in a completely different way. That's what was important and made us grow towards rather than away from each other.
The sharing of our experiences whether it was a trip, a plant or a glass of wine became a focal point of discussion. The fact that the other was "around" made life just a bit more interesting. We didn't have to see each other to feel each other's presence. Sometimes weeks would pass before we "connected".
When Bob first contracted Esophageal Cancer, we found that the roles we had become accustomed were reversed. Bob became more anxious for awhile and needed to get out of the house. The operation he had to remove the tumors was "successful" but he needed time to recuperate.
He started going with me on trips to wineries etc. This time it was he who was the tag along and I who did the entertaining. It was fun and I began to look forward to his companyduring these trips. We used our time in the car as major discussion sessions where we could air concerns, discuss politics or just our gardening catch up. It was great. Bob would also fill me in on his plans, trips and tasks. It happened about once per month unless he had gardening to do.
Then came the fateful day that Bob learned of his "recent" terminal illness. To say he was not frightened would be a lie but I saw a stength in him that echoed way past his anxiety. He fought a struggle that was almost super human. Where I would have given up, he fought on. He fought the great fight---inspiring all around him!
There are many things that will bother me about Bob not being around. The main one will be that I will never be able to share my experiences with him again---at least not in this life. I will not see that smiling face or watch him as he, in his shorts (and nothing much else) wheels his plants to the various plots in his garden. The other thing that bothers me is the massive vulnerability I feel. Death is so permanent. It can and eventually will affect me and all those around me. Fragile life can end in an instant.
Bob's death gives rise to a need for answers. We want to blame someone or something for the seeming lack of justice of it all. But we are left with the one fact that we already know! Bob is gone and there are no real reasons why. Maybe we should seek to understand the questions posed rather than to know the answers.
We must have faith that the purpose and reason are out there. In some way it may have been in my final goodbye to him.
"Bob, I just want you to know that you were the best brother that any could have! I've always wanted to be like you and love you! I will always cherish our time together and hope that other brothers have the great relationship we had. You have been an inspiration to me and will always be part of me! We will meet each other again! Good bye and I love you!"If there is a God in Heaven I know that my brother is with him now where he continues to tend his garden and watch over us! I raise a glass to my brother------until next time, Bob!