My Dearest Brother Dave,
It’s been 6 years last week that you left, departed this side, leaving your broken earthly vessel behind.
Six very long years. I thought the sun would never shine again, but somehow you arranged a gloriously sunny day to celebrate your funeral, and today as well. A fitting gift from a long-haul truck driver.
Since you can’t call me anymore as you crisscross the country in your big rig named The Black Pearl, I’ll just have to write to you and hope that the same airwaves that used to bring me your voice now transport my message to you.
You see, I finally found your father, or have at least narrowed the candidates and discovered your surname.
I remember how many years you searched, painfully and fruitlessly. DNA was the key, now that enough people have tested.
In 2004 when I finally found you, you explained how your mother had teased you with the names of at least three different men that were supposedly your father. How you tracked them down and arranged to visit. They were nice, understanding and sympathetic, but they weren’t your father.
I suspect that perhaps your mother didn’t know, considering the circumstances. We won’t revisit that, except to say it saddened me greatly to see you suffer so based on activities you had no part in. Worse yet, she left you an envelope hidden in a drawer with your name on it after her death in which you were positive you would find the answer. You ripped it open, but once again, no answer was forthcoming. A final disappointment. The first of two words that come to mind is heartless.
Our introductory phone call when I explained my understanding of who your father was – my father – which explained why you carry the Estes surname was one of the most emotional days of my life. You were finally found. A hole filled. The gap of almost 50 years gone.
You told me how you opened the envelope I had sent with the photos of “our” father, whom you already knew as a family member, but not as your father. I sent photos because I didn’t want you to think I was some crazy lady, or that my letter was some kind of scam.
You’d discover soon enough my own personal brand of crazy😊
Of course, at that time, I didn’t understand who in that family was actually your biological mother – and what that meant in terms of complex family dynamics. You’re so fortunate that, for the most part, your grandmother raised you, at least reducing your mother’s damage.
A few days after our first phone call, we met for the first time, talking for hours like we had known each other forever. Time and place simply disappeared and we floated on our own wave of giddy happiness. I still have that photo by my desk, with your arm around me. You watch over me every single day, right beside me.
You shared that I was your only living family member, except for your children, and how you had always longed for a sibling.
I knew in that moment what family meant to you, and that if needed, you would die for me. Literally.
I loved you instantly and completely.
I came to know you as a grizzled, hard-driving, long-haired tattooed trucker with a short temper for injustice – to animals or people. God help anyone that abused someone you loved, anyone in need, or an animal.
You told me you never said “the L word,” love. Tough as you were, love would make you vulnerable. Your wife of many years confirmed that to me. I just smiled. Love doesn’t need words.
As I said goodbye the second time, a few weeks later, you hugged me and whispered softly, almost inaudibly in my ear, “Love you, Sis.”
“What?,” I asked and you grumbled, “You heard me,” afraid that someone else would hear. I just smiled and hugged you again, tears running down both our faces. Except, yours were just allergies of course.
You told me every time we talked after that, because as a truck driver, we never really knew when our last conversation would be. Our last words spoken, always, from that day forth, were “love you.” I smiled through tears every time and I suspect you did too.
We had already missed so many years.
I still hear that Dave, and I know the next time I meet you, I’ll hear it again.
Damn, I miss you.
I knew before you died that we weren’t half-siblings after all. The original two paternity/siblingship tests we took suggested that, but they weren’t conclusive and needless to say, we certainly didn’t want to believe that message.
Our next clue was when I was eliminated as your liver donor candidate, although the medical team would not confirm why. However, the “new” autosomal DNA tests we took not long before you died proved it beyond any doubt.
I never had the heart to tell you.
It would have broken both of our hearts and we were already indelibly bonded as family. Nothing, no DNA test would ever change that.
Remember that half heart I gave you to protect you on your journeys? You took half of my real one with you when you left.
For the sake of honesty, I tiptoed around the siblingship subject, testing the water. The limited commentary you did make told me that perhaps you already suspected, but were strongly rejecting that possibility out of hand. End of subject.
The truth could wait until the afterlife.
However, I made a vow to you that you never knew about. One day I would identify your father. I would find that puzzle piece.
Now herein lies a great irony, the best irony of all. I have to tell you – you’re going to love this story. Hope you’re sitting down on a cloud.
Your grandmother raised you in the Catholic church and sent you to Catholic school. You left the church in high school, but those childhood teachings have a way of taking hold permanently.
During your last days in the hospital and then in hospice, you requested a priest to do a “Last Confession” and whatever rituals are completed in the Catholic religion to prepare for death.
The hospital called the local priest. Then, hospice called the local priest.
No response, at all.
Then, your wife called the local Catholic churches.
Still no response, at all.
Then I called.
When I saw you that day, I knew the end was very near.
Still no priest to do your Last Rites.
I’m sure you remember that Jim, my husband, a former Eucharistic minister in the Catholic church before he sinned by getting divorced and continued sinning by remarrying to a non-Catholic heard your last confession. He performed the anointing of oil, (my chapstick) and holy water, (bottled water from my purse,) both of which I blessed with my very own hands. HERESY!
Jim was horrified and was just certain I was going to be struck dead by lightning on the spot for my heretical actions, but I did what needed to be done. Just like you would have done for me. Whatever you and Jim did in that room together with the chapstick and Dasani holy water brought you great peace. That’s all that mattered.
And I survived to tell the story.
