I was a sister. And David was 37 years old when he died.
I am not at a point in my processing to look for God's plan in my sweet brother's death. I don't think I ever will be. His life was extraordinary--he quietly battled every day to find a place in a world that would not always understand him or accept him. The world underestimated my brother. It discounted his contribution and his value. I did, too, so many times.
I am sad that he isn't here for me to celebrate the invaluableness of being David Carrington.
There are no birthday gifts that can be purchased for the dead. They can't take it with them--they can't stop back and unwrap it--there is nothing they need. There are only the gifts they left behind for us.
I never shared my brother's eulogy. It was hard to write and hard to deliver--but today, I needed to read it and I need you to read it. David left behind so many gifts.
Happy Birthday, baby brother.
During rounds at Jefferson Hospital, I made it a point to be there and to install myself in every discussion of David’s status. I am absolutely not a doctor and I have no formal medical training—but I am quite well versed in the hospital life and write about cancer research—so I can decipher and ask and pretend like I have a medical degree. As the team reviewed his neurological status, his lab work and blood gases and his medication, they’d always stop at one point while calculating the doses of drugs to ask—
How tall is David?
I’d respond—he’s 6’3”. To which they all murmured, “really?” “he can’t be!” “He does not look 6’ 3”
Then they'd debate amongst themselves if it was possible-I’d point out the bed extender—added to give his hospital bed length, so his feet would not hang out and even with that obvious evidence, the medical team—used to having concrete proof of things would not believe me.
David was measured 4 times while in the hospital with a measuring tape. And even then, they seemed to question how he could be just so tall.
People were always underestimating my brother.
Whether it was his height or his cognition or his ability to feel joy or his very value as a human being, David was underestimated nearly every single day of his life by all of us.
In the summer, after we celebrated his birthday, July 9 and then my birthday July 24, we’d always take our annual trip to Wildwood Crest. We rented the same half of a Victorian house each year. For my 7th birthday, I received the most marvelous present—a seahorse My Little Pony. I coveted this amazing peach colored seahorse with aqua hair and a matching aqua inner tube. Her name was Seawinkle and she was amazing. No one, especially my little brother was allowed to touch her. The entire two weeks in Wildwood, I brought her everywhere. We swam together, we walked the boards together, I even brought her on the little kiddie coaster that I was finally tall enough to ride.
David tried to play with her constantly. We fought. My Dad yelled. My mother would have just handed her to David to force me to share, but no one was prying her out of my hands.
Until the very last day at the beach. I was gathering my stuff around the house and left Seawinkle alone for just a minute and then she disappeared.
I immediately knew who took her. I screamed. I accused. I told my parents it was David. They punished me and I screamed more.
The whole time, my little brother, sat smiling. He was 4 years old. He could not speak; but he certainly could smile at his big sister’s distress. My parents looked everywhere. I was forced to dig through the trash. David kept sitting and smiling. He was sitting right on his suitcase, with the most sinister smile on his face. My parents still would not believe me—clearly my special needs angelic little brother would not be capable of diabolically stealing my beloved toy.
And then my Dad gave up, said I’d get over it and told David to stand up so he could pack his bag. My dad opened it up and inside was Seawinkle.
Right where my brother had put her.
My parents underestimated just how good David was at being a little brother. He really perfected it to an art form.
I once created “Tricia’s Backseat Rules,” which I’d whip out for every car trip over 10 minutes. I’d review them—David could not read. David broke every single rule without my parents knowing. He’d cross over into my car territory, he’d touch my stuff, he’d even touch me—which was expressly forbidden. And he’d do it looking me directly in the eye with that smile of his.
When I would tell others about how annoying my brother was—there’d always be one person who would tell me how cruel I was to think my special needs brother was bratty or irritating. The guilt piled on by outside perceptions was frequent—but really, those caring individuals were just underestimating David’s ability to be the best little stinker and give me a run for my money.
I probably deserved all of it. And David was the best at driving me nuts and the best at loving me as a little brother should.
That’s my little brother, who grew up to be 6’3” tall and died at 37.
I never prepared myself for this day—I never thought I had to do this—eulogize him at church. I always assumed my healthy, tall, vital brother would be the last one to go and my children or my grandchildren would have the responsibility of planning a service for him. David was always so healthy and strong and alive. But, I suppose, the small blessing, is that I can be the one to offer words about his life. David knew me better and more deeply than just about anyone here—while he was the one with the OCD that required items in a room to be arranged just-so, I am the one with the control issues that cannot stand the wrong thing to be said. We shared that—the Carrington Stubbornness combined with bizarre illogical control issues.
