Did you know that sibling relationships are the likely longest you will share in your lifetime? Makes sense. Brothers and sisters are there for most of us from memory-start.
We don’t choose our siblings. God does. Which proffers strong argument that we should love them even more. Mom and Dad had five kids— three boys, two girls and each of us nary more than a year apart. Irish Twins! Born between 1959 and 1965, in age-old order, it is Kathleen, Michael, Brian (that’s me), Eileen and Christopher.
We don’t choose our siblings. God does. Which proffers strong argument that we should love them even more.
If you do the math, that puts me in the middle at 56 years old and my siblings give or take a year or two on either side—mature, yes; but not really old. Well, maybe a little! Despite some medical challenges and disability in recent years, I am generally healthy and active. But not all we Jensen sibs have been so fortunate.
We grew up together in a small 3-bed, 1-bath suburban box-of-house on Springfield Avenue in Pennsauken New Jersey. For those not regionally familiar, Pennsauken Township is a blue collar satellite of Philadelphia on the Jersey side of the Delaware River. Some say it’s an unremarkable locale in decades-slow economic decline. But as kids, who knew? It will always be home to me and many fond memories grace the tired streets.
Many fond memories grace the tired streets.
Me and my siblings went to the same schools and share all the familiar neighborhood characters and friends that go along with growing up one-and-done in the same house and town. It is where we played together; woke up Christmas mornings together; shared rooms, friends, meals, prayers, teachers, neighbors, vacations, birthdays, TV shows— everything really that a child lives and does, we shared.
No one is more familiar with every daily-life household nook and cranny of my childhood than my siblings. My parents (now deceased) loved no one more than they.
And then we grow up and life takes us on different paths. Off to college, relocations, marriage, children of our own; new generations to tend to as is the natural course.
For better and worse, I was always a freewheeler off doing my own thing and admittedly lousy at staying in touch. As the years passed, I would see my siblings and their families from time to time at outings and such, but it was pretty infrequent. I eventually ended up half-way across the country in central Texas far and away from everyone.
Sibling love is it’s own special bond that way.
Yet I always felt uniquely close to them no matter the circumstance, time or place. Sibling love is it’s own special bond that way, I think. It is as if our shared childhood is heart-locked. No matter where we roam, the blood that binds us is always there.
Our shared childhood is heart-locked. The blood that binds us is always there.
Always there— that’s what I keep thinking about now. In my minds eye, we are all still youthful same. And, no matter where I go or what I do, there is a built-in presumption that my siblings will always be there.
There is the illusion of permanence.
But not any more. We lost my younger sister Eileen three and half years ago. She was only 53. It hasn’t even been a year since my first cousin Jimmy passed away at age 57; that was a huge blow too. And now my big brother Mike has died, also at autumn-age 57. My dear God! I shout.
Michael Christian Jensen died on February 7, 2018 peacefully, beautifully at his home surrounded by family who loved him most.
Of course, we are devastated now about Mike’s illness and untimely death. He fought brain cancer valiantly; but in the end it took him fast. Michael Christian Jensen died on February 7, 2018 peacefully, beautifully at his home in Cherry Hill New Jersey, surrounded by scores of family who loved him most. Incidentally, Mike lived, worked and raised his own family only a few miles from where we grew up. He was loyal to his origins. Unlike me, he rarely strayed far from home.
Unlike me, Mike rarely strayed far from home.
And in the home he lived and loved, he died. Watching his wife and each of his children kiss Mike goodbye was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. The love in that house during Mike’s last hours was overwhelming. Heartbreaking, yes; but such a privilege to behold.
My surviving siblings were there too. Kathy the oldest and Chris the youngest and me—still in the middle, also prayed our last farewell. Together again, if only briefly, we sat there silent for precious minutes as Mike lay at final peace. There were no words. I just kept thinking, I can’t believe he is gone. He is my brother; just one year older. He was always there. Always.
I just kept thinking, I can’t believe he is gone. He was always there. Always.
Back in Time
I visited the cemetery last week where my parents and sister are buried. Then I drove to the Springfield Avenue house and took a walk around the old neighborhood. It was a bitter cold afternoon on a work and school day. No one was around. So I stood outside alone on the sidewalk for a brief freezing bit staring teary-eyed at the tired dwelling I once called home. The house is a tad unkept these days, but everything otherwise looked pretty much the same. Just a lot older. Smaller maybe too.
Me and Mike seized the lot. We tore it up!
Pondering who may live there now, I replayed 45 years or so earlier when me and Mike seized the lot, always playing football on the front lawn. We tore it up! I envisioned my Father, hammer in hand, building the shed still standing in the back yard. I remembered holding hands with Eileen as we scurried down the sidewalk and ran up the street to school. I saw in minds-eye my Mom sitting on the front stoop talking, laughing with neighbors…
I replayed the long-ago memories of parents, brother and sister now forever gone.
Scene after childhood scene came flooding back as I replayed the long-ago memories of parents, brother and sister now forever gone. It was surreal; it was sooo… sad. But it was strangely awesome too. Despite the frigid cold and melancholy, I knew in that moment– staring in trance at a house once called home– that there was no place on earth I would rather be! It was like going back in time.
There was no place on earth I would rather be. It was like going back in time.
More than ever I am grateful for the childhood I had there, for the parents who loved us, and for my siblings who lived it with me.
The tributes to my brother have been heartwarming. He truly left a legacy of love. He was married 31 years to love of his life, Joy Bianchini-Jensen. I was Best Man. The wedding was a blast as I recall!
The Bianchini clan is large and as close knit as any I have known. Ever surrounded by extended family, Mike’s many In-laws embraced him from the get go as if he were their very own. Mike and Joy raised five beautiful children, all college bound and now young prospering adults. Great kids, all of them.
The consistent theme is that Mike was a good, honest, gentle and giving man; hardworking provider; loyal and loving husband and dedicated father— it was all about family to him.
The world is richer because they lived and our hearts ache absence because they died.
If love is the measure, Michael Jensen was a great man indeed. The outpouring of condolences and accolades has truly been inspiring. In fact, my brother Mike, cousin Jimmy and sister Eileen were all good people; very good. So were my parents. The world is richer because they lived and our hearts ache absence because they died.
Family is Everything
Years ago Mike counseled me over a family flap and he was trying to negotiate peace. Unlike me, Mike was a quiet, gentle soul; he didn’t like controversy or conflict. But his conviction for family was unyielding. He implored me to resolve the issue, forgive and move on. But I stayed stubborn. Then he said simply, “Brian, some day you will realize that family is everything.” I never forgot those words. He was right of course and he lived that credo himself to the very last.
Then he said simply, “Brian, some day you will realize that family is everything.” I never forgot those words.
Mike’s wise missive— stated decades ago to his hot-headed brother— has since become our family mantra of sorts. The coin is inscribed on the frame of a picture of we Jensen clan, which Mike displayed proudly in his home— Family Is Everything. Yes it is.
Although it is a time of mourning, it enamored me to visit home and see my siblings and cousins and their families again. Lifelong friends from the neighborhood were there too— so many loved ones from treasured ages past.
The funeral is over now; the tears cried; the hugs embraced; the memories shared. Time again to go our separate ways. I flew back to Texas, finishing this-here blog post on the plane. It will probably be a long time before I return. Seems I only visit home for funerals lately.
Love them special always, even when far and away.
So it’s been a tough road of late for my family and loved ones and that’s difficult. Yes it is. But I celebrate my brother and my family today and the legacy of love we share.
And remember, we don’t choose our siblings, God does. So love them special always, even when far and away.
Family is Everything. Amen.