Happy would-be birthday to my brother, Patrick Kerner, who's sittin' on a rainbow in the afterlife with his Sharon.
Six years ago my husband and I sang Pat and Sharon's song, "In Spite of Ourselves" at Pat's wake. It was the first time I sang in public since my sister Jenny's wedding when I was 13. I had stopped singing in public because I was ashamed of my voice. I'd never be as good as Chrissie Hynde or Belinda Carlisle or Cyndi Lauper. Why bother?
Fast forward 27 years. I'm a children's librarian. I get paid to sing with kids and their caregivers. I teach moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas to sing with their little ones. "Singing is an important early literacy skill," I tell my storytimers. "Singing teaches us to break up words into smaller syllables, which is necessary when you read," I say. "And, it's fun. Don't worry if you think you can't sing. Kids don't mind. They're just happy you're tryin'."
I sing for a living. I sing for life. I sing for those I'll someday leave behind. I'll still never be as good as Chrissie Hynde or Belinda Carlisle or Cyndi Lauper. I'll never be as good as k.d. lang, Adele, or Beyoncé. Or Sinead O'Connor, Billie Holliday, or Aretha Franklin. Why bother?
It bothered me when my brother died at such a young age: 49. So much life left to live, sputtered out. Pat was musically blessed, a gifted singer and guitar player. He could have changed the world with his song. Instead, he drank himself to death, following the alcohol-related death of his beloved Sharon. Two drunks, dead too soon.
But they were so much more than that, as all people are when you dig deeper. Pat could not see how living without Sharon would be worth his time, so he gave up.
Our brother Jay was with Pat on his deathbed.
Jay: "Go be with Sharon."
Pat: "I'm tryin'."
I like to picture Pat sittin' on a rainbow with his Sharon. We know what happens to our bodies when we die. Our vessels are ultimately nothing more than detritivore feed. No one knows for sure what happens to our souls. My best guess is this: they reside inside the living, our loved ones left behind. The detritivores can't feed on what our hearts devour.
I don't know much about riches or fame or singing in tune. But I've learned a few things about living life to the fullest, both by observing my brother's bodily demise and by my own failures and struggles. I've learned that I'm happiest when I do my best, when I get out of bed with a plan to make this world a better place for the hearts devoured. I've learned that it's best to tell the truth even though it's often the hardest option. I've learned that devoured hearts hold no grudges, only love, and love's brother, forgiveness.