Ten Years. Hard to believe it's been that long.
It was Valentines Day, and in addition to being the last time I would experience this Hallmark holiday as a single man, I was going to be starting a special project at work. I was up early, making sure my very best was going to be on display, hoping to make an impression on the committee I was going to be serving on.
The phone rang unusually early that morning. As I glanced at the caller ID, I noticed it was my parents. As soon as I said hello, my mother frantically began telling me I had to get to their house as soon as I could. My brother had collapsed, and was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. As a combination of shock and sadness overtook me, I quickly finished getting ready, and my (at the time) fiance' got in the car and drove the 50 miles to the hospital, not entirely sure of what was to happen when we arrived. The only thing that was certain is the special project I had been selected for was the last thing on my mind.
We found out that he was in the Intensive Care Unit, and we made our way there. My parents, as well as my aunt and uncle, were already in his room by the time we had arrived. After saying our hellos, I began to find out what had happened that morning that changed everything forever.
My brother had woken up like it was any other morning. Confined to a wheelchair since he was 12 years old due to Muscular Dystrophy, he had required assistance with even a simple task like sitting up in the morning, which my father had done like he had so many mornings previously. After getting the sleep out of his eyes, they began the process of getting him ready for yet another day. The only difference was this would be the last morning he would ever see.
As I later found out, he had already been dressed and was ready to get into his wheelchair. While waiting, he began to call for my mother, yelling 'Mom! Mom!" When she got in his bedroom, he was gasping for breath. My mother ran for the phone to call 911, and at some point, she heard him say the last words he would ever speak.
"Mom, I can't breathe"
When we walked into his hospital room, I was saddened beyond description. His already weak body was attached to machines, helping keep him alive. His brain, deprived of oxygen, caused him to collapse into a coma, complete with involuntary muscle spasms due to the lack of oxygen. It looked like he was trying to wake himself up, but this was far from the case. Doctors were not yet sure what caused this to happen, and were desperately trying to find out the cause, but more importantly, determine if he would ever emerge from his comotose state.
For the next two weeks, a non stop vigil took place. In addition to immediate family leaving the hospital only to sleep, eat, or for a change of clothes, extended family arrived from all over the country, while friends flocked to offer their support during this time of crisis. In between, I tried to keep the atmosphere as light as possible. I would tell amusing stories about foolishness at work, hoping to garner even the slightest smile during a time when laughter was a great medicine. But we all knew the reality that was taking place down the hall, and the inevitable conclusion that was going to come as a result.
He died on a Friday, shortly after noon that day. March 1, 2002. He was 24 years old. My age of innocence was gone, and I was left to ponder the reasons why in an eleven month span, both of my brothers had been taken from this world far too early. It is a question I struggle with every day.
When I think back on the short time I had with my brother, it is often with a sense of sadness. While we did not always get along, I appreciate every second I had with him. Far too often I think about a life which could have been, and much less about the time we had. About a person who was a brother long before he was a friend, and neither of which I had enough time with. I wish I had more time.
Everything changed that day. While I cannot bring my brother back, I will always remember him as a brother, my best man, my friend.
Ten years. Really is hard to believe it's been that long, because it seems like yesterday.
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