Although unfathomable, my sweet brother has passed.
The book I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One is helping me process this difficult new reality and I highly recommend it. Peter was a loved man and hundreds of people came out to his vigil and funeral. Below you’ll find the obituary and eulogy that I wrote in his honor. Please share your memories and stories of Petey with my family and me–it helps us smile through the tears. (You can leave comments below.)
Peter Howard Abraham, beloved son, brother, nephew, cousin and friend, died on August 21, 2017. He fought a long battle against alcoholism and depression, and in the end, took his own life. Rather than focusing on how he left this world, the family asks that he be remembered for the light he brought to it. Peter was a sensitive and gentle soul who was cherished for his kindness and sense of humor. People who knew him say that his laugh, smile and heart will never be forgotten. Services are as follows: Vigil, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 7PM, Cabot & Sons, Pasadena; Mass, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 9 AM, St. Luke Catholic Church, Temple City; Burial, immediately following the mass, Resurrection Cemetery, Rosemead.
Thank you for coming to celebrate the life of my brother, Peter Abraham. I knew him as Petey; most of you called him Pete, or Petey A., or maybe even Joe – as in, Joe Mama. Peter was the king of nicknames; he came up with one for almost everyone he knew. When we were in our twenties, and the Jack Stephan TV commercials played all the time, he used to call me “Stephanski” or “Stephanavich.” But in the last decade or so, he settled on referring to me as “kid.” No matter where we encountered each other, he’d greet me by saying, “Hey kid! How goes it?”
If he were to ask me today, I’d answer, “I’m a bit heartbroken, Petey.” While he may understand this now, when Peter was alive he never could understand why we loved him. He’d lose track of his own goodness, his own “loveableness.” But who doesn’t? It’s impossible not to internalize the harshness of this world and we all have moments when we forget that we’re connected, that there’s hope. We use different numbing agents to help us mask how bad we feel. I tend to overwork. Maybe you turn to food or social media. Petey relied on alcohol. He always wore his feelings on his sleeve; he wore his struggles there too. It’s not that the rest of us don’t struggle, it’s just that we hide it better.
Prior to 2015, my parents and I would never have mentioned this, but now we see it as a responsibility to be open and honest about Peter’s battle, because it was ours too. We hope that other families in similar situations may avoid this tragic loss, or at least know they’re not alone.
Two years ago, the doctors told us that Peter had six months to live. He had cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism. I stepped in as his medical advocate and what a gift it was to be close to him during that time. Once, after another late night in the ER, I got to tell him that if I had it to do over again, I’d choose him as my brother. He choked back tears by complaining about how dry the hospital sandwich was that he had been eating. “But at least it doesn’t smell as bad as the tuna you made yesterday,” he said, making us both laugh.
All Pete ever wanted to do was play baseball in the Major Leagues. But his first job in high school was making pizza at Little Caesars and he went on to become a professional chef, cooking in the best restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Hawaii and throughout California. The man made RiceARoni and leftovers taste like a five-star meal. He’d spruce up any dish by running out to the backyard garden to get some fresh basil or chives. His food danced on the palate. I, on the other hand, am what we lovingly call, “domestically challenged.” (My husband says I’m a “re-heater.”) Petey loved to use every opportunity to remind me of this. As my older brother, he saw it as his personal responsibility to tease me whenever possible. Not even news about his impending death changed that.
At that six-month point the doctors had warned us about, Peter’s liver miraculously bounced back and he proved them wrong. He found his way to sober living and my parents and I found Al-Anon, a 12-step program for family and friends of alcoholics. My parents go to a meeting every week, no matter how badly they don’t want to. Thanks to that discipline and work, we’ve learned that alcoholism is a disease, that no one is to blame. When people die of other diseases, we say things like, “they lost the battle against cancer.” That simple truth applies here as well. Peter lost his life to a disease: he lost the battle against alcoholism.
At this point, if my brother were here, he’d hold his palm up like a stop sign, roll his eyes to the ceiling and say, “Please.” Then he’d do the whole motion again, without words, for emphasis. That was his way of saying, “Enough talking, let’s have some fun.” For those of you who didn’t know him personally, I can assure you that you would have loved him. He laughed as easily and often as my dad and was as kind and thoughtful as my mom. My wit and ability to bust out with the goofiest of dance moves gives you only a glimpse of his charisma. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t been his little sister. I’m a better person through and through because of him. I know many people feel the same.
Being “Peter’s little sister” was one of my first and favorite identities. At four years old, when he found out I was on the way, he ecstatically announced that he’d like a little sister even more than a puppy. When my parents were deciding what to name me, they chose Stephanie based on his suggestion. Whether growing up or visiting him at one of the restaurants he worked at, people would point at me and say, “That’s Peter’s sister.” It happened today actually, I heard someone whisper it as I walked by and it brought back so many memories. It seems terribly unfair that I only got four decades with him, and it looks like a long road ahead without him. Still, I’m so proud to have been, to be, his sister. I stand by that statement I made two years ago: if I had it to do over, I’d choose Peter as my brother.
