A Message from my Brother

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

I’m a twin, in case you did not know. My sister Marge is married with two grown daughters and lives with her husband Mike in New Jersey. So hold that thought for a minute.

Last weekend, I visited my girlfriends for our semi-annual tradition of coming together for friendship and fun and just being together. We went to Mineral Point, Wisconsin, a very small town about an hour west of Madison. It was so small we drove right through it without realizing that we should’ve made a turn in order to find this small arts community we were looking to visit. There were some interesting galleries, one of which was holding an exhibit of quilts from the AIDS Names Project. You might remember it.

I was immediately struck by them. Twelve feet square assemblages of six quilts handmade by the friends and family of those who died of HIV-AIDS. The gallery held some quilts of people from the local area. The whole Names Project holds 48,000 quilts and is the largest community folk arts project in the world.  It was on display on the Washington Mall beginning in 1987. My brother Paul’s quilt is among them and today is the 30th anniversary of his death. So when I saw the exhibit, I felt that he was reaching out to me.

I found a photo of his quilt on the Names Project Foundation’s website.

Now about my sister Marge. Unbeknownst to me, she found Paul’s quilt and ordered a framed photo of it from the Names Project. It arrived on Monday. She remembers going to Washington to see his quilt and signing the back of it. I think Paul was sending a message to her as well. The twins were channeling his spirit. Maybe it took two of us.

The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, on exhibition at the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Today, so many memories are with me of Paul, how funny and playful he was.  Of my family, who was so supportive in the face of a society who, at the time, was openly hostile and hateful toward gay people. And even more despicable toward those who suffered from the disease to the point of funeral homes refusing to bury the dead. Really. Refused to bury them. For many, a distant memory now.

Today, I know a kind of breaking through, a connection across the veil, that is as real as a pinprick on my skin. Paul poked through and let us know that he is here. His smile, his inventiveness with electronics, his hopes of having his own business, his place in our family. I think he just wanted to let us know that all is well, he’s fine and happy and feeling loved.

As you might recall those you have lost, those who you remember as precious, know that there is only a thin veil that separates you. I hope you feel the pinprick, the way they sometimes poke through to us, just to say we are loved.

Posted in News, Weekly Word

23 responses to “A Message from my Brother

  1. Thanks Anne, what a lovely remembrance and tribute to your brother. It is very difficult to love a sibling. At this point I still have a my siblings but I know that it would hard to lose one of them. They all in their own way means so much to me.

  2. Sister Anne,
    Your memories sparked my connection of love and loss of my own dear brother Kevin who died of AIDS in 1983. Our family was lucky enough to have him in our home the last year and a half of his life.

    I never made a quilt but saw the quilts displayed in D.C. with other women who had brothers, friends, and children who were taken by the disease. Each quilt was a tribute to the joy, pain, and connection to the loss of loved ones. So moving…. such a gift of expression of what had mattered…that their loved ones had lived and each quilt was made with the hope that someday medicine would find a cure so others lives would not be lost so tragically.
    Thank you for sharing….I appreciate your post about the love you had for your brother.


  3. Thank you it brought back memories oof hospice Stoney’s in the early days when AIDS was not only a death sentence but often so much more ministers refusing to preach funerals or funeral homes refusing to prepare their bodies. The quilt reference reminds me of a beautiful patient we helped make his own square. June Engelbrecht

  4. Thanks for all your sharing Anne. You are one truly gifted woman. Your reflections brought many memories
    Honora, OP

  5. Thank you, Anne for the beautiful memory. I’m finding it very comforting. I’m also awaiting a pinprick.

  6. Thank You Sr. Anne,
    Being from a large family, oldest of 11 siblings. I have become painfully aware that all siblings and parents have different grieving styles that don’t always bring families closer that can actually alienate instead of support at a time of painful neediness. Being a Dominican Of Peace Associate has brought me a lot of support and strength these past 7 yrs. experiencing the unconditional love from our Dominican family. Your words about the thin veil that barely separates us from our departed ones touched me deeply where wounds still remain. Such sensitivity.

  7. I feel that pain. SO many people were alienated from their families over this devastating disease. It took my dad some time, but eventually, he came around, and all of us surrounded Paul with love and support. He was blessed by that when so many others felt such hostility and rejection. I have felt blessed by my family’s way of loving our brother.

  8. Anne,
    We are separated by only veil from those who have passed on. Thank you for sharing your experience of Paul reaching across that veil to touch your heart and that of Marge.

  9. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your life, your experience, your love, and, mostly, your brother, Paul. I was involved in AIDS-HIV Ministry in those days. They were challenging time but also very life-giving and loving times in the midst of all the fear and hate. Some of us knew that the greater dis-ease was AFRAIDS, that is, Fear of AIDS.


  10. It’s so difficult to let go of our siblings, but as we journey on, they do have a way of letting us know they are with us on the way. Thank you for sharing these wonderful moments. I’ll await a pinprick in the days ahead!

  11. That amazing quilt had faded into the back of my memory. I don’t ever want to forget it, so thanks for telling us about it again — and about Paul.

  12. Thank you, Anne, what a beautiful reflection and memory of your brother. I do believe our loved ones touch us deeply at times and let us know “All is well.”

    Blessings on you and your beloved family living and deceased,

    1. What a touching and beautiful reflection, Anne! I recall that time 30 years ago when we were in ministry together. Your reflection brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for reminding us all of the “thin veil” between
      us and our beloved ones who have gone before us. Peace be with you and all your family!

      Pat Mood

  13. Thanks, Anne, what a beautiful memory. I have a great-nephew who recently told the family that he was gay. A wonderful young man who excels in music, dance and theater studying on a full scholarship in Chicago.

  14. Thank you Sr. Anne, I lost my best friend Tom, we were close friends from the day we met…and we eventually grew miles apart, and then one day when I was planning to visit in So. Cal I kept trying to call…eventually I called his job and thru the manager at his store I found out my friend had died just about 2 weeks before…i was devastated…i learned his mother who had previously had little to do with him flew out and basically emptied his apt and had him cremated…never telling anyone back in our small town in ohio anything…I love you my friend…we were the original Laverne and Shirley…

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