Love you Brother, and I surely hope you’re not stuck in purgatory because of my last minute battlefield fox-hole improvisations. 😉
Your wife was a Baptist, which might have been part of why the Priest never showed up, or even called. Clearly, there wasn’t going to be a Catholic funeral for any number of reasons, not the least of which was because you were cremated by that time.
Yes, I know, yet another “sin.”
Oh well, we just added it to the long list and St. Peter will have to blame us because you really didn’t get to vote, being dead and all.
You had volunteered at the Baptist church, refinishing the basketball floor and other odd jobs, so your wife invited the Baptist preacher to “preach your funeral.”
Being in the middle of the winter, we worried about the weather, with me arriving from out-of-state and many truckers that had known you for decades driving hard to get back in time. We scheduled your funeral for 4 on Friday to accommodate their schedules so they could arrive in time and didn’t have to sacrifice pay to attend.
I remember hearing those big rigs parked outside the funeral home, lined up, up and down the street, their running lights turned on, with their engines all running in a rumbling trucker-tribute to you.
I smiled then to think about how much you would have liked that. The neighbors must have been mortified.
The room at the funeral home was full, standing room only, overflowing into the lobby and outside when it was time for your funeral to begin. Your photos were on the table in the front, and everyone was seated and waiting.
But, there was no preacher.
Another 5 minutes passed. Then 7. Then 10.
The preacher didn’t answer his cell phone.
Everyone was shuffling and shifting restlessly.
The funeral home said they couldn’t help.
I looked at your wife, who was in no shape to do anything.
She looked at me and said, famously, “You have to do something.”
Were you there with us? Do you remember how I started your funeral?
I just walked up front, picked up the microphone and said:
“Hi, I’m Dave’s sister. I bet most of you never knew Dave had a sister. Well, he does.”
I told about how we met.
I told them how much I loved you.
And how much you loved me. Sorry, your secret is out!
I told them that your gruff and tough exterior disguised a soft soul afflicted with pain.
I told them how you rescued animals.
Not everyone knew the story of how you acquired Dio, your abused Rotty, literally rescuing him from the hands of his abusers. But, most everyone knew he rode with you for years. Dio had more miles than most cars. It does my heart good to know the two of you are riding together once again, across the rainbow bridge.
I remember how inconsolably devastated you were when he died as you were fighting your own battle. He went to wait for you and I know the reunion was one of sheer ecstasy.
I told them that I discovered you had taken that awful mountainous Idaho potato run so that you could see me because the drop-off terminal was about 10 miles from my house. Of course, you would never have admitted to that!
I was amused to discover that they thought your “sister,” who you stopped to see regularly, was code for a different kind of relationship. Perhaps because they teased you incessantly about loving your sister😊
That’s Ok, so did the manager at the hotel down the road where you would park your rig while we went to eat and came to the house to visit for awhile. I explained that you couldn’t get turned around on my dead-end road but he didn’t believe me. Remember the time we finally pulled out both of our IDs and showed him we were both named Estes? The shocked look on his face said it all.
Those were such good days and wonderful surprises when you’d call to say you were coming through.
I miss them so.
I still look in every black truck I see. I know better, but old habits and rituals of love die hard.
I told them how you announced you would sell your house and move up here to care for me when you thought I had cancer. Thankfully, I didn’t have cancer, but that proclamation meant the world to me. You’ll never know how much. Ok, well maybe you know now.
I told them how much you loved your children and how living long enough to walk your daughter down the aisle was your motivation to live for many months while you waited for the transplant that never arrived. I never told them that you didn’t get to.
I told them how much you didn’t want others to make the same mistakes you had – because love you as I do – you weren’t exactly perfect. None of us are.
So, that day, I became at once the comforter and the preacher. I gave you the ultimate loving send-off on that spectacular sunny winter’s day six years ago. Much like the beautiful day outside today. I always feel that these lovely sunny winter days that melt the snow on the roads are a gift from you.
“Preaching your funeral” was an honor, and one I could never have adequately prepared for. Maybe impromptu was better.
But there’s one thing I didn’t share with them.
That you really weren’t my biological brother. It didn’t matter. I don’t know how I could ever have loved you more.
In spite of thinking your surname really was Estes, biologically, it wasn’t.
Because you were on the “other side” by then, you already knew the truth. You also knew that it was out of love that I spared you that pain here on earth.
Before you passed over, you didn’t know that I had secretly sworn an oath to you as well, that one day I would unearth the truth.
Dave, that day is today.
And now, the ultimate irony. Karma at it’s very best.
You see, you never needed a priest. Despite all of our unsuccessful efforts.
Because you are one.
For years at Family Tree DNA, you’ve had matches to multiple Y DNA surnames.
Recently, two men tested whose surname was Priest, descended from John Anderson Priest born in 1798 in North Carolina.
They are your closest matches, but still, given the variety of surnames that you matched, I paid it little mind.
That is, until today.
Your autosomal DNA returned a match to a first cousin, whose surname just happens to be Priest. Looking at your matches in common, I saw several people with that surname. About 4 hours later, I had the relationships mostly unraveled!
So yes, indeed, you, my dear brother, are a Priest.
I can hear you laughing heartily.
Estes can be your middle name now.
David Estes Priest, with no comma. Our new private joke, even if you do have to enjoy it from afar.
I hope you can truly rest in priest, er, peace now. It’s solved. The last tie to bind you here is gone.
I’ll see you overhome.
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