I have been ambivalent about writing something so private in any kind of public way. My brother Sam’s death on June 13th and the depth of my grief are as raw, wrenching and private as anything I could write about. And yet my brother loved my writing and my willingness to express myself in these ways, and to not include losing Sam amongst the things that move me to the page seems also not quite right.
And I have not been able to write anything since he died, other than his obituary and his eulogy for his funerals on June 14th 2012 and June 18th. Yes, there were two.. one on the east coast, one on the west. And even two funerals and one burial were not nearly enough for me to express my love, my heartbreak, or to honor him in all of the ways I wished I could. During those events, there was so much love and so much connection that even amidst the pain, life was very much in attendance. Two services, standing room only.. the party afterwards with an open-mic tribute L.A. style.. We were awash in love, grief, and the shock of how fast it all went down.
And the kids..As Sam lay dying in the hospital my children and my niece and nephew never flinched, never wanted to be anywhere but by his side.. soothing him, ministering to him, praying over him. I was possibly never more proud of my sons, Luke and Nicky.. only 19 and 17, as they also stood and spoke of their love for their Uncle at the California funeral. Both my kids are musicians, and Luke wrote a song that he spoke. Nicky’s words about Sam as a sometimes unlikely role model with his comic’s sense of humor and outspokenness, being actually the best role model because of how loving he was and how devoted to his nephews and niece he was. My niece Amanda and nephew Austin also eulogized Sam and the four of them.. 3 teens and one 20 year old were so poised, so eloquent, so pure in their love for an Uncle that had shaped their lives so powerfully. Sam told me shortly before he died that one of the things he was most proud of were the relationships he had with the four of them.
Sam was born 10 years younger than I was and in certain ways he felt like my first child. I was at an age where I was able and passionate about caring for a new baby.. especially because we had just moved in the middle of that school year and I was adrift as the new kid.
My mother used to jokingly say that it was my “fault” that Sam grew up to be a comic (and a screenwriter eventually) because as the older sister I laughed at everything he did and used him often for my own amusement.
Over the years the men in my life knew very well that Sam had a certain priority for me.. I dropped everything to take his calls, and there was only one person ever who could make me laugh like that. Ever. When Sam phoned me at 5 in the morning back in February, I was sure he was calling to give me bad news about our 77 year old mother (who is healthy and amazing). I was panicked.. and he said “No Lisa, it’s about me. “. I was so numb when he told me that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that it wasn’t until I went downstairs that I began to choke and sob. One of the many things that went through my mind that day was “Who will ever make me laugh like that again?”
My life between February and June 13th became all about “saving” Sam. About waiting for emails back from him, craving every minute of phone time I could get with him, I literally could not get enough of him.. but to be honest that was how I had always felt. When he moved permanently to Los Angeles many years ago it was a huge loss for me. I wanted him nearby.. wanted him for myself, for my kids, wanted him in my life in a bigger way. It was never enough. We dreamed of a time when I would possibly move west and we would have that again. For four months I began and ended every day thinking of my brother. Passing on every bit of inspiration, spiritual teachings, sisterly love.. whatever..I was desperate.
Sam was only 44 when he was diagnosed. And had a brand new baby Leo, 8 weeks old. And another beautiful son Max, only 2. And a gorgeous wife Ilona only 35.. married less than 4 years. Sam loved his little family.. it was everything he had ever wanted.. ever.. It was perfect. They were beautiful. They had this very glamorous very Old Hollywood wedding 4 years ago.. and the photos are in black and white. So beautiful. And one of Sam’s best friends said to me, “When those boys see those photos of their Dad as they grow up, they’re going to think he was like a movie star”. It’s true.
My sister in law and I during my visits out to California used to talk late into the night when the babies and Sam were sleeping. We mused on how we felt like we were now living in a different “dimension”. Everything was clear.. the little things, the petty things.. all went away. The lessons of life and living heart-open became crystal clear and essential. We said over and over again what a beautiful dimension it was.. in spite of the horror of what was happening. What was happening was nothing good. The cancer in the pancreas took over 90% of Sam’s liver in less than 5 weeks… chemo and all. It was ugly, brutal.. and it was when I understood for sure and without rancor that life wasn’t fair and it was never about fair.
