Loving a Brother
Imagine being a eight year old boy.
Now, think of all the activities that young boys spend their time doing—things like soccer, football, music lessons and playing with friends. Now imagine doing those things while your younger brother spent his afternoons alone with Mommy.
Think about being a an eight year old boy sleeping under blue cotton sheets with printed pictures of Han Solo and the Star Wars gang as your younger brother slept in the same room under the same kind of sheets. But you were more aware of the night.
Imagine that you had to stay at the neighbors house when you had the chicken pox instead of being fawned over by your family.
Instead of two little boys giggling and hiding under their own little bit of pop culture with flashlights, one would lie awake listening to the respirator while the other would cough, or throw up. His immune system so debilitated that he couldn’t be around any germs, especially the chicken pox. His alone time with Mommy was traveling back and forth to the hospital for radiation treatments. Treatments that had yet to be perfected for children. Treatments that left burns on his head. Imagine waking up during his first seizure, well first as far as you knew anyway, screaming. Then having to sit there while everyone attended to him, not you.
Think about being old enough to understand that something was terribly wrong, but having absolutely no control over it. Consider that your older siblings and parents were all preoccupied with a family member’s illness and your youngest sibling was too small to comprehend or even remember what was happening. Little children are inherently selfish. They can be giving and loving and forgiving too. But what is remembered is very self-oriented.
Lastly imagine wearing your best suit, and walking away from a graveyard without your brother just days after your own 9th birthday. What would you think? How would you behave? What would you expect? All the drama of the previous year had gone, but you’re left with a lot of grief, and fear. The fear that this could happen to you. That your mom could die, your dad could die, your sisters and brothers could die. That you could die.
Now consider yourself standing at the same grave 30 years later just after your daughter’s oncology appointment, the name tag still attached to her ankle. Who could die now?
This is my interpretation of my husband’s experience. Everyone who experiences a death from pediatric cancer has just that, their own experiences. Each family celebrates the death in their own way. Jesse’s mom just went to his grave for his birthday. Anika requested that pink balloons be released. Even within one family the associations and feelings vary from person to person. We must remember the dead, and we must remember to love the living, even as life spans are lengthening, life is too short.
All I know is that 30 years later at the grave of a little boy I never met, as I walked away while my youngest child was screaming that it was time to leave, I turned around, stepped back toward the grave then looked at my husband and said,
If it is this hard to leave him now, what was it like 30 years ago?
Walking away from the graveyard that first day, has to be one of the hardest things a father, child, mother, cousin, aunt, husband, wife, college roommate, sister, brother, you get the idea, ever has to do.
The thirtieth anniversary of his death. This grave may have been visited more this year than it has in a long, long time. This post has been a tear filled writing session. Likely it is because, I am too close to being a mother who has to walk away from her child forever. From what I understand, you go on, but you never get over.
Thanks for reading.