My brother would have liked the cheesecake I made for Christmas Eve brunch. He liked most foods, though particular enjoyed slow-cooked meats and good cheese. I remember how he would make the most epic toasted cheese sandwiches using all the fancy cheese in the fridge. The smell would fill the house and linger long after his meal was finished, as he would invariably leave the dirty sandwich toaster on the bench.
That cheese memory is important to me, because when I think about my brother I mostly think of his death. I remember the look on Ben's face when he came to pick me up from work the evening of December 22nd, telling me that David had had another seizure and was being air-lifted to the hospital. I remember the black t-shirt I was wearing, which I still cannot bring myself to wear or throw out. I remember the room Mum, Ben and I sat in, and the way in which we were seated on the couch when the doctor told us that David wouldn't recover from his head injury. I remember the feeling in my chest and the anger I felt towards the doctor, like, "How dare he say that". I remember telling my younger brother that our big brother was going to die, and I remember holding him and crying together. I remember sitting in my car and screaming. I remember Ben sitting beside me. I remember going down to the cafeteria with my Dad and trying to eat. I remember that my Mother would not leave his side, and I remember bringing her biscuits and cheese. I remember the Christmas decorations hanging around the bed he was transferred to, while machines kept him breathing and we completed the paperwork that would allow us to donate his organs. I remember our family and friends arriving to say goodbye. I remember my Mother stroking my brother's hair. I remember the staff wheeling him down a corridor away from us, and knowing it was the last time I'd ever see him.
I don't want to forget any of this. While those memories are painful, they're also really precious. But I do want my other memories to be front of mind. When I think of my brother, I don't want my mind to instantly go to the hospital. I want to first remember his laugh, the way he took FOREVER to open his Christmas presents, his enthusiasm when discussing things he liked and things he didn't, and his toasted cheese sandwiches. I want to remember his life more vividly than I remember his death. Because there are so many good memories tucked away behind the curtain of grief.
If he were alive and here today, my brother would have congratulated me on my first attempt at a cheesecake. He would have suggested variations and asked for a second slice. No, he would have taken a second slice. And then he would have complained about the Christmas carols I was playing before sitting on the floor with Joan to make a duplo house, or taking her outside to play soccer. The "he would have" game is a dangerous one to play, because the fact is he won't ever be able to, and the reality of that is crushing. Every now and then, though, I find joy in imagining what David would have thought. And I know he would have liked my cheesecake.
Nigella Lawson's No-Bake Cheesecake (note: we skipped the conserve topping and added fresh berries).