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Monday, November 01, 2010

In Memory

Brent Howard Lee
September 6, 1954-October 30, 2010

My cousin, Brent, passed away on Saturday. He's the first of my generation to go. It was not unexpected. He's been ill and in hospice for quite a while now. I've been trying to decide what this death means to me -- how to mark the passing of someone who was part of my life, but not on a daily or even regular basis.

These are the words that come to mind. These are the pictures I've mined from my personal archives. This is a person I knew as a blood relative and shared a connection with, though we were not necessarily close. He was the oldest of the cousins on my mother's side. I was somewhat later, part of a gang of little girls when Brent was leaving Dodge City as an adult for a career in the navy, a life of travel and adventure.

Brent was my Aunt Gerry's son. Brent was my mother's nephew. Brent was husband to Fe. Brent was father to my cousins, Brian, Eric, Nicol and Chris.

Brent was to my sister what my cousins down the road were to me -- a regular playmate and guaranteed birthday cake assistance.

This is Brent holding my brother, Mike.

I was closer to the age of Brent's children than Brent himself. Brian and Eric used to knock on the door when they stayed over at their grandma's house and ask if I could come out to play. Being a country kid, that was a rare occurrence, to have company just drop by to hang out. I was accustomed to having to orchestrate play dates, with lots of calls between parents to figure out driving and drop off schedules.

Brent and his daughter, Nicol.

Brent and Fe with his youngest, Chris.

Me with Nicol and Chris ~ 1988

Me with Brian ~ 1988

We stayed at Brent's house in Wyoming once and went white water rafting and visited Yellowstone. I was helping Brent with dishes, and he explained to me about curing cast iron skillets and how to care for them. I was only 16 or so, and I don't know why it stuck, but when I began using cast iron only in my own kitchen a few years later, I always thought of Brent when I cleaned a skillet.

My sister reminded me of some wild games of SPOON around my mother's kitchen table. Brent was a dangerous one to play with. He was sneaky and could swipe that spoon from the table without anyone noticing.... for a while, at least. His son, Brian, was his most dangerous competition in that game of cards. 

Brent lived in Guam, Hawaii, and finally settled in Cody, Wyoming. He was always far away and we would see him occasionally when he came through town to visit his parents. More often than not, he'd just appear in the yard one day. I would not even realize he was in town. In the last 20 years, most of my conversations with Brent took place in the yard between our parents' houses.

When my mom was sick, it was Brent who talked freely and openly about death and encouraged us to think about the ways we might be holding on to mom and to say goodbye and let her pass on more peacefully. Brent was a seeker, and began publishing his books in the early 2000's. It was through his words that I got to know him better, that I began to understand more about who he was.

Brent was headed into Dodge City for a visit on the morning I was headed out -- moving away from home for the last time - still not sure if I was just moving on or running away. We had a brief chat in the yard just after the sun had risen. I don't remember what we said, but I remembered thinking I was more like Brent than I had probably ever realized. I won't claim to understand all the choices Brent made or the way he chose to live his life, but for that moment I understood why someone might chose not to live within the tight-knit confines of family love. I understood why moving away, and maybe even staying away, would be in the best interest of blood relationships.

Thanks to the internet, Brent and I corresponded more frequently in recent years. I bought all his books and he kindly signed them, acknowledging our shared love for putting our thoughts into words on paper. He sent me a file of one of his unpublished books a few months ago. I had it printed and bound for easier reading. I find myself picking it up now and then, reminding myself that there are all new mysteries in this world and ways of seeing things I may never know or understand. My cousin was a seeker, and I hope, in the end, he found a place full of peace. 

Words from his book, Gnostic Enlightenment:

"We are here to realize it is the decisions we make, not the abilities we posses, that mold us into what we are."

This I will add to my collection of Brent memories. I will think of this wisdom each time I wash a cast iron skillet, and probably more. And the next time the cousins are gathered in one space, I will make sure we play a game of SPOONS in Brent's honor. I'm sure he would appreciate us all laughing together once again.


Shala said...

I am sorry for your loss, even expected in the mind it is still unexpected in the heart.

Laura Million said...

This was nicely put, Tracy. I wish Aunt Gerry could read it too.

Gemmma Mills said...

I am so sorry to hear about Brent's passing. I will never understand why we have to lose the ones we love, often way too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with your entire family. I feel so lucky to know your family, they've always been so kind to me and my family. I met Brent several times when we were growing up and I will always remember his sense of humor. He made me laugh. Every Halloween I say a little prayer to your mother. She was such a strong, patient and loving woman and she loved being around her family and friends. I take comfort in knowing that when Brent left this world he had her to welcome him on the other side. My heart aches for Gerry, Barney and Leon. May God help you all thru this terrible time. If I can do anything, please don't hesitate to ask. Keep on writing Tracy, your words speak to all of us :)

Nancy said...

A nice tribute to your cousin, Tracy.

cheryl said...

A very nice tribute, Tracy.

And I love that quote from his writing.

LoryKC said...

So sorry for your loss but what a beautiful post, in his memory.