John Krull: Tale of the club of three

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Krull

Long, long ago, on a spring Sunday night my father told my sister and me that we were going to visit the hospital in the Ohio town where we lived then.

Our mother was at that hospital. She had just given birth.

My sister said this was a special occasion. We should dress in our school clothes, which we did.

We stood on the grassy lawn outside our mother’s hospital room window. Mom came to the window holding a baby, our little brother.

I was almost 8, my sister 5.

As siblings do, she and I had formed an exclusive club of two. Now, we were three.

When our brother came home, we learned he had an engaging smile. He also had a missile launcher for a right arm.

Everyone in the family learned that leaning over his crib could mean having something—a rattle, a toy, a bottle—come flying back. He didn’t throw these things out of meanness—my brother didn’t possess an unkind nerve—but because he liked to be active, and he wanted to be out among us.

As he grew older, he played almost any sport well, despite wrecking his knee when he was in junior high. He loved competing.

When our folks split, my siblings and I learned to lean on each other.

We were our own core of three.

My brother majored in journalism and political science in college. He became an award-winning reporter and editor, working primarily in small-town newspapers. He then went to law school and became an attorney laboring in poverty law. He worked in group homes, helping those with developmental disabilities, before becoming a newspaper editor once again.

The common thread running through his career was his kindness and concern for others. He felt called to help the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden. He dreamed of opening what he wanted to call The Tom Joad Law Clinic—after the downtrodden but noble character in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”—to help those who had been wronged and had no other recourse.

He, my sister and I had our disagreements over the years. We all had strong personalities and flinty wills. We also had the siblings’ knack for knowing how to annoy each other.

But our club of three remained.

In crisis, we counted on each other.

Our brother did not have children.

But he was a devoted and loving uncle to his five nieces and nephews—my sister’s children and my kids all adored him—and he lavished love on a series of pets.

Around the time the COVID crisis began, my brother found he had esophageal cancer. He fought it hard, but cancer is ruthless.

On a cold Friday, his doctors called me. A scan showed, unexpectedly, that the cancer had spread throughout my brother’s body. He wasn’t expected to live through the day. He had endured intense pain for weeks without complaining.

When I got to the hospital, I told my brother I would be with him until the end. My mother and sister called from their homes out of state to say goodbye. Our aged father said his farewell.

I stayed with my brother through the night. As his life ebbed, I held his hand and spoke some of the most profound truths I know.

I said it was okay, that I didn’t want him to suffer any more.

That I was glad I had a brother.

That I was grateful he was my brother.

That I loved him.

That we all loved him.

A couple hours after the sun rose, he breathed his last. I sat there, still holding his hand. I knew his body was now an abandoned husk, but part of me felt that releasing my grip meant losing him forever.

Letting go was among the hardest things I’ve ever done.

When I called my sister, my voice broke. We sobbed over the phone with each other, grief-stricken.

Our club of three was down to two once more.

As I left the hospital, I found myself wanting to rewind the clock to a spring night long, long ago, when my sister and I stood in school clothes on a grassy lawn with our father, waving to our mother and a baby.

Our newest club member.

Our younger brother.

May he rest in peace.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.