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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Eulogy for My Little Brother


The author and Clive Williams Kirkwood, Jr.

(June 30, 1958-April 29, 2023)

 

Good morning, Everyone.


"A gentle teddy bear" is how a cousin described my brother, Clive Williams Kirkwood, Jr. A big man, he would crouch down to the level of a child when talking to them.


When she was pregnant with Clive, Mommy stuck out her belly with pride. She had been trying for four years, or what seemed like an eternity to a woman determined to give life a second time.


After his birth, Daddy boasted about having a son to carry on his name.


I didn’t mind one way or the other.


As a baby, Junie, as everyone called him then, and I took baths together. We took walks together with him in a wide deep blue carriage which Mommy allowed me to push sometimes. As a toddler, after a visit to Macy’s, we went to Nedicks at Herald Square together for an orange drink and a hot dog. The younger one, he’d get the first bite, which was so large that it astounded me because he was so little and his bite so big.


My little brother.


I remember him riding around our apartment in Astoria, Queens, on the most wanted Christmas toy that year -- the battery-powered Tony the Pony. I remember him delivering Newsday on his bicycle in Hempstead, Long Island. I remember him achieving a black belt in karate, playing trombone in Maria Regina’s high school band, and working for badges in the Boy Scouts.

 

Clive's funeral Mass was held at St. Ladislaus Roman Catholic Church in Hempstead, New York, on Saturday, May 4, one week after his death. (Photo by Terrie Young, nee Maciag)

 

As an altar boy, he served many a funeral Mass right here at St. Ladislaus.


Teachers, friends and family said that he was a pleasant, well-mannered boy.


Their older brother by eight years, Dorla and Julie remember Clive riding them and our brother, Paul, on the handlebars of his Schwinn bicycle in an empty Abraham and Straus department store parking lot.


Clive loved music. From trombone brass to a turntable, he called himself CK the DJ. For years, he hosted a show every night in the basement, playing Kool and the Gang’s Summer Madness, the Commodores Easy on Sunday Morning and Earth, Wind and Fire’s Would You Mind.


Even with his headphones on, the ending of Would You Mind would be recognizable as Clive sang all of his fervor and yearning for love into it.


When he played the Bee Gees’ soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, Dorla and Julie would dance the hustle.


He ended each session with the same song, saying “CK the DJ signing off”.


I have two brothers: Paul and Clive.


In 1986, Paul died tragically at 21 in a car accident. A week ago, Clive died unexpectedly when, after a successful fight against sepsis, his heart simply gave out at a nursing home. He was 64 but, in his mind, still 21 much of the time.


Around that age, Clive’s condition had been diagnosed as schizophrenia. He lived in and out of his own reality. His own world was complex, peopled with a network of voices. But when he occupied our shared reality, he could be incredibly insightful.


His nickname for his nephew next door, Jean-Paul, was Champ.


My relationship with Clive was complicated. There was pain, anger, guilt and helplessness. He wasn’t always easy to like.


But always, he was my little brother.


Some have said that Clive is finally at peace.


Forever 21.


A friend of mine said that the death of a family member is like losing a finger.


We were a family of seven. Now we are three.


The Portuguese writer, Jose Luis Peixoto wrote about a family of five in the poem, When It Was Time to Set the Table:


When it was time to set the table, we were five:

My father, my mother, my sisters

and me. then, my older sister

married, then, my younger sister

married. then, my father died. today,

when it is time to set the table, we are five,

except my older sister who is at her home, except my younger

sister who is

at her home, except

my father, except my widowed mother. each one

is an empty place at this table, where

I eat alone. but they will always be here.

at the time to set the table, we will always be five.

as long as one of us is alive, we will always

be five.


Thank you.


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