On the Death of My Older Brother, Jeremy, and Ted Kennedy

In the coming days, many great eulogies of Ted Kennedy will be written. Many will offer personal anecdotes about what a great man he was. I do not intend to write one here.

I have no great anecdotes or personal stories to tell about how Ted Kennedy directly touched my life. I meet the man once briefly in passing while walking in the U.S. Capitol.

I did however lose an older brother, far too young, much as Senator Kennedy did. Anyone who has ever lost an older brother understands the intense pressure that the surviving younger brothers to live up to the legacies of their older brothers. Its an inescapable burden.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my brother. I find myself wondering often what my brother would do if he were still alive. He died at the young age of twenty one of leukemia far before he could develop into the type of activist that I am today. He never got the chance to fight for working people the way that I so luckily have.

Ever since I turned twenty-one, I have treated every day like it was one extra day and cherished it. It has made me want to get up in the morning and worker harder and be smarter because I feel so lucky to be alive. I feel that to not work as hard and diligently as I possibly could would be a disservice to my brother’s legacy. My brother’s legacy serves as a constant source of inspiration for some of the darkest hours and toughest fights.

Senator Kennedy cited his brother’s legacy too in passing health care reform with a public option out of his committee earlier this year. In his statement he said:

“This room is a special place. In this room, my two brothers declared their candidacy for the presidency. Today, the nation takes another major step toward reaching the goals to which they dedicated their careers, and for which they gave their lives. They strived, as I have tried to do, for a fairer and more just America — a nation where every American could share fully in the promise of quality health care.”

America has lost an older brother in the death of Ted Kennedy. We must all be fortunate that we are still alive and around to fight to make a public health insurance plan available for all Americans that Ted would have loved to fight for. We must work harder for the things that we believe in. If Ted were still alive today, he would be fighting like hell for the public health insurance option that he considered a fundamental human right.

Lets fight for my brother too. He died tragically and far too young. His death shocked my family. Fortunately, my father was a member of a union and the union provided us with excellent health care. In the closing days of my brother’s lives, we did not have to worry about medical bills. We spent them enjoying the company of my brother, Jeremy.

Every American deserves the same type of high quality health care that my brother, Jeremy, had in the closing days of his life. There is no reason why people in the richest country on the planet should have to suffer because their only crime was being too poor to afford quality health care.

Let’s fight like hell for the public health insurance plan that Senator Kennedy so dearly fought for in the closing days of his life.

My deepest condolences to the friends and family of Senator Kennedy.

I hope that Ted is in heaven now finally reunited with his brothers as I hope to someday be reunited with mine.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). Currently, he works at the Campaign for America’s Future in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he has worked as a staffer on the Obama-Biden Campaign and conducted research on worker owned cooperatives at the Instituto Marques de Salamanca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When Mike is not reading twenty blogs at a time, he enjoys jazz, golden retrievers, and playing horseshoes.

This article originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on August 26, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.