NPR logo Remembering My Brother: Bill Gareth Neely

Remembering My Brother: Bill Gareth Neely

LaKisha, Bill, and Priska Neely. Nicole Neely/courtesy Neely family hide caption

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Nicole Neely/courtesy Neely family

LaKisha, Bill, and Priska Neely.

Nicole Neely/courtesy Neely family

Here's a dilemma that I encounter on a regular basis:

In the midst of small-talk and conversations about the weather, someone asks me: “So do you have siblings?” I say, “Yes I have two older sisters.” Then comes the problematic follow-up, “Oh! Your dad got all girls, huh?”

Here's where the tension sets in. If I open up and share the truth, that there was a boy in the family, my older brother Bill, who died ten years ago, awkwardness ensues. (This isn’t exactly the conversation you expect to have after asking someone where they grew up). But shrugging that comment off doesn't feel right either. Because there was a boy in the family. My older brother Bill, who died ten years ago.

Bill Gareth Neely was sixteen years older than me. He was very upset that my parents decided to have me as he was about to go off to college. He thought he wouldn’t be able to be part of my life. That turned out to be far from the truth. He was a huge part of my life and always took time out for me. When we went places together everyone thought he was my dad. He taught me so much about music and contributed to the eclectic taste I have now.

He was extremely easy going, and always making jokes. When the ball dropped New Years 2000, we all gasped for a moment thinking our Y2K fears had come true, then quickly realizing that he had just flicked off all the lights. I also remember the time when I stayed over at his house to watch The Matrix.

Right before I went to sleep, he said, “Priska, you are the one.” It freaked me out and I couldn’t sleep all night.

He died suddenly in January 2001, just a couple of weeks after his thirtieth birthday. He had a heart condition that none of us knew about. But, he accomplished so much in those years. He started a graphic design business when he was 18, opened a coffee shop in D.C., and he was just about to launch an internet shopping website when he died.  And he could make an excellent cherry pie.

Even though he was only in my life for a short time, I have become so much like him without even realizing it. There is a similar age gap between me and my nephew and one of my life goals is to be to my young nephew half of what he was to me.

To this day, I have not met anyone else who has made me feel as special as he did. I wish I remembered more. I wish I'd known him longer, but I'm thankful that I had the chance to know him at all.