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Commentary: Fried Lemons In Heaven

It's hard to think about heaven without thinking about my brother, Worth. A few months before he died, he invited me over to his house for lunch - a feast of fried chicken, corn bread, string beans ... and fried lemons. The chicken and string beans were delicious. The fried lemons? Well, not so much. But I didn't mind. I knew the lemons were just another symptom of my brother's brain tumor, or the radiation treatments, or the steroids, or his fatigue from countless sleepless manic nights spent scrubbing the kitchen floor with Clorox. Sometimes, Worth thought people lurked outside his windows. At other times, he thought water streamed down from his bedroom ceiling into a pool on the floor. Once on the way to the hospital, he thought that I was his wife and that we had 14 children in Africa. He pleaded with me to go straight back to Africa to take care of them. So when he fried a few lemons for lunch, I tried to tell myself that it was no big deal. I mean, compared to his hallucinations, it really wasn't. But deep down I was afraid the doctors were right. This was terminal. At his memorial service, "A Celebration of Life," one of Worth's best friends told a story about the time he, Worth, and another friend were spending the afternoon down on the banks of Black River. Worth said, "Let's play hide and seek. Try to find me." He disappeared. His friends searched e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. But Worth was hiding deep inside the center of a Cyprus tree that wind and water had carved into the shape of a conch. Twenty minutes later, Worth popped out, laughing like crazy. The boy loved life. Our sister Grace also spoke at Worth's service. She talked about another of his friends who told her that for as long as she could remember, she had been afraid of dying. She told Grace, "But now that Worth has done it, it doesn't seem so scary." She knows that when it's her turn to take that leap toward heaven, Worth will be there, smiling, with a beer in his hand, saying, "Come on. Jump." And everything will be all right. It's been 16 years since Worth died, and I can't tell you how many times I've imagined him there, hanging out on heaven's stoop, an acoustic guitar in his lap, his cat K.C. curled up at his feet. I can just see him sitting there first thing in the morning, looking out over Heaven's back yard and making plans for the day. Maybe he'll organize a game of croquet. Maybe a game of chess with one of our grandfathers. Maybe he'll go for a hike. Or maybe just for fun he'll host a cook-off with our grandmothers, because he wants to test the notion that even fried lemons taste great in Heaven. I'd be willing to bet that they do. At least when Worth fries them.