Friday, July 1, 2011

Remembering Jeff...Again

Last (and Best) Photo of Me and Jeff...September, 2010

I wrote this piece on my personal blog over seven months ago.  I suppose it’s somewhat of a eulogy of my brother.  There are some aspects you might not understand, not having known the two of us...such as the golf ball and geocaching...but I think you’ll get the gist of his life and our relationship by reading this.  I’m reposting it because today, July 1, is my brother’s 56th birthday.  It’s also my twins’ 9th birthday, so while I mourn my brother’s passing, I experience great joy (and nervousness) every July 1 as I watch my children eagerly approach their “pre-teen” years.  My day will mostly be devoted to them, but since my awareness campaign and this blog have been dedicated to my brother, I thought I’d honor Jeff this one moment by sharing my words from last November.
My brother Jeff Estep passed away last night (November 15, 2010) after a brief bout with Melanoma that metastasized to his brain and lungs. He left us far too soon.
I can’t really compose my thoughts at the moment…but I thought typing random memories and thoughts may help me a bit. There seems like so few…and yet so many, if that makes sense. While I stop to think of specific memories about Jeff, I have trouble coming up with much at all. But then something happens and a memory will hit me like a ton of bricks.
One such occurrence was as I was putting the dishes away the other evening. I grabbed a paper towel that I had bread sitting upon and I suddenly recalled that it was Jeff that taught me how to fold up a paper napkin and not spill all the crumbs (corners in first). Of all the things to remember, that’s one specific lesson I remember.
Christmas…oh my. As we prepare the house for Christmas decorations, many memories flood on in. He and Debbie love Christmas so very, very much. Even when I visited in September, there was a Christmas tree in Debbie’s dressing room. It’ll be hard to have Christmas without Jeff coming to mind. And I know that Jeff wants us all to enjoy Christmas…not to shed a tear for losing him, but cast a smile on the beauty of the season…and the beauty his life left behind.
I remember the Boy Scout Indian Hand signals we used to use as kids. Our plan was to get up on early, and I mean EARLY, on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left behind. We’d not talk, but walk stealthily through the darkness with flashlights while communicating with Indian hand signals learned from the Boy Scout handbook. Of course, upon first sight of the Christmas tree and decorations, we forgot all hand signals and made a bigger racket than we did the year before.
We had a couple Christmas that I’ll keep to myself. It was very juvenile and sophomoric…but it was ours. I know Jeff is smiling when I mention it.
The golf ball. What a wonderful tradition that was. Exchanged over several years, we would alternately give this old Elmer Fike golf ball to one another for the holidays. Until my last attempt pretty much destroyed the ball, we would both look forward to either receiving the ball, or the delight in watching the other receive. It was a tradition followed by many…and enjoyed so much by the two of us.
The two of us. We were seven years apart. When I enjoyed Bugs Bunny, he was into American Bandstand. When I started watching Dick Clark, he was back to watching cartoons. He entered WVU as I was still in elementary school. Eventually I also attended WVU…and a very large reason I did so was because of witnessing Jeff’s experiences in college. It wasn’t the partying…and there was some. It was just the whole experience and how I witnessed my brother grow up from a geeky acne-faced teen to a responsible young man. Whether he knew it or not, watching that was as much of a mentorship as I ever had.
He so loved that college. One of the highlights of his last couple months was attending a game and having his cousin, Coach Dunlap, take him on a tour of the locker room and inner sanctum of the team. I’d never heard him talk in such a giddy way than he did about that day.
I take that back. There was another time, at WVU that he was more excited and full of life. That’s when he met and fell in love with Debbie. He could never have asked for a better partner than Debbie. The love they share is incredible. And once again, showing his love and devotion became another standard I hoped to follow.
Like I said, we were 7 years apart, so we were never really “close” close. We were brothers, but not the call-every-day type. It’s just how we were wired. Or maybe it’s perhaps how I’m wired. Regardless, we still were brothers. And when he lost his job in Florida several years ago and lived with me in NC for a short while, that’s the first time we really shared our brotherhood. We shared secrets of growing up…stories of our experiences. While that was a tough time for Jeff and Debbie, it was a very special time for me.
Recently, Jeff and I shared the hobby of geocaching. I’m not sure why, but that hobby brought us closer than I ever recall. We actually started to become a pair of brothers that would call one another often…just to share stories of the hobby and, of course, toss in a few tidbits about life as well. The last photo I ever had taken with Jeff was when we went geocaching together in September. That’s most definitely my favorite photo of us, ever.
He was with me when I got my first birdie in golf, and he was the obvious choice for Best Man in my wedding. But I guess the greatest legacy I have of my brother is his shared birthday with my kids. How ironic that they were both born on his 47th birthday. They’re a product of my love for my wife Kim…and yet a reminder, even once a year, for the love I have for my big brother.
One final memory I'd like to share, although I apologize for the dark humor.  When we were kids, we played cops and robbers or some variation of the game.  Whoever played the robber would ultimately get shot and play out a death scene.  Every time, the robber would mutter, "The treasure....the treasure is...the treasure is hidden in the....." and then die.  My father told me that on Jeff's real death bed, that my brother muttered something illegible three times before taking his last breath.  Most likely he told Debbie that he loved her, but a part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, he was playing that game one last time.  That was his sense of humor.  And I think he's safe with his treasure.
I do love you Jeffrey…and I’ll miss you. God bless you.


  1. Al, you do your brother's memory proud. I only hope someone remembers me like that some day.

  2. Memories are a wonderful thing....

  3. Sorry I'm a day late reading this but this is a beautiful tribute and your heart is evident. Jeff's always with you, though maybe not in the way you'd prefer. I'm sorry. God bless you too.

  4. Carolyn...I have no doubt that you'll be remembered even more fondly one day by many. :) Shannon...yes, memories can be wonderful, and the lessons they teach to be hopeful for the future are even better. Carol...thank you, and there's no Thank you as always for reading and sharing!

  5. Al, this is beautiful. What great memories! I imagine it was difficult to write, but the emotion and love that you have for your brother is evident. I think you should continue to think he mumbled "the treasure..." while he was passing. I think it should be your sign that he is at peace.

    You're doing a great job, Al. Be proud.

  6. Chelsea, thanks for the kind words. Oddly, it was petty easy to write because it just brought him a little closer while composing the thoughts. :) I think he was actually guiding my fingers...which explains my constant typos (he WOULD play that trick on me).