Sunday, March 16, 2014

One Baby Step

It seems like as you get older, you become more accepting of death. Maybe it's because you've seen many people you love die, and you have no choice but to accept your fate. It could be that your faith gives you hope, and you're anxious to be reunited with those you love. Possibly it's due the the satisfaction you feel from your own life and your many happy and fulfilling experiences. Whatever it is, death is easier to face when it is expected or just makes sense.

I recently read the book, "My Sister's Keeper." This was a very popular book and movie, but I had never read it before Carlos picked it up for me at a second hand store. The story follows the experience of two sisters: Kate, who has a rare form of pediatric cancer, and her sister Anna, her perfect donor match. There is a scene in the story when the mother and Kate are together in Kate's hospital room. Kate has had a turn for the worse and they're all preparing themselves for what might be goodbye. There is a moment of silence, and Kate says, "I had a good one." Sara, her mom, replies, "The absolute best." They are, of course, referring to Kate's life. They're referring to the 16 years that she's gotten to live and love, the context reminding us that these were also 16 years that she's suffered tremendously and had to fight everyday. 

This exchange and these words hit me in a very raw place. Kate has made peace with her illness, she's grateful for all she's had, and appreciates that they've done all they can do. 

The belief surrounding suicide is that it is a highly preventable cause of death. The general assumption is that if only people would reach out in their moments of great despair, they wouldn't act on the impulse to end their pain. As much as I've told myself that David's death was the result of an illness, it's still very difficult to live with regret and the many what-ifs. This exchange in this book, and this acceptance of illness and death, opened a new door for me. It brought me some new "what-ifs." 

For example, I wonder if David came to peace with his illness. Maybe he thought it was his time to go. He had battled the illness, and lived with the pain. Maybe he had enough, just as cancer patients choose to stop receiving treatment, David chose to stop fighting. Maybe he was happy and content with his life, he had such a great life, maybe he felt his mission was complete. 

A warning sign of suicide is a transformation in mood: a sense of peace, calm, or even a happiness. What if this transformation in mood is the same sort of acceptance that Kate had in this book. A peace with what's to come, and a happiness that the pain is going to end. When the fear of living overshadow's ones fear of death, maybe that's when they know. When life has lost its appeal, and death brings hope, maybe that's the sign. 

I don't know what these new questions mean for me regarding my beliefs about suicide. They don't make me miss David any less, but they do bring me a little comfort in thinking that maybe it was his time to go. I don't see a difference between a cancer patient stopping treatment and David choosing not to fight anymore, and maybe that's all this does for me. 

I would do anything to have healthy David back in my life. I would love to talk with him and laugh. The difference is that I know I will never understand his pain and I wouldn't wish one more day of his suffering, for my happiness. 

Maybe this is a step toward making peace. Maybe it is a small baby step toward finding some understanding. We will never understand why children get cancer, just as we will never understand why people must suffer through depression, anxiety, or other mental anguishes. I guess the only thing we can do, is find our own peace, truth, and source of hope. 

As always, I am sending my brother David all my love tonight.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Five Months

It has been five months today, five months since I've gotten to speak to my brother David. 
Five months since I've become this new person, forever changed.

In many ways, I've become a much better person these last few months. 
I have purposely become more genuine, empathetic, introspective, and self-expressive. 
I am more conscientious and driven, and much less bothered by small matters of life. 

David's death has pushed me and challenged me in ways I would have never imagined. 

At times, I feel an incredible peace, and other times a longing so raw that I feel my heart may jump out of my chest. It is in these moments that I turn to David, touch my heart, and ask him to be with me. I ask him to spend those moments with me, no matter if I'm in the privacy of my home, or sitting in my desk at work. 

The other day, I had a wave of intense longing and these words began singing in my head. I typed them out in my phone, and when I got home I recorded myself singing them so I will remember the tune. 

Take me away 
to the big blue sky
over the moon
I'll be reunited with you

Take me away my brother
Take me away my friend

Take me away 
to the forest trees
under their leaves
I'll be reunited with you

Take me away my brother
Take me away my friend

Take me away
and let us be
together again
right where we should be

Imagination is an incredible gift, and one to appreciate in times of trial. 
I've used imagery a lot these past few months. I imagine hugging David and holding his hand. 

Sometimes I close my eyes and re-immerse myself in a memory. 
One I love in particular is one of my most recent memories with David, 
it is from the weekend that we visited him in Minneapolis. 
Our last night there, we enjoyed dinner and a bonfire with friends. 
I remember sitting across from David, 
gazing at each other's illuminated faces: laughing and smiling. 
Both of us were really happy to be there, in that moment, with each other. 

Tonight I feel sad that it's been five months. 
I miss David and wish I could take away the pain of this world. 
I do find comfort in knowing that the pain he felt so intensely, has been replaced with great peace.  
I'm thankful for the belief that David is with me, every day. 

Come take me away, my brother 
Take me away, my friend

Take me away my brother, 
Someday, lets be together again. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Birthday Reflections

It’s a bittersweet birthday this year. I feel so much love from everyone here, yet there is emptiness remaining in David’s place of this day. I don’t remember a birthday without David somehow a part of it. Whether a phone call or a dinner, he always made my birthday special.

I think this is the first of many days that will be bittersweet. On days of greatest happiness, there is a paralleled sadness felt from someone missing someone you love. These days that we are surrounded by family & friends, we are reminded even more of our loved ones that are no longer here.

One of my most special birthdays was the year that I turned 21. David and I were both living in Iowa City, and our parents came down for the day. We went out to eat at Stella, a restaurant which was fairly new and none of us had been to before. David had never seen the restaurant and was very happy with my choice. We had a really lovely dinner. I remember sitting at the table, looking at my Mom, Dad, and David and feeling so incredibly loved. We had a great conversation and all really appreciated the eclectic group of our family that was able to reunite over a nice meal.

After dinner, David had to go downtown to catch the MegaBus as he was heading to Chicago for the weekend. Mom and Dad were going to be driving back home that night, and Carlos was coming to town for the weekend. We all rode together downtown and prepared to part ways. After waiting together for a few minutes, David learned that the Megabus was, in true fashion, running a couple of hours late.

There was a coffee shop across the street called “Fairgrounds” which I knew had an exceptional stash of board games. We decided to all wait with David there. After perusing the game selection, we chose to play Balderdash. I don’t think any of us had played it before and we had a lot of fun. I remember in particular, one obnoxiously long word that David drew. I had to come up with a definition, and somehow, I wrote the exact (correct) multi-faceted definition. It was probably the single greatest board game success I've ever had! David could not hold back his amazement, and I remember feeling really smart. (This was something that did not happen often in board games with David!) David was so excited (and proud) that he texted my brother Ben to quiz him and see if he knew the definition, he didn't!

This birthday memory of dinner and hanging out, makes me so happy. It is a small picture into what was a truly wonderful sibling relationship, as well as friendship, with my brother.

Today is bittersweet because David is not here in the same way that he was that night. He can’t tell a joke, enjoy a meal, or give me a call. He’s not able to even say the simple words, “Happy Birthday.” The sadness of today is compounded with the knowledge that today is only the first. It’s the first birthday and there will be many more. As the journey of my life continues, there will be other things, too: children, career changes, homes, etc. all things that I wish I could share with David.

The sweetness of today comes from all of the people that are here. It comes from all the love that is still around, in every corner of my life: my parents, siblings, nieces, friends, and husband. I know that David is wishing me a happy birthday today, and I know that he’s here with me. I will treasure the memory of that special birthday in Iowa City, and tonight I treasure David’s very special presence in my heart.

Here is to another year, bittersweet beginnings, and living with love.