Tuesday, January 26, 2016

BABY BROTHER

I may have pinched him.  I won't admit to it, but I do admit to it being possible.  I mean, he sort of materialized out of nowhere and to my 4-year old sensibilities, it was like waking up to an alien invasion.  I don't think the pinch would have been malicious -- just curious.  "If I do this, what will he do?"  Oh!  Cry!  And Mommy will come running and assume I'd made a nefarious move on him.  Well, maybe I did.

I just know that, oddly, my aunt and uncle showed up on Davy Crocket night (not on Sunday afternoon, like usual) and talked all through the show with my grandma while my mom and dad were out.  The next morning Mom was still gone which was terrifying, but Dad said I had a baby brother and she was with him.  Grandma helped me make paper chains to decorate Mommy's hospital room, since she would be there for almost a week (the norm back in February 1955).

This memory came to me out of the blue on Saturday.  There are so many memories I could have chosen, but that one seemed so sweet, so innocent.  I just sat with my coffee cup and thought about that and the ensuing 60-plus years.  I wanted to go back to the beginning; to remembering the announcement that I had a baby brother.  That memory still held a lifetime of possibilities.

My little brother's lifetime ended last Friday, January 22, a month and a day before his 61st birthday.

So many families have cancer stories to tell.  They each include emotional shock and physical horror. They all include courage and perseverance.  Many end in a reprieve and a joyful appreciation of a battle won.

Some end in grief.

The cancer story in our family ended in grief.  The details aren't important but people are curious so the cursory outline is this:  My brother was diagnosed in late 2010.  He had surgery in January 2011 and a round of "just in case" chemo, since they were pretty sure the surgery "got it all".  All tests were normal until out of the blue on a routine exam in late 2014 he was told the cancer was back...and bad.  He underwent aggressive and absolutely horrific chemo regimens to no avail.  In June he elected to withdraw from treatment.  He hoped to make it through the holidays.  He did.  And then through his daughter's birthday, then his wife's in early January.

In recent weeks the decline was precipitous; comfort and reassurances were the orders of the day,  until in the wee hours of January 22, when, as my sis-in-law said when she called me:  "He slipped out during the night..."

As adults we didn't live near each other.  As families do, ours has scattered from one side of this huge country to the other -- he ended up in Georgia and me in Washington.  Hub and I traveled to visit him and his family in late August.  I am grateful for that visit even though it was hard to see him looking and behaving so differently than how he'd always been.  But that was just the disease, not his spirit.

Now I think about the brother I always knew:  a big-hearted, fun-loving, family-loving guy.  I see the twinkle in his eyes, hear his big laugh, feel the welcoming hug, and note the tenderness of a man who also shed a tear when his heart was filled with pride --  I saw this on his daughter's wedding day.  He didn't want this disease; he didn't want to be restricted from living large; he certainly didn't want to leave his family behind:  wife, children, grandchildren.

Yet, I hope he found healing and peace in his final journey.  If near-death experiences are to be believed, it seems there's a place of enormous love out there waiting for us.  What I know for certain is that those left behind hold a place of enormous love in our hearts.

As for me, I just wish I could reach out and pinch him....this time he'd laugh, I'm sure of it.

As least that's the view from here...

My brother was a stained glass hobbyist.  The last piece he created, as a gift for me of a
 quintessential Northwest scene, is something I'll treasure forever.  Isn't it beautiful?