Say a prayer for a big little brother

Say a prayer for a big little brother

I wish you could have seen him when he was young — his hair, so thick and dark, a veritable giant of a man at 6 feet, 3 inches. That big guy was my mom’s little brother Don.

I was born just four months after uncle Don married his sweetheart Annie, a blonde with a heart of gold. They became my glamorous godparents whom I looked up to with awe: he, the handsome police captain, and she, the beautiful mother of three.

My family went to their house every Christmas. No one ever made a person feel more welcome than uncle Don. Everyone gathered at his house by the fire and the tree. After a lovely evening, he walked us to the car, standing in the cold, warming us with his “Come back again” mantras. And then I moved away to teach. I visited my uncle and aunt many times over the years, and I always left with a tear in my eyes. No matter how far away I lived, I always felt like I was back home when I visited them.

The day Mom had her first stroke over 10 years ago, they came to the hospital. Don and I packed her belongings to transfer to the assisted living facility when she was finished with rehab but too weak to go back home alone. Before she appeared at her new digs, I hung her blouses and pants in the closet, then put on a happy face. Don always tried to cheer her. My aunt and uncle helped us celebrate Mom’s 90th birthday too, and every single birthday since in the nursing home.

I remember the day Mom had fallen at the assisted living facility and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Soon after, her leg wound was fraught with necrotic tissue. Then she became septic. Mom was well into her 90s by then and was in a coma-like state. I was sitting beside her hospital bed when my uncle arrived, well after midnight, still dressed from some outing he’d attended with my aunt.

“Who will I talk to when I lose her?” I asked my godfather.

“You can call me, Les,” he said. I took his hand and held it tight.

We were both surprised when Mom survived the surgery, but she was never the same. First, she had pneumonia. Then she awoke confused, unsure of who we were, thinner than a rail. Ironically, she always recognized her little brother.

When Mom went to full-care nursing, Don visited there too. I visited as much as I could with work and a house 100 miles away. I usually called uncle Don and aunt Ann to meet me in her room so we could visit together. He made everything easier for Mom. He leaned over to kiss her forehead each time, and suddenly, she was a different person, someone with hope because her big, little brother was watching over her.

The past few years, Mom almost died at least three or four times. She had urinary infections that caused septicemia. She had more strokes. The 11-year battle with her health was marching on. And through it all, uncle Don accompanied my sister and me.

As Don was approaching his late 80s, his own health problems began: aortic aneurysm, COVID, heart issues, falls. Before I knew it, my favorite uncle was laid low. I’d watched the downward spiral begin as he got weaker from long COVID. I visited his home to bring homemade soup or flowers, doughnuts, anything to cheer them up. Just a few weeks ago, I found out he’d fallen in the assisted living home where he and my aunt have been in residence for a year. I was heartsick.

You see, when I was a little girl, my mom told me all about loving your family. She and her three brothers really loved each other. Yes, she cared for Donnie the most, she confessed, because when her little sister Elaine and younger brother Ralph died as toddlers, my mom, then a teenager, promised to watch over her little brother Don. Mom always kept her promises. When Don and Ann weakened, I figured maybe my sister and I could take Mom’s place and help their kids with their care.

No, uncle Don is not a perfect man, but he was always a darned good brother to my mom — her big, little brother — and a great uncle to all of his nieces and nephews. That much I know for sure.

Please say a prayer for him, won’t you? After all, it’s what my mom would want.

Leslie Pearce-Keating can be emailed at

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