Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Brother, My Nephew, and the Cruelty of September

I can't remember the last time I blogged, but I initially stopped writing because I could feel the distinct pang of melancholy knocking on my heart.  In looking at the dates on the calendar, I was sad to realize that it was rapidly approaching the date marking one year since my beloved brother had unexpectedly died at 41-years of age.  The puzzle that is my family was made incomplete that day because a piece will always be missing. . .this side of Heaven, my parents will never have their son and my sister & I will never have our brother.

His death was unnaturally natural.  His aorta dissected in several places.  That is, his aorta split apart and he bled to death.  It's painful, very rare, and usually fatal before the hospital can even be reached.  My brother was unique in that he worked at a hospital and he was able to hit the OR fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, no surgeon on this planet could have possibly repaired such extensive damage fast enough to save my brother's life. 

He died.  He kissed his wife goodbye that morning, went to work, and never came home.  A seemingly healthy man had his life cut short.

I found his death far more difficult to recover from than any other I'd known.  Yes, losing him was even harder than any other loss - harder than seeing my grandfather die right in front of my eyes, harder than thinking of babies I'll never be able to hold in my arms here on Earth, harder than losing my best friend to the ravages of a cruel disease, harder than losing my grandmother when she seemed perfectly fine the last time I saw her.

I still sometimes feel like something is missing and it hits me that it's not something, it's someone.  Someone who I had always had in my life, someone who I had every reason to expect that I'd have in my life for another couple of decades.  My brother.

September 7th came and went.  It wasn't nearly as trying as I thought it would be and I credit the babe in my womb for keeping me from sinking down as far as I would have otherwise.  One year had passed; that crucial year of healing that everyone needs to go through after suffering catastrophic loss.  I could begin to breathe easier, knowing that so much healing that occurred in this year and would continue to occur as time continued marching forward.  I had such unbelievable naivete.

* * *

I was lounging in bed with my 3-year old watching morning cartoons when I received a phone call from a number I didn't recognize on Saturday, September 10th.  I missed the call and almost ignored the voicemail notification because I was tired and snuggling with my son was preferable to writing down a message.  My curiosity is what motivated me to check the message.  I figured that it would be a wrong number. 

I was wrong.

I didn't even recognize the voice, let alone understand the message the first time I listened.  It was a tearful message and my ear finally picked up the name of one of my brother's daughters and that she'd been trying to reach my parents.  I thought that perhaps she was in some sort of trouble and I immediately returned the call. 

When I got an outbound voicemail message, I really began to worry about her.  Why was she crying?  Why was she trying to reach my parents?  Why wasn't she able to get the phone?

My son began to pick up on my agitation and I was able to get him to return to my bedroom to watch some more television while I pondered my next move.  Should I call my parents?  Go to their house?  Try to contact someone who might know what was going on with my niece?

The phone rang and I snatched it up.  It was my niece's cousin and I could hear her tears and my niece's in the background.  My niece came to the phone and the world that had finally felt righted was knocked off-balance once again.

She told me that her youngest brother had died in his sleep.  Suddenly very aware of my pulse pounding, I swallowed hard and chewed on my tongue to keep from crying out.  She was still talking and I was trying to follow her words though my mind was racing. 

The same kid who I had blogged about here had died?  The cousin who my son still asks about at least once or twice every single week wasn't living?  The young man with such a winning personality, sharp wit, and kind heart was dead?

My brother's four children are remarkably good kids, but I had to ask if this was some sort of sick joke.  I didn't want to believe it.  I still don't.  I already knew the answer and was crying when she confirmed that her 17-year old brother had died in his sleep and that her younger sister had found him.

I vaguely recall telling her that I'd go to my parents to tell them the news.  They'd received the news that their only son was dead over the phone and I could not let them learn of their grandson's death in the same way.  She apologized for having to tell me over the phone - see what I mean about being good kids - and I hope she knows that I didn't mean for her to take it like that.  I just felt that it would be easier for my parents if they could possibly be told in person so that I could lovingly hold them while delivering such devastatingly unwelcome news.

I called my husband home.  I'm not sure exactly what I told him.  I may have just blurted it out or I may have just asked him to come home.  All I can remember for sure is that I began to get dizzy and I was having trouble catching my breath.  It reminded me of what happened before my husband called the ambulance when I lost my baby in January and I forced myself to sit down to try to relax. 