I hate talking about him in past tense.
Today is really hard. All the days have been hard since we got the call that David had choked and went into cardiac arrest. That day that my brother’s eyes stopped opening.
But here we are. While, David was my baby brother who terrorized me. He was also the baby brother who comforted me when no one else possibly could.
As I mentioned, David was non-verbal. He could not speak. He could say Ma and Da and he could laugh—his laugh was loud and joyous and goofy and just perfect. He could make sounds to get your attention. But, I never once heard him say my name. There were some Ta or Tr or T-like sounds, but never Tricia or Trish or Tish or Pat (which, if he could have spoken, would be his name of choice, because It would have driven me crazy).
I really have no idea what his voice would have sounded like if he was able to say words.
But, David knew how to speak without words. It is tough to explain—unless you knew him. David was a listener. He listened. He observed. He watched. Once, when I was about 11 or 12, I had a huge argument with my parents. I don’t remember what it was about, but I do remember stomping and screaming and shouting and being sent to my room in tears and rage.
I slammed my door and there was a knock. I opened it, ready to yell at my parents some more and there was David, with a tissue.
Even then, I was surprised. I underestimated him.
David always knew exactly how to meet people where they were. He moved through life this way—offering tissues, offering handshakes, offering hugs. He was the good samaritan in an emotional crisis. David did not take sides. He did not care of the details of the argument. He was just ready to quietly knock and offer a tissue to his crying sister, who felt so misunderstood.
The number of times my brother knocked on my door in our lives togehter is impossible to count. He was always there with a tissue, a smile and then, happy to listen to my rage and complaining about my parents or my friends or my boyfriend. He’d hit at the air in agreement with my anger. He’d laugh in therapeutic mockery of the one who wronged me.
He’d bend down and offer his big sister a kiss on the head and remind her that she would never be without his love.
That’s my little brother, who I underestimated. Who grew up to 6’3” and to be the man without words, but with all the love.
One of our favorite games as a kid Uncle Davey game. The game as simple, it usually took place on Sunday afternoon, for about 3 hours. I’d grab my cabbage patch kid, Daisy Julianna and chase David around the house for hour shouting “Come here Uncle Davey! Play with me Uncle Davey!” David would laugh and hide and I’d hide and pop out with his pretend niece.
There were no strangers to David. If he encountered someone he had not met before, he’d pat them on the arm and then offer them his hand for a handshake. Every where we’d go, someone would know David—at the diner for his birthday lunch in July—the waitress knew him by name. We went out to dinner in August, and David sought out a man dining alone—he offered him a handshake and a smile.
David sought out people—he sought them out to listen to them and to show them his world. David could not speak, but he’d take you by the hand and show you things—he’d show you the things that gave him joy—music and food and laughter.
And no matter how many times people rejected him—believe me, many of us are uncomfortable with a 6’3” developmentally disabled man we’ve never met trying to pull us around a store—David did not stop. David never gave up sharing the love. He was rejected so much in his life—but David never learned that sad lesson of being the one doing the rejecting. David forgave instantly. David loved freely.
In the days since he’s died, so many people have sought us out to tell us how much they’d miss his hugs and his smile and his laugh. David made the world joyous and beautiful just because he loved people so much.
My little brother grew up to be a man that loved in the way Jesus taught us.
At my wedding, David was a groomsman. I did not know how it would go exactly. And I had no expectations he’d really do anything except be there. Mike and I both knew we’d never get married without David standing by our side. And in the all years Mike and I dated, David was as much Mike’s brother as he was my own.
At wedding receptions, the dancing sometimes gets started slowly. Everyone needs a couple cocktails to get out on the floor. But, David, well, he was not into the slow start. The entire night, David pulled each and every guest onto the floor. There was no one excluded or left behind. He made our reception the best party ever. When I was looking through photos, I tried to find out of him dancing—but they were all blurry, because he was busy—busy living life with joy.
After our father died, we decided that David needed to leave home and move to a group home. We prayed for a place that David would be safe. I prayed for a fast placement—my mom was struggling, David was struggling, I was struggling and David needed to be well taken care of and safe. Within a couple months, David was placed at Galloway in Bensalem. I know my mom struggled with the thought of sending David away—but the moment David meant Anthony and the entire staff—David never looked back. David found himself a grown-up home. A place where he could live a life separate from us. He worked at BARC workshop. He went out to dinner and shopping and to the beach and lived this beautiful grown-up life without us.
