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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tribute

I'm sorry that it has been so long since my last post.  I've been going through a bit of a rough patch.  You see, a big anniversary has hit me this month and has triggered a lot of emotions that I'm just not able to really deal with. Today is the 20th anniversary of my big brother's death.

It's something that, according to Rachel, I've never really grieved and actually have never really fully grasped.  She feels that, even twenty years later, I'm still in shock.  Maybe she's right.  I don't know.  What I do know is that my emotions are all over the place, I can't sleep, and my rituals are off the charts.

My big brother was the best man I've ever known.  He is the one person who could tease me and make me feel loved at the same time.  He's one of the few who made me feel protected and safe, even when he was weak from chemotherapy and radiation and couldn't even make it to his own bed.  Even in the hardest times, he had a smile on his face.  Everyone loved him.

Scott was 14 1/2 years older than me, but never treated me like a little kid.  He always listened and respected what I said and how I felt, something most members of my family never did.  He was the oldest and only my half-brother. He and my father never got along.  As hard as my father was on everyone else, he was even worse on Scott.  Still, that never changed the kind and caring person Scott was.

Because of the issues with my father, Scott moved out when I was four.  I only saw him occasionally at holidays and family functions.  Still, I felt closer to him than either of my other siblings.  When I was nine, Scott was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (a form of lymphoma).  We first knew something was wrong when he showed my sister a lump on his neck while at my grandparents for a family gathering.  After the diagnosis, my brother moved in with my grandparents so that he wasn't on his own during treatment.  Shortly after that, my parents split and Scott moved in with my mom, my other brother, and myself.

Scott battled the cancer for more than three years total.  He went through radiation that caused a sever fungal infection and a hole in his throat.  He spent a week in the hospital.  His skin became so leathery that the nurses had a hard time getting needles through it to set up IVs.  His teeth became very sensitive.  He had trouble eating and lost a lot of weight.  Still, he was always the first one with a smile and a joke about everything he was going through.

Finally, after all of this, exploratory surgeries that split him from neck to navel, a tumor in his abdomen the size of a basketball, the removal of his spleen, and much more, Scott went into remission.  He was able to get back to work, something he loved, and able to spend time with friends.

It wasn't long until we all knew something was wrong.  Scott was having night sweats again.  He was tired and had trouble breathing whenever he laid down to sleep.  After going back to his oncologist for a check-up, they found that the cancer had returned and that Scott had a tumor the size of an orange around his aorta.  Whenever he laid down, it cut off blood flow.  Scott started chemotherapy.  He had to travel two hours each direction to get to a hospital that specialized in the chemo he needed.  My mom (who was working three jobs at the time and going to college) and my sister (who was married with a daughter) took turns taking him to appointments.  I cooked many of his meals (usually French toast or soup as they were easy to eat and keep down) and helped clean up after him when the chemo made him sick.  Many nights and weekends, it was just the two of us.

Chemo definitely took it's toll on Scott.  His hemoglobin dropped until he would pass out frequently, once taking a header into the bathtub.  He spent a week in a hospital in Indianapolis fighting a rare pneumonia.  Still, he never lost his sense of humor and the smile never wavered.

Finally, Scott went into remission for the second time.  He was so excited that he was done with chemo, not because of the sickness that came with it, but because his hair could finally grow back.  (He really loved his hair and spent more time, and hairspray, on it than any woman I've ever met.)

The last night I saw him was the first time he'd gone out since finishing chemo.  He was excited that he was starting to have hair again and was excited to be able to go out and celebrate the joint bachelor/bachelorette party for a pair of his friends.  He spent extra time getting ready, despite the fact that his hair was much shorter than normal.

My mom was gone that day to a festival with a friend.  my sister was at her house with her family.  My other brother was on his way to Rhode Island with his girlfriend.  It was just Scott and me.  I was sick.  It was just a cold, but I wasn't feeling up to par.  Scott knew this and hated to leave me home alone.  He wanted to stay until my mom got back.  I told him to go.  I was just going to take some cold medicine and sleep.  There was no reason for him to stay.  It took me a while to convince him, but finally he agreed to go.  My last words to my brother were "Have fun and be sure to wear your seatbelt."

In all the days that followed, all the planning, the wake, the funeral, and even with all the people who came to pay their respects, bring casseroles, and send flowers and cards, I felt alone, angry, guilty.  I was angry that my brother could have been so stupid as to have driven his truck so fast in the rain that he lost control and smashed into a telephone pole, snapping it off at the ground.  I felt angry that he could leave me alone.  I felt guilty and angry at myself for sending him out that night when he wanted to stay home.  Maybe if I'd have let him stay, maybe just those few hours would have made a difference.  I felt angry at God for taking away to one person who made me feel safe after everything else that had been lumped on my shoulders in the preceding thirteen years.  I felt guilty for showing any emotion that might make the rest of my family feel worse.  I felt angry for not being able to show emotion.

Twenty years later, I still feel these same emotions.  I've never really been able to address them or even allow myself to fully admit them.  Instead, I've stuffed them inside so that life could go on and I could be there for everyone else.  I stepped immediately back in to my role of caretaker and never looked back.  So, every year, in September, as the days start to grow shorter, the gloom of depression takes me over and I struggle to push away all of the emotions and memories that make every moment of everyday uncomfortable.

This year, instead of stuffing, Rachel suggested I find a way to actually let myself remember and really grieve.  As uncomfortable as it is, I know it is something that I really need to do if I'm going to be able to move forward with therapy and have any success.  So, today I remember my brother.  I remember his smile, his ridiculous sense of humor, his obsession with his hair, his love of classic cars and really bad movies.  I remember all the slightly rude nicknames he gave me (the way a older brother always does with his little sister).  I remember how frustrated they always made me.  I remember all the times he would bend over and tell me to kiss his butt.  I remember how he would always take my report cards to work to brag about his little sister.  I remember his bravery and his stupidity.  I remember the good and the bad and i miss him more than ever.


  1. I am so sorry for your loss. That really is horrible and traumatic.

  2. What a heartbreaking story. There isn't much to say, although we all wish we could. It is great you have so many good memories of him, and then tough all over again that you have the guilt on top of it. You certainly had no blame for his accident - in fact, it was no doubt the years of illness that compromised his judgement. Or maybe just one unlucky moment. We never get to know these things. I certainly wish I knew more about dealing with grief. Grieving these losses is something I need to learn how to do. And anniversaries really suck so back. But this post you wrote seems very clear, about your memories and your feelings. Maybe things will start looking a little brighter. Either way, I'm very sorry for your loss.
    Adventures in Anxiety Land


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