In the last week, I’ve been reminded of the fact that I grew up in a very small town. So many folks from Temple City have reached out to share their memories of Pete with us, which always include a laugh. This one, written by an old friend, was my favorite: “The last time I saw Peter, I was training for a triathlon and he was riding to work on a beach cruiser that had a horn on it. We rode together for about seven miles and talked about a bunch of things. After he’d make a point, he’d honk his horn to add emphasis! It was hilarious and I almost crashed a few times from the laughter.”
Can’t you just imagine Peter honking his bike horn after he said something clever? He also loved busting out in what he called a “snap attack.” You never knew when one would hit. He’d snap as loudly and quickly as possible for as long as he could and would often incorporate a kick-snap-pose combination at the end. When he and my dad would have snapping contests, Pete always won. Sometimes after saying something funny, he’d do “a little shakey shakey,” moving his shoulders back-and-forth, to commend himself and get you laughing.
My brother celebrated the simple things in life. He wanted a burger and fries and a spot on the couch to watch the game. He’d go outside to see the moon, ask you if you had seen it and text you a picture of it when it was full. When he had to stay overnight in the hospital, he would use the phone by his bed to call the kitchen and thank the cooks for their “deliciousness.”
Peter was a devout Catholic and he emanated Jesus’ generosity in his everyday life without looking for brownie points. One year when he worked at a restaurant in Hollywood, he would take a bus home to Temple City after midnight that stopped by the downtown LA jail. That winter, men who had just been released and were wearing summer clothing would often get on the bus. Peter gave away nearly every sweatshirt in his closet because he couldn’t stand to see them shivering in the cold night air. The same thing happened in Hawaii. My dad and he were on a bus when Pete pointed out the window and said, “Look, Pops, that guy’s wearing my T-shirt!” My brother was a man who literally gave the shirt off his back to strangers.
This week, I’ve wished that he had given me a piece of jewelry to wear, as I have a ring from my late Auntie Sophie that has brought me great comfort and strength. But he called material items “trinkets” and had no interest in accumulating wealth. The only gem I have from him in my jewelry box is a note about the size of a quarter that he hid in it decades ago that reads, “Pick it!” I can’t remember how we started saying that to each other, but one of us always said it at every goodbye. It was our way of saying, “I love you.”
There are two exceptions to his trinket rule, however. One is the rosary. He had a devotion to our Blessed Mother and often carried a rosary in his pocket and always had one in his backpack and car. The other was a certain 1967 Volkswagen Bug that he inherited at the age of 15 from our maternal grandfather, Loker, or “Hokey,” who Peter was close to growing up. Petey completely restored the bug with a two-tone paint job in mint green and white, mud flaps, white walls, and even chrome curb feelers. At 20, he moved to San Francisco for chef school and I turned 16, which I thought was impeccable timing because guess who got to drive his car? My friend and I named it “Sugar” and we’d cruise around town singing “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies. One day after Petey had graduated and moved back home, he went into a store and the person behind the cash register asked, “Hey, why are you driving your sister’s car?” He came home both fuming and beaming with pride.
A year and a half ago, Peter moved in to a sober-living house aptly called Welcome to Life. Living with men who shared his struggle was such a gift. He returned to doing so much of what he loved most. He got a job at a pizza place and resumed riding his bike. He taught the sons of a new friend how to throw a baseball and spent hours playing pool with another new friend he nicknamed “Hot Sauce.” The owner of the house tells me that Petey is the only resident he’s ever had to reprimand on more than one occasion for sunbathing in the front yard.
The last time I saw my brother was about two months ago and a sheer coincidence. He pulled up next to me at a stoplight. I happened to look to the right and there he was, smiling at me. “Hey kid! How goes it?” he asked.
“Petey A.! What are you doing here?”
“I just picked up some friends from work.” We held each other’s gaze for a second. Then the light turned green and he said, “I’ll see you soon.”
As we started to accelerate, I waved at him and yelled, “Don’t forget to pick it!”
I’m so blessed to have that memory. That’s how I carry him in my heart.
We hope you’ll share your memories of Pete with each other and with us in person or on Cabot & Sons’ website (until the end of September you can find his name under “Obituaries”). The microphone is open for anyone who would like to do so now. Please join us afterwards for dessert. Our cousin has baked baklava with our family’s recipe. There’s an Arabic saying that goes something like, “In times of great distress, sweetness on the tongue soothes the heart and soul.” Tomorrow, after the burial, we’ll toast Peter with a slice of pizza. You’re welcome to come. Thank you.