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Fri, Oct. 18

Graham: Snap of the fingers less powerful in real life

Much like the superheroes in “Avengers: Endgame”, I know exactly when everything changed, the moment that turned my world upside down. Except in my case it didn’t come with the snap of a Mad Titan’s fingers.

When I was growing up in San Diego, I was the second of four boys. From my first memories, Billy (aka William Emerson Graham) was always there. He was two years older, but it felt like he had so much more experience, because every situation I came across as a kid, he had been there, done that.

My mom tells stories where Billy would concoct a plan, then send me in to execute it, thus saving him from being the fall guy if things fell apart and trouble came.

Sometimes the plans were pretty wild, and occasionally destructive: Let’s dig a tunnel into the next-door neighbors’ yard to make it easier to fetch our baseballs, Wiffle balls and footballs when they go over the fence! Let’s toss dirt clods over the back fence into the neighbor’s pool! Let’s use Dad’s golf clubs to play hockey on the back patio! But it didn’t matter. If Billy suggested it, it was go time.

He was more than my older brother. He was my best friend, my leader, my counselor, my adviser. He set the example for my brothers and me. When we weren’t sure which way to turn, we looked to him for direction.

He also was my passport to a different world. Because he was my brother, I was able to hang out with his friends. This gave me a ringside seat to how older guys acted, the things they talked about. Who cared if I was always the youngest, something I was constantly reminded of? I could stand on the corner with these “cool” guys, and it was all because of Billy.

Then, when I was about 12, he became sick, and he ended up in the hospital. Apparently his appendix had burst and the infection spread. He was in the ICU for a while, so my younger brothers and I could not visit. But when he improved enough, they moved him to a regular room, and I could finally see him.

He must have been suffering and feeling weak, but that’s not how I saw him. He was my champion, still the leader I would follow anywhere. I was sure he would walk back into our house someday soon, so I acted like a normal 12-year-old and didn’t take things seriously. I remember joking around a lot. My last words to him as I walked out of his hospital room? “See ya, geek.”

But something changed; his condition worsened and he was moved back into the ICU. Then one morning my mother came into my room, woke me up and told me Billy had gone to be with the angels. She held me and we sobbed together before she moved on to tell my brothers.

I don’t remember much from the next few days, except for the feeling that this couldn’t be real. He couldn’t be dead. But then one day acceptance came, and the feeling of emptiness was deep. He was gone, and I felt totally unprepared for whatever was supposed to come next.

One thing about losing an older sibling: Your role changes. Instead of following, I was the leader. Instead of watching someone else be the example, it was up to me to set the pace. It was very uncomfortable; I remember bouncing between anger and confusion. Today, I probably would get some kind of counseling or therapy. But this was the mid-1970s, a different time, so I was kind of alone to find the new path.

I have never sat down with my younger brothers and talked about it, but I worry that I have not been a proper oldest brother. I don’t think I ever set much of an example, and I was too lost in myself at times to be a good leader. I will admit to thinking that Billy would have done a better job of preparing them for life, if only he was still with us.

So, there you have it, the moment when my life was thrown into chaos. And the question remains: If I could somehow go back in time and stop the snap of fate’s fingers, warn everyone about what was going to happen to Billy, thus preventing his death and the void it left in my life, would I?

After going through the possibilities -- imagining Billy and I going through all the stages of life, him leading and me happily serving as his sidekick, Robin to his Batman, taking on the world — I come up with the only possible answer: a definite no.

Without his death, I don’t think my family would have moved to Oklahoma a few months later, which means I would never meet my ex-wife, which means my children would not have been born (and obviously not my grandson). The impact goes in other directions, too -- my brothers and their families; my sister, who we adopted a couple of years after Billy’s death; so many lives forever altered by one loss.

But the hole remains, never to be completely healed.

No magic snap of the fingers in real life.

Doug Graham is Community Editor for The Daily Courier. He can be reached at

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