Dancing in Life's Garden

by Nancy Heifferon • More.com Member { View Profile }

Last night I saw a side of my brother that I hadn’t seen before and never will again.
My brother Jeff died in June from a heart attack at the age of 57. In his recent years, he had taken up dancing. When he told me he had signed up for a country line dancing class at a local community college, I was surprised, to put it mildly.
My brother was a "loner." He never married and lived alone. He died alone too. After the postman raised concern that mail was piling up in his mailbox, the apartment manager found Jeff dead on his sofa. The coroner said he was sitting up, slumped gently to the side. He had been that way for days. A quiet passing, unnoticed. I had called, but he didn’t answer the phone, which was nothing new for him.
Jeff suffered for decades from depression which doctors didn’t seem able to treat successfully. He was an alcoholic, probably because of the depression. And he had myasthenia gravis, for which he received a military disability pension because it was diagnosed while he was in the Navy. After decades of being an angry drunk, my brother stopped drinking, took anger management counseling, and began living. He bought new clothes. He built raised beds in my garden and planted tomatoes. He took classes in astronomy and anatomy. He made brightly colored origami stars that he hung from his ceiling. And he danced.
The last two years of his life may have been the happiest in all his 57 years. What accounted for the transformation, I don’t know. He didn’t say and I didn’t ask.
Jeff told me that line dancing was hard for him—I would have described him as clumsy—but, with the encouragement of the dance teacher and some of the other students, he persevered. Slowly, he mastered Hasta Manana, Beer for my Horses, Tush Push, and Chasin’ the Rainbow. Then he added social dance classes. At the time he died, he was about to start another class. He was looking forward to learning the Tango.
My loner brother had even come so far as to dance in some demonstrations and shows that his classes put on at retirement homes and communities. As shy as he was, his teacher said, he would go into the audience and dance with Alzheimer patients. Jeff didn’t invite me to any of these shows, but he told me about them afterward. Last night I saw one of the shows where he would have danced. His dance teacher invited me. This one was held at the Life’s Garden Retirement Home to celebrate all the August birthdays.
I love amateur shows—the participants do what they enjoy only for the pleasure of sharing what they enjoy with other people. This one, as you may imagine, was especially poignant. The class had voted to dedicate the show to Jeff, and they performed dances he knew and liked. As the couples waltzed, rumba-ed, and tangoed around the room, I imagined my brother among them, with his arms around an ethereal partner.
Dancing for eternity is how I want to remember him.

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