A part of me died!
And the rest of me kinda wants to.
I’ve never experienced anything like this.
My brother, David, finally lost his battle with cancer last week.
And now there’s just us. The walking wounded. The many. The devastated. The left behind.
I used to follow my brother wherever he went. It has always been just the two of us. Separated by eight years and yet none at all. And now he’s gone to the one place I can’t follow.
My brother embodied everything that is good and bright in this world. It is a little bit dimmer now that his light has left us and we are the worser for it. Someone larger than life that was stolen from this world too soon.
He was amazing! The best brother I could have ever hoped or asked for…and I never had to ask.
I went to him for everything. From the time I was born, until the day he died, I wanted to make him laugh, tell him what was happening in my life and seek his advice. When I was little and got hurt, I wanted him to comfort me. I wanted him to comfort me as an adult too.
And for the first time in my life I don’t have that…and it feels so empty and confusing. As though I’m adrift without a rudder or compass.
Cancer is such an ugly disease. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Somebody needs to find an answer for it and fast!
I understand the need to have a positive mental attitude and I get the idea that others have fought and survived cancer. My brother actually hated that idea of being a cancer warrior who was fighting a hard-fought battle. It used to make him angry because he felt like he wasn’t fighting anything. He told me he felt more like he was being pummeled in an unfair fight. Ravaged by cancer from the inside while being poked and prodded by doctors and nurses from the outside. He would go to chemo treatments and sit in their scratchy, cold chairs while they pumped toxic poison into his body and he would feel alone. Even though loved ones would go with him or he would be sitting in a room full of doctors or nurses with machines whirring and beeping, he was alone because nobody else could bear his burden. Nobody else could wear his scarlet C. But he mainly felt that way on his really bad days.
And yet, he had such kindness throughout his life. Even in his last days. His doctors and nurses all commented on his sense of humor and how kind he was to everyone. Two days before he passed away he had everybody rolling as he and his doctor went back and forth telling inappropriate jokes about a bottle of Vaseline. That was just who he was. He rarely met someone he didn’t like. And if he didn’t like a person, it really spoke volumes about that person’s character or lack thereof.
Possibly the best gift I was ever able to give my brother happened in the last 3 months of his life. My brother and I grew up skateboarding and we had one particular world-famous pro skateboarder that we idolized. I was able to connect with this person and pass on my brother’s story. They were gracious enough to be able to carve out a few hours for meeting and hanging out with my brother while they were on a trip….and it was amazing! People usually warn against meeting your idols; but, this totally surpassed my brothers expectations (mine too). They completely connected and really got one another. It made him happy for so many days as he retold the story to everyone. (I’m not going to name them or link to their site because they are a private person and I want the time they spent together to stay special)
What was really so special about the time my brother got to spend with them was the fact that I had intended it to brighten my brother’s life, which it did. But, what I hadn’t expected was for his childhood idol to come away with the feeling of, “Wow! That guy David is an amazing guy!!” Which if you knew my brother was just such a David thing to do. He became his childhood idols idol. They stayed in touch even to his last day.
My brother lived at full speed. He drank deeply from life and didn’t care whether that bothered other people or they didn’t get him. He was a snowboard instructor for people with adaptive needs. He grew vegetables in my parents garden and loved cooking for other people. He was a roller derby referee for a women’s flat-track league. He loved movies and concerts and going to ComiCon. He was that family friend you called “Uncle David” even though he wasn’t a blood relation. Whatever you were into, whether that was what he was into or not, he’d get excited talking with you about it or listening to you get excited about it.
And oh how he loved his friends. David was a fierce friend! Friends weren’t friends, they were family. If you were lucky enough to be counted on that long list, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for you. He jokingly said of my parents in the final words he wrote as he, his wife and I discussed what his funeral service would look like. In his MD townhome in his life-well-lived living room surrounded by movies and pictures and trinkets from memorable experiences. With the iconic photobooth pictures of his family and friends from years of going to the beach hung on the walls. With shelves full of both familiar and obscure board games and card games that his family and friends played together. Surrounded by mountains of cancer-related paperwork and cancer-related medical paraphrenalia. Wrapped in his favorite hoody and blankets because his chemo left him forever-cold. He said of our parents, “they’d give you everything they had and then help you fill out the tax forms.” But that was how he was too. He’d give the shirt off his back and the first couple layers of skin if that’s what was asked.
I used to get frustrated because I didn’t understand and would feel like they were encroaching on what I considered family-time. But I get it more now, on the other side of the rogue wave that has crushed our family and friends. Left us wondering which way is up as we drown in the waters of grief with the pressure burning and crushing our lungs. Gasping for some sort of relief.
Life is about the relationships we have. All of them. And we should live our lives in such a way that we don’t have family and friends. It’s all just family. I’ve learned to think of my days as precious and to ask myself at the end of the day, “have I lived today in a way that would make David proud?”
I’ll end this tribute to the greatest guy I’ve ever known with something he was fond of saying in the last two years of his life. “Go spend time with your family and friends. Give them a big hug and tell them you love them”. We should all be so lucky.
I carry your heart with me by E. E. Cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)
I want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)