I asked whether Kathleen had given any thought to what she'd tell Laurelle in the coming days.
"I'll tell her what I tell her about my father," she said. "My father is a spirit that's with us and guides us, and now Tim is with us, in our hearts, a source of strength that no one who didn't know him can have."
We both looked at Laurelle for a long time, then turned for home.
A Familiar Toast Is Replayed
We found Aunt Charlene in the dining room, sifting through some of Tim's bills and papers. Credit cards. Car payments. She could only think for so long before she had to lie down on the couch. Laurelle went to her grandmother and asked whether she could watch an Uncle Tim movie. She liked the one of Uncle Tim in his scarlet robe best.
"I don't think I can see the graduation movie again," Aunt Charlene told her. "Makes me too sad. Everyone wishing him luck in the future."
"Let's watch Sean's wedding," Aunt Charlene told her, "when Tim's being so funny."
Tim gave his toast again, and I sat with Aunt Charlene, talking about her husband, Pat. All his life, she said, Uncle Pat was prone to seizures. Then, one night, after a big meal with the whole family, he went upstairs to bed, and while Aunt Charlene was washing the dishes, he suffered a seizure from which he never awoke.
He was 47 years old; the children at the time ranged from 24 to 3.
"I sat down on one of the kids' beds and I couldn't move," Aunt Charlene recalled. "But I felt this voice say: 'Get up. You have all these people depending on you. You have to go on.' "
Now, Brian walked into the room and kissed his mother. Soon, friends of Tim began arriving--schoolmates, old buddies. The house was filling with people, and one woman brought an enormous dish of lasagna.
"I forgot all about dinner!" Charlene said, kissing the woman. "I thought it was the middle of the afternoon. Oh, thank you."
We ate, then gathered in the living room and flipped back and forth between the news and home movies. A few of the brothers drifted out to the porch, to get some air. It was turning cool. Autumn was hours away, which made them sadder. Football season was Tim's favorite.
"I was doing OK," said Chris, who lives with his wife just around the corner. "Then this afternoon I was hanging the flag at my house, and I started thinking about Tim never coming over again, and I kind of lost it."
The brothers leaned forward, listening.
"When Tim used to come stay with us," Chris said, "my wife and I would get all excited. We'd make sure to have some special dessert. We'd put clean sheets on the bed. He was like the kid we never had yet."
Brian talked about the way Tim would arrive at his house, a one-man band, arms full of food and presents. "He'd walk in the door and say, 'I wanted to bring some chips, but I didn't know what kind you liked, so I got them all: sour-cream-and-onion, barbecue, vinegar, extra whatever.' "
In hoarse whispers, the brothers discussed Tim's final minutes in the tower. They wondered what he knew and when he knew it. They prayed that he didn't know anything, and they took some comfort in the fact that he didn't phone home a second time.
"Those people who got goodbye phone calls," Brian said, shaking his head. "How horrible is that? Thank God my mother didn't get a second call. I don't think we could've handled that."
I asked whether anyone had seen Sean lately. The brothers looked at each other and laughed. Sean was undoubtedly home, they said, having an anxiety attack about his eulogy. If they knew Sean, he'd be up all night.
"This is like a best man speech times 10," Jim said.
The next morning, the phone rang. Kevin, 31, the sixth son, was calling from California. Like Pat, 39, the oldest son, Kevin is estranged from the family, and the call got the day off to an emotional start.
Soon, the doorbell rang, and the woman from the funeral parlor arrived. Kathleen presented her with a framed photo of Tim, to be set on an easel near the altar. A lovely photo, taken Labor Day weekend, it showed Tim seated on his mother's couch, arms spread wide, about to laugh.
Aunt Charlene took one look and covered her mouth.
"He was just here," she sobbed. "Look at him--he was just here!"
Chris rushed over and maneuvered her slowly away from the photo.
Sean came through the door with his eulogy. His eyes were bloodshot. Took me all night, he said sheepishly. He passed out copies, and everyone sat down to read. The brothers laughed when they reached the part about "fireside chats," which Tim initiated after their father died.
Every Sunday night, the siblings and their mother would gather in the basement, and Tim would hand out Lotus spreadsheets of the family's finances. "This is the net net," he'd tell them. Then he'd solve everyone's problems with school, work, love. Then he'd praise individual achievements. The reason for the meetings was often serious, and scary: The family was on the financial brink. But the siblings remember the basement ringing with laughter.