Tom O’Dea, my older brother

Tom was around thirteen when I was born. Apparently, he was a good student because the nuns at the Catholic school he and his four siblings attended assured my mother that Tom could miss school any day she needed him at home to help his mother with her newborn and her two-year-old toddler.  Since then, our lives have crossed at many of the major intersections of life.

After I had completed my sophomore and junior year at University of London, I was expected to find a stateside university to transfer to, as my parents had acquiesced to my two-year study abroad as long as I ultimately graduated from a stateside university. I returned from London during the summer after my sophomore year to attend to this, and was sent, by my parents, to Tom’s house outside Philadelphia. Tom had been asked by our parents to take me to both Catholic University and Georgetown, his alma mater, for a look round. I had no intention of attending either, and I told Tom as much over dinner at a pricey restaurant in Georgetown the evening of our look round. I imagine now he thought me an awful pest who had caused him considerable time and trouble away from his practice, he is a surgeon, and family, he had a wife and four children, to do what his parents asked of him for his spoiled little sister.  However, all I remember is my older brother patiently listening to my big ideas about life as I ate my delicious dinner on his dime.

In the spring of my junior year in London, 1974, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, and it was Tom who was given the job of writing the letter to me to inform me of my father’s prognosis.  I recall his letter as clear and to the point, yet compassionate and loving towards me. 

Our father passed away from cancer in September of that year, so when I married in 1976, Tom walked me down the aisle.  When I faced my first Christmas alone, as my husband was in the USN and deployed for six months to the Persian Gulf, my mother suggested I spend the holiday with Tom and his family. They had lost their youngest child the spring of that year, and my mother felt her two children who were deeply missing a loved one that Christmas would be good for each other. I am not sure I was any help, but somehow we got through that together. When my oldest son began the harrowing process of his divorce, Tom was right there with prudent advice for me, having gone through his own divorce years previously.

Sometime months will go by without our having contact. Yet, I can call Tom about one thing or another, and it is as if he has been right there sitting next to me all that time.  So, I emailed him about two weeks ago about the appointment I had had with my gastroenterologist regarding a blockage in my colon. A colonoscopy was scheduled for three weeks later to determine the cause, be it polyps or cancer. I was terrified. Once again, Tom was right there for me, assuring me he would have a very active role in my choosing both a surgeon and a hospital for the surgery should the colonoscopy show this as required.  In those dreadful days before my colonoscopy, I found myself wondering about my father’s story with his colon cancer, as I was overseas for all of that. Tom took me through my father’s experience step by step, an account which only he could give me. When I emailed Tom with questions about my situation that revealed to him I was crossing that border into what-if land too much, he told me as much, as only my trusted older brother could.

I do not have colon cancer. However, I do have Tom O’Dea, an older brother on whom I can call, anytime, knowing he will always tell me the truth underlined with love.

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