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My Brother

Updated: Nov 30, 2023


My brother, Michael Herbert Monnette, died on November 8, 2023. He was only 71. His death was not a surprise. He had been suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, a rare and particularly aggressive form of the disease. We watched its unwavering approach, and even, toward the end, prayed for its speedy arrival. When it mercifully appeared, there was a sorrowful finality that washed over me in a way I had not expected. It left me struggling to make sense of the conflicting emotions that fill me—heartbroken over the loss, and comfort in knowing he is no longer suffering.


Mike was the kind of brother that I would wish for everyone. If you have met him, you know that already. His impact on so many lives is obvious if you scroll through the Facebook comments on his obituary that his wife posted. Dozens of family, friends, and former colleagues from his 31 years at Liberty Mutual shared stories about the difference he made in their lives. As I read through the comments, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming pride for the impact he had on so many people. Isn’t the true measure of a person, the difference they make in the people they touch?


He loved being around people. He would be the one at any gathering shaking everyone’s hand and asking them about their lives, and somehow finding common ground with nearly everyone. He had a great sense of humor and a huge heart and was the only person I knew who claimed to love the process of buying a car. He was a sucker for a good salesperson. Maybe that comes with three decades of selling insurance.


Looking back over the years I can feel Mike’s presence in every major decision, every exciting moment, and every difficult time in my life. He was one of the first people I would call when something exciting happened in my life and the one I would turn to for help when things went wrong. Even in my lowest moments, when I hated the man I saw in the mirror, my brother somehow saw the best in me. He was my mentor, friend, big brother, and so much of who I am today is the result of his influence in my life.




As I sat in and looked through old photographs, reflecting on the times I have spent with my brother, I stumbled across this photograph. I took this on Valentine’s Day just off the north coast of Haiti on a Caribbean cruise my wife and I took with my brother and his wife in 2017. I have always loved the serenity of the scene. I have looked at it a lot over the years, wondering who was on the boat, and their story. As I looked at it again the other day it brought back a memory from more than forty years ago.




My brother had a sailboat, much like this one, when he was a young man. I remember spending the night on the boat with him one night. I was maybe 19. It was cold and there was only one blanket on board for warmth, which my brother used—it was his boat after all. For years I would tease him about leaving his little brother to freeze while he slept under a wool blanket. He argued it was little more than a washcloth, as he would mimic holding a tiny piece of material precariously between his thumb and forefinger on each hand, with his pinky fingers extended to further illustrate how delicate the piece of cloth was. A classic Mike moment, never let the truth interfere with a good story.


After all these years, I have no idea what the truth is about that piece of fabric, but I remember what a treat it was to spend that time with my brother. I don’t remember the cold but I remember watching Mike pilot that little boat around Chesapeake Bay. I was so impressed with just how confident and capable a sailor he was. That is the way I felt about almost everything he did. He has always been, and will always be, the model for the man I want to be. While his absence will leave a gaping hole in my heart and the hearts of so many others, his spirit lives on in those who knew him and we are better as a result.


It is hard for me to reflect on all the gifts that I received from my brother without tears streaming down my face. His loss is painful, and it will undoubtedly always be so, but for now, I like to fill my heart with a different image of my brother.


When I look at the photo I took in the Caribbean now, I picture a young man, maybe in his twenties, standing at the helm sailing off into the sunset with a huge smile on his face, and laughing at the large warm blanket in the cabin below. I know how much he loved a good laugh, and I will let him have the last one. He deserves it.


Thank you for everything you have given me and so many others, Mike. I love you and miss you terribly.


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