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Friday, November 8, 2013

Everything Dies Baby That's A Fact...

Well now, everything dies, baby, that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
Put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
And meet me tonight in atlantic city
- Bruce Springsteen

As soon as I saw my sister's face pop up on my cellphone, I knew my brother-in-law was gone.

It's so weird how you just... know.

After struggling with various health issues, my brother-in-law, Art passed away peacefully in his sleep next to his lover, his friend, his favorite person on this spinning blue planet. He and my sister, Toni shared 24 wonderful years together. He was the love of my sister's life. They brought out the best in each other.

They met later in life in the wake of their respective divorces. It's a good thing, too because if they had met in their 20s, they would never have been together. They were two opposite extremes. The newly born-again Toni would have run away from Art's younger, bad-boy self. Art had a somewhat checkered past, which is not to say he was criminal, just a little wild in his early years. Okay, more than a little. Believe me, he had some vivid stories from back then that would have scared the bejesus out of her.

But they met at the perfect time. The Universe crossed their paths at the ideal moment. The maturing process had smoothed their respective edges, bringing each closer to a middle ground. Their love story was meant to be. Living proof that good things DO come to those who wait.

In life, timing is everything.

Not formally educated beyond high school, Art was one of the most well-educated individuals I have ever known. He could weigh in intelligently about any subject with anyone. Unlike the rest of us Pelinos, he wasn't excessively chatty, but when he did speak, he spoke articulately and with great eloquence.

Much like my father, he was street-smart which made him a terrific reader of people. Art had the ability to assess someones personality, good or bad, and accept that person for who he was without judgement. That skill also made him an excellent gambler which he LOVED to do, successfully shooting craps and playing blackjack on cruise ships and local casinos.

When he fell seriously ill seven years ago, his mortality became tangible. Ever the pragmatist, Art knew he was living on borrowed time. He would always say how he had lived a rich, full life and this (the present) was gravy. He packed as much life as was possible in his final trips around the sun, booking multiple cruises per year, logging sunny days on the river on his best friend's boat, and spending as much time as possible with my sister.

My brother-in-law was a complicated man. He was not perfect by any stretch. No one is. He was flawed, and those flaws made him human. But in the end, he was a good man. He called my sister his savior. She brought him out of the darkness of his past transgressions into the light. Her effervescent nature filled him with indescribable joy. He felt blessed to be with her, surrounded by her energy. He adored her, and she him. He was a colorful man, and our family will miss his hues. 

The above chorus to Springsteen's Atlantic City has been running through my head the entire time I've struggled to write this post. I think it's the mater-of-fact, practical approach to life and death in the song that I associate with my sweet sister's husband. I can hear Art uttering these words as he scoops Toni up and takes her on another adventure knowing their time together is short. A"Fuck it. Let's go for it and live while we can" attitude.

He told Toni over and over again not to feel sorry for him and his inevitable end. Comforting her by saying his best years were with her, and perhaps giving her the biggest gift of all...the permission to live her life fully after he passed, without guilt or regret. 

I will always be grateful to Art for loving my sister implicitly and making her happier than she ever dreamed possible. He was the partner she always deserved. His heart may have given out, but he will always and forever remain in hers and ours.