‘He gave until he gave out’

Published 4:42 pm Saturday, May 15, 2010

By Staff
One-of-a-kind personality remembered
I wonder if Clay would be surprised to know how much I miss him?
I have regrets that I wasn’t the great brother I should have been to my fraternal twin. We didn’t talk on the phone often as some siblings do. Our every-other-month (or so) conversations suited us fine for some reason. We weren’t “close” by any customary standard, and yet, we WERE close in an indefinable way.
Perhaps you have to be a twin for that to make any sense. Or, perhaps, that’s my way of rationalizing not staying in closer contact with my brother.
Which is why the phone message Clay left for me the Thursday before he died, at 46, on Monday, February 15, of a heart attack was so special:
“Hey, brother … sorry I couldn’t talk this morning, I was in a meeting … thanks for calling … love ya’!”
(I always knew Clay loved me. He always told me.)
I don’t recall why I missed his return call. I hope it was because I, too, had been in an important meeting. Most likely, it was because it didn’t suit me at the time. I have terrible phone habits.
Often, our “conversations” would consist of a couple of phone-message-volleys and little more. But on this day, I called once more and was able to have a serious, meaningful conversation with Clay. I didn’t know it would be our last. He apologized because he felt he had been rude in a previous discussion about a family matter.
He hadn’t. I told him so.
We also talked about an article I had read that day in USA TODAY about a chicken farmer (Clay sold chicken processing equipment) who was recycling chicken poop for profit. Clay laughed when I told him he should diversify his chicken interests; I laughed when he said he was going to call the guy.
If I had to capture Clay’s essence in one word it would be “laughter.” Like our father, he had an infectious, unrestrained laugh that would warm your heart. (Mine can best be described as a childlike giggle, seldom heard since Clay’s passing.)
To tell the whole story about Clay is to acknowledge that he had a difficult, “eventful,” sometimes mischievous childhood. I don’t say that out of disrespect — quite the contrary — I want to honor his memory and celebrate the life of the person he became.
Norman Clay McKeithan was a fighter who overcame many roadblocks (some self-imposed) to become a larger-than-life, almost legendary personality; full of grace, a family stalwart and the center of a huge network of friends from all walks of life.
My brother has far eclipsed any legacy I leave in our hometown, and that’s just fine with me. Being known in Laurinburg, North Carolina as “Clay’s twin brother” is a badge of honor for me. I wear it with pride.
I hope you can look past my selfish efforts to speed healing and appreciate that I am also writing in an attempt to expand Clay’s legacy to a broader audience. I’ve learned some important life lessons from him that I feel compelled to share:
• Give of yourself
• Express your love
• Support your family
• Work hard
• Laugh a lot
• Cherish friendships
It’s difficult to recover from such a painful loss. I’ll admit, ashamedly, that when I turn to God in prayer I now secretly harbor feelings of anger and doubt about His plan. “You never, EVER gave my brother a fair shake!” I say to myself. Still, I place my trust in Him, knowing that answers will come when He’s good and ready.
(Please, God … let that be soon!)
When I visit Clay’s gravesite, I can’t help but compare the sandy patch that marks his final resting place to the open wound in my soul. I hope that by the end of summer, a carpet of grass will cover the disturbed soil and that I’ll show signs of healing, too.
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher and occasional columnist of the Washington Daily News, his email address: ray@wdnweb.com. The headline is a quote from Clay’s brother-in-law, Steve Urie of Laurinburg.