There are so many dates on the calendar that hold pertinence in my life… But somehow, this one always seems to stick out the most. For anyone who’s been following my blog over the past couple of years will know what I’m talking about. Today is the anniversary of my older brother’s death. I still remember the event of his passing as though it was yesterday… Even though it was it was almost thirty years ago.
I remember the night as though it just happened… I was in bed and it was late night; at least, it seemed like late night considering I was in my pre-teens and I had school the following day. I remember waking up to the sound of my mother crying and my father trying to console her. I knew that my brother was still in the hospital, having been admitted a few days prior due to issues that came to light from his weekly bloodwork. I knew it couldn’t be good news, otherwise my mother wouldn’t be reacting the way she was.
She came into my room a few moments later and explained that tonight was the night that my brother was going to die and that we all had to go to the hospital to say goodbye. I started to cry but I remembered thinking that my brother had fought through everything and always came out alive. A part of me believed that he would get through this, as well. I got dressed in short order and followed my parents into the hospital in Dalhousie, New Brunswick. When we got off the elevator, I could hear my brother moaning despite being several hundred feet away. The sound still haunts me.
I only saw my brother for a brief moment. The sight of him connected to all the tubes and machinery was too much for my young mind to grasp and accept. The hospital staff provided me with a room on the other side of the hospital in the vain hope that I could get some sleep. I obviously didn’t sleep. At one point, a nurse brought me back to my brother’s room and I was given a minute to kiss his forehead and say goodbye. the entire family was there. I remember thinking that it robbed me of a privacy I felt I was entitled to in such a tender moment.
When I was brought back to my room, I remember tossing and turning until I finally fell into a fitful sleep. I was awoken by my father coming in to tell me that my brother had finally passed. I would learn years later that the nurse reported that I had ironically fallen asleep at the exact moment my brother’s time of death had been recorded. It was as though when my brother’s pain had finally ended, I could finally rest. I wouldn’t contemplate that fact until years later.
I’ve often heard it said, that when someone loses a limb they’ll often continue to feel pain in that limb even if it’s no longer there. It’s called “phantom pain” and it often persists because the brain can’t understand or comprehend the fact that the limb is gone. That’s what it’s felt like since my brother died. A phantom pain that never goes away. A missing part of me that may be gone but will forever be felt. My brother is my phantom pain. And it’s still sharp and acute.
My mother chooses not to observe or acknowledge this day. And the logical part of my brain understands that. No parent should ever have to bury a child. But that makes this day no less difficult for me. I think about the things I’ve never had the opportunity to share with my brother. Although that might make me feel selfish to some, I think of the accomplishments he would have been proud to see me complete. I think of my children, who never got to meet their uncle and will know of him only by name and through photos.
It’s a loss more significant than anything else I’ve ever felt in my life. Every day on this date, I observe the date as one that reminds me of the fleeting nature of life balanced against the true nature of heroism by one who loved freely and enjoyed his existence despite his constant knocking at the door by the grim reaper. He was truly an example to live by. The standard I hold myself up to. And the example that was given to a generation of Northern New Brunswick youth who had no concept of death but understood that it could happen. Until we meet again dear brother, I’ll carry on and look forward to the day when we meet each other again. ☯️