He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother…

Wednesday was National Siblings Day, which I have difficulty believing I missed. Yes, it is an American holiday founded in 2015 and celebrates siblings much in the same way as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

A fact that isn’t known by most of my friends is that I had an older brother. Born in 1972, he was afflicted with complete kidney failure at birth, a result of a rare renal condition called Fanconi Syndrome. He also had a deformity of the legs, which required doctors to break and reset both his knees at the age of two. Besides spending his first two years of life on dialysis and facing multiple health issues, he lived well beyond his life expectancy.

Me at 4 years old on the left, my brother at 10 years old on the right

Through his first five years of life, he faced grave difficulties, which included a kidney transplant that ultimately saved his life. He spent a lot of time at St. Justine’s Children’s Hospital in Montreal, Quebec. During my youth, I came to know that hospital all too well.

By the time I was born in 1978 (yes, I’m old!), my brother was ecstatic at the thought of having a little brother. He took the role of being a big brother very seriously. From day one, he believed it was his job to take care of me and teach me the meaning of life.

My brother at 14 years old, believe it or not, and me at 8 years old!

Over the years that followed, my brother developed a number of health complications including but not limited to, Epilepsy, Type 2 Diabetes and Asthma. His growth was severely stunted and his health was constantly in jeopardy. Every Monday morning, he would take blood work at the hospital in our home town. Depending on the results that would ensue in the next hour, doctors would decide if my brother needed to be rushed by emergency transport to Montreal for treatment, or live another week at home. It was chaotic and stressful for the entire family. I remember a number of occasions where he would need to travel immediately to Montreal and money would need to be raised by the Catholic church or family to help.

My brother was on at least two dozen different medications and monitored by almost ten different doctors and specialists to ensure the balance and the function of everything he was on.

Me at 11 years old on the left and believe it or not, my brother at 17 years old on the right!

I’ll admit that I was at too young an age to understand all the different medical conditions that afflicted my brother. But I spent every waking moment that didn’t involve school or karate at his bedside.

Me at 12 years old and my brother at 18! This would be the last photograph we took together.

Although I had a number of health complications in my youth as a result of Type 1 Diabetes, it didn’t come close to comparing to the problems my brother had.

Despite all these problems, he had a love for life that I’ve never seen repeated by any living person. He was well known within our community; a firm advocate of helping people and speaking out for those who couldn’t speak out for themselves. Never since have I seen someone so small in stature have such a big heart and big character. Larger than life, he was an active member of his community and spent time with Lions Clubs International, where he served as their official mascot.

Always the business man, he started making Christmas crafts with recycled egg cartons, which he sold at very little profit. Some can still be seen adorning windows during the holiday season in Dalhousie, New Brunswick almost 18 years later. His name is still well-known by a number of people within the community, even today.

I’ll always remember when I reached my pre-teen years and started going to school dances. He brought me into his room and explained the concept of “girls” to me, and what I should do to find a girlfriend. He spritzed me with cologne and helped me apply deodorant, years before I would need it. He actually told me that the only price for his help was to bring a girlfriend home for him! It’s hilarious to me, looking back on it now. But at the time, he was my role model, guide and everything that it was to be teenager. Fond memories flood my mind as I type this…

Sadly, he passed away in April of 1991. He was 18 years old, and he ironically passed away of heart failure, as opposed to any of the other congestive medical conditions he suffered from. I was by his side when he passed away. He was no bigger than a juvenile at ten years of age but was an actual late teenager. I have carried the weight of his death with me ever since and it haunts me still…

His life has been an inspiration for me ever since. If not for his example, I would not have achieved black belt in karate. I likely would not have become a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and I likely would not have achieved EVERYTHING I have achieved in life. Despite his health problems and the constant fear of death, he had an extreme love of life, family and God, which he took with him to his final moments. He gave me all the drive I would need, for a lifetime. Although I have never believed in regrets, my only regret in life is that he would never get to meet my wife, his sister-in-law, or his nephew, my son.

His name was Stephane, and I will miss him for as long as I live…

His death and funeral were difficult for me. As a pre-teen, I couldn’t quite understand the injustice of allowing someone so full of life to pass on, when people who took life for granted were allowed to continue on. I would give the world’s riches to allow me to have five minutes to see him again.

After his death, my parents and I left the New Brunswick area for a while. We travelled and got out of the area to allow our heads to cool. I got to see wondrous things for a pre-teen, but the only thought I had was wondering if my brother could see me from where he was…

In later years, I was gifted to have someone step up and try to fill my brother’s shoes. No one ever could, but Guillaume would be the only one who could ever come close. He approached and became my adoptive brother.

Guillaume and I in 2000, one year before i would travel to Okinawa

He would go on to teach me to play guitar, enjoy life, and would follow me on so many adventures that filed some of the gaps that were left by my brother’s passing. I don’t think Guillaume himself even knows the amount of influence he has had on my life. Being the son of my karate instructor, he’s often been a shoulder to lean on in some difficulties in life.

Although I’m a day or two late, I think it’s important to acknowledge the role siblings play in our lives. That role is important in our lives and development; more so than we often understand. I can only hope that the whatever the next stage of human existence involves, that my brother is able to see what I’ve accomplished and is proud. The anniversary of his death was on April 4th. It’s always a somber day for me, but I take comfort in the fact that I carry many of his teachings and influences with me.

R.I.P. brother…

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Shawn

I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life.

2 thoughts on “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother…”

  1. Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenchingly beautiful story + memory of your brother. I can see he was a beautiful soul who brought a lot of light into this world. Maybe you already know that his name, Stephane, means “crown of glory” ~ indeed, he’s still shining, through you and every person he’s ever touched. 🙏

    Like

    1. Thank you for sharing that. truth be told, I’ve never looked up the meaning of his name. My mother doesn’t use computers, so she’ll be touched to hear about it as well.

      I continue to be impressed at how, almost thirty years later, he continues to influence people and his name is often brought up back home in New Brunswick. He would have turned 47 this year.

      Liked by 1 person

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