I put my head in my hands and began sobbing.  The only thing that prevented me from completely melting down was my son standing next to me, innocently asking, "Are you okay, Mama?  Mommy!"  I wiped my face, hugged him, and said it was time to get dressed.

To keep myself in check, I began doing the most mundane tasks.  I put away some laundry.  I paid some bills.  I was doing anything I could to stay busy and not focus on what my niece had reported.

We took my son to hang out with my in-laws and set out to see my parents.  I kept telling my husband that I don't know how to tell them this and I don't want to tell them this and I don't want this to even be true.  I still don't want this to be true.

My father's first thought when he saw us walking up by ourselves was that something had happened to our son.  He immediately dismissed the thought because he rightfully deduced that I would have been unable to walk if anything had happened to my boy.  But he knew something was wrong.  And he was right.  Something is so very wrong.

I asked him to sit down and he would not so I put my arms around him and told him the horrible news as I hugged him.  I could have lived my entire life without ever again seeing such pained shock and disbelief on my father's face.  He finally said that he'd go up and tell my mother.  Yet again, I could have lived my entire life without ever again hearing my mother's anguished cries.  After my brother's death, I never thought I'd see my parents in such a wounded state.  I was wrong.

* * *

My nephew came out to visit California for two weeks this Summer.  I am so thankful for that for a number of reasons.  Though my parents and I had the opportunity to develop strong bonds with his four children when my brother was stationed in San Diego for a few years, things were dramatically different once his wife divorced him.  I've often referred to divorce as "the atomic option" and it really is because the fallout injures everyone.  As is almost always the case, children are the biggest casualties of divorce.  In this case, the relationships were part of the fallout.  It was wonderful to see that the little joker I remembered had grown to become such a fantastically good hearted kid.

My husband and I had him stay over at our house for a few days while he was here.  I felt bad that most of my house is packed up and it's really empty at the moment, but he didn't complain or even seem to care.  It was hotter than the blazes, but we took him to the standard touristy LA & Hollywood stuff.  Hubs and I made it a point to take him dining around the world and the cuisine we hit included Japanese, Vietnamese, and Mexican.  I chuckle at thought of he and my husband looking like twin Godzillas stomping around in Little Tokyo.  Mostly, I'll cherish the memories of the mornings. . .my son would wake early and come to my room to sit on my bed and watch cartoons so as not to disturb the slumber of his cousin.  When my nephew would wake, he'd wander in, sit on the bed with us, and start joking around with my son.  It was so perfectly normal and comfortable. . .like he was always there and always would be.

Family or not, I might feel a little uncomfortable about a 6'3" guy sitting on the bed, but my mind couldn't help but think of him as the little boy he used to be.  The same little boy who lit up with joy when he discovered that one could not only make fart sounds with their armpit, but somehow also with the back the knee.  The same little boy who maniacally jumped up and down with his brother the year one of them received a CD of "Who Let the Dogs Out."  The same little boy grew to only become a young man before his own life ended and he joined his father in shockingly early death.  The same little boy only lived one year and three days after his father died.

* * *

Brian Rushing was young, only just turned 17-years old, but he had the confidence of a grown man.  He was bright, witty, and charming.  I don't think I've ever known such a young man who was so very comfortable in his own skin.  He knew who he was and he was cool with that because he liked himself. 

He liked watching the news and he was a great conversationalist.  He was able to discuss politics and current events as easily as sports and the current music scene.  Since his visit out here, my husband and I have often remarked that adults would actually like teenagers if every teenager was like him. 

My young son didn't just love his Cousin Brian, he ADORED him.  In only two weeks, my son grew incredibly attached.  He wailed and sobbed on the way home the night that we said goodbye to Brian.  I asked him if he wanted to send his Cousin Brian a special video message before Brian flew home and he did. My son's final line in that message holds a particular poignancy now. 

I hate that Brian's brother and sisters now have to know the unrelenting ache of his loss.  I hate that these three kids have to feel the hurt of losing a sibling because that's a pain I wouldn't wish on anyone.  More than hating the hurt that I feel at Brian's passing, I hate that I'm going to have to break my son's heart by telling him that he'll never see his Cousin Brian again.  I hate that none of us will. . .

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