David had a good life.
At the end, when David developed pneumonia and there was nothing more the doctors could do to help him breathe, we made the decision to move to comfort care and to donate his organs and tissue. David’s body was failing. His oxygen was in 60s and 70s. His blood pressure was lower than I knew possible. He developing a neurological fever that topped 106.5. His heart could have simply stopped at any moment. Leaving him dead. And leaving him ineligible to donate his organs.
We prayed. We prayed so hard for a miracle to heal David on earth and bring him back to us. But, in those last hours of his life, our prayers became something different—our prayers became the prayers that David’s death would result in life. That his body’s suffering would be the miracle that other families were praying for.
And on Saturday afternoon, time was short. Preparations had to be made. His doctors pulled out all the stops to keep him alive and lower his temperature, raise his oxygen and his blood pressure. The Gift of Life made arrangements for a surgical team. David’s vital signs kept worsening. I whispered—okay I yelled because no one in my family knows how to whisper—in his ear to just hang on—I told David he could go, but we needed him to wait—to just wait a little—because people needed him. Every time, I’d nag my brother to live just a little bit more, he’d rally. His vital signs would improve and my strong, tall brother hung on.
Within a couple hours, we all met in the operating room. David’s nurses knew about his love of Sinatra—so Fly me to the Moon was playing. We removed all the things keeping David alive and said goodbye, as our hearts broke.
That was my little brother—the man who would die a hero—donating his kidneys, heart valves, corneas and lungs and giving his joy go freely to people he never met—because David never knew a stranger.
As much as I feel myself filled with grief and sorrow—and it feels so right to rest in the grief—today and everyday need to be a celebration of my, of our David. The man, the son, the friend, the uncle and the brother who loved music, who loved to dance, who grabbed everyone by the wrist, pulled them out of their comfort zone and invited them to dance, who celebrated the Sabbath with joy that rocked his whole body and conducted choirs without asking for permission, who laughed at every joke with an open mouth and a joyous twinkle in his bright blue eyes, who greeted friends and strangers with handshakes and bear hugs, who brought tissues and empathy to the broken, who hosted dance parties for his nieces and nephew, who ate every meal as if it was his last, who was born to be the beloved uncle Davey, who held onto his earthly body even as it failed to give five other families a miracle on this earth, who was underestimated until his dying breath, but now lives forever with Christ and will forever live in the music and the laughter and the dance in our lives, until we meet again. Today, we celebrate this great man and vow to celebrate him every time we are tempted to ignore a stranger and everyday it seems easier to offer a rebuff instead of a tissue to the broken.
David loved music. He loved Gospel choirs, Frank Sinatra and Andre Rieu and Yanni and most of, Lawrence Welk. When we were growing up, Lawrence Welk came on at 7pm each Saturday night. Around 5pm, my brother would begin to get excited. He’d fill his cheeks with air and put his finger in his mouth to make a popping sound—the sound of Lawrence Welk’s champagne bubbles popping.
My mother and my father would be excited too. I’d look for a book to read and pray none of my neighborhood friends knocked on the door while this spectacle took place.
And watching Lawrence Welk in my house was a spectacle. My dad sat and cheered. My mother would occasionally stand and sway or do a little polka. I hid in horror (the house was not very big and even in my bedroom, I could hear the polka and the Lennon Sisters through the vent). David stood right in front of the TV and conducted the entire show. He loved the show opening, the songs and acts in between and even the last song—the goodbye song played each show. We agreed on the goodbye song—I loved it, too, but because it meant, that finally, I could have the TV back and the spectacle of Lawrence Welk would end.
I will not sign the song for you, because while God gifted my brother with musical ability, God gifted me with words only. I cannot think of better words to use to say goodbye, to my sweet, beautiful, brave, brother who was so much better than me. David is a hero and may God help us all to remember that as the days go on and may God bless us all with the same heroism when the time comes.
In the words of David’s beloved Lawrence Welk:
Good night, good night until we meet again
Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen 'til then
And though it's always sweet sorrow to part
You know you'll always remain in my heart
Good night, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you
Here's a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true
And now 'til we meet again
Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen
Good night, sleep tight and pleasant dreams to you
Here's a wish and a prayer that every dream comes true
And now 'til we meet again
Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen
Good night baby brother.