Something else happened that was shocking during this time, and I have to mention it because it’s such an integral part of Sam’s life story and now death. Sam’s best friend, lifelong forever friend, since they were 3, was Mark Lane who lived on our street and was like another little brother to me. He grew up to be a big movie-star-handsome multimillionaire with a great wife and 4 little boys.
He and Sam were the quintessential Mutt and Jeff and they adored each other. Mark flew out right after Sam’s diagnosis during his surgery.. wrote checks for extra childcare.. anything for Sam. And then left to go back to New York. A couple of weeks later while taking his family on vacation to the Turks, while snorkeling with his youngest.. Mark was hit and killed by a motorboat that was out of bounds. Sam couldn’t go to the funeral and was beyond shattered. We all somehow knew that they were going out together.. That they had probably had lifetime after lifetime together. It felt not only tragic, but epic.
I’ve been blessed to have had many beautiful and wise spiritual teachers. But my brother Sam taught me the real essentials.. about love, forgiveness, tolerance, family and how to laugh so hard and long that everything changes in an instant. Sam and I took any residual pain from our childhood and made joke after joke about it.. we had our routines honed, and they always always made us laugh. Those things die with my brother.. nobody else knows those jokes.
There was a little Divine Order at play when Sam decided to finally come home to Boston to see Mom and me and my kids.. and to see a healer that I loved and trusted who had healed some pancreatic cancer patients. Because of that I had some amazing private time with my brother..which was hard to get even during normal visits. We talked a lot. We cried. I dug my fists into his kidneys and did energy work on him for hours until he could sleep when he was in so much pain the night before he went into the hospital.. not knowing he was in organ failure. We told the truth to each other.. always. I thank God for those days and that week.. more than I can ever say.
Then things got very bad.. hospital.. palliative care only.. and dying.. We gathered. My brother Adam and his kids flew in. We stayed with him and loved him. I would have done anything for him.. anything. Before he went truly down under with the pain medication and into the real dying.. he told me he loved me and thanked me for taking care of him. Every night leaving the hospital I played my I-tunes and sobbed in my car in the hour it took to get home. Losing Sam was unimaginable as much as it was obviously underway. Even though my Dad died when I was 23, after a very protracted illness. I have to say this was worse. Sam and I had 45 years together and I trusted and loved him like no other. Maybe the saddest most poignant moment in those last days was when my brother Adam and I were alone with our little brother, who was no longer conscious. Just the three of us. Knowing soon there would only be two of us. We told him how brave he’d been, how much we knew he’d fought.. that we would look after everyone and that he was free to leave his war-torn body and go find Mark and Daddy and all his stray dogs and fly beyond. It was the last time we saw him.
That Wednesday morning I woke up early.. and heard Sam’s voice in my head telling me he had to go.. that he needed to go.. and I said I know.. It was a moment and I felt like I was just making it up in my head. Five minutes later my mom called to tell me Sam had died. I definitely believe he found a way to say goodbye.
As I write this, it’s been about 6 weeks. I don’t feel better. I still cry every day but I try to cordon it off to once a day. Part of me is still in shock I think. It’s just too big to digest completely. My husband Andy is the kindest person I know and I thank God for him. My sons, my mother, my friends. My sister in law is the one I turn to when I miss him the most. I definitely got a sister amidst all of this and I am so grateful for her. And for the other angels that were with us in those last days.. who will be forever etched on my heart as we all moved through those sacred moments together.
As always when I am troubled, I look to sacred teachings and teachers, to time outside in nature, to my small circle of those I love. I am deep in the cycle of death and hopefully rebirth. None of us goes untouched in this life. We all experience great pain, losses, tragedies. In our humanity and in our shared experiences, we come together, and that has moved me deeply. The kindness of other people some of whom I barely know has at times taken my breath away. It goes without saying that I will miss my beloved brother forever. He was my heart and I loved him so.