For the past few months, it feels like I have been either dodging curveballs or getting hit with them. For whatever reason, it seems like there is no end in sight. I keep waiting another ball to drop or, rather, hit me. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t really have it all together – I just pretty good at pretending I do. When it comes to curveballs, the only warning I get is when they are about to hit me.
That is what my life has been for the last few months – curveball after curveball. One day, it seemed like things were going along smoothly and all of a sudden, my family and I got hit by one heck of a curveball – my 31 year old brother’s cancer diagnosis. It is the most unexpected thing that I could have anticipated. I think, however, that my reactions from day one to now have really benefited me when it came to pulling through. It really hasn’t been easy but years of dealing with smaller and sometimes big curveballs prepared me for this.
What I have learned is how we react makes all the difference and this when our true strengths make a difference. We are entitled to embrace our feelings, have pity parties, turn to others for support and even move on but it is not something that happens overnight and it is not something we don’t have a hard time with. I have tried really hard not to ask “why,” because, for one, God does not like us to ask, and two, I don’t really think it matters. Of course, what happened to my family was unexpected. I never anticipated that we would lose my brother; if anything, I worried about my mother. Right now, we are still upset, angry, confused and even feel betrayed.
I recorded my major aspects at my blog that happened from the time I found out about the diagnosis until the present time so that I could actually remember it. For the first two weeks after we lost my brother, it seemed like what had happened hadn’t really happened. My first entry about my brother’s diagnosis was November 12 and I had just found a few days prior that my brother had stomach cancer. However, no one knew what kind it was and something told me it was a death sentence. I am the most hopeful person in my family and I wanted to “abandon all hope” right away. That should have told me something because I am a person who doesn’t easy give up. I wanted to abandon all hope even though I knew better. It wasn’t until his diagnosis finally hit me that I started to look for answers.
Two days before Thanksgiving, my brother’s diagnosis changed to peritoneal mesothelioma and that is when everything changed. The day before Thanksgiving, he had a nearly nine hour surgery to remove the cancer. He said only a few words with an hour after the surgery. He said that he could not cough but he needed to and that he was in a lot of pain and those were the last words I heard him say. The following day he was on a ventilator. After the ventilator was removed, he was unable to speak and would write everything down so that we could communicate. He said he was hungry and I insisted that he be able to eat and drink – at least liquids – even though the doctors disagreed but eventually I won. But a couple days later, he back on the ventilator and we were told that he was not breathing on his own, and that a trache was necessary. The trache was put in and he started to progress. The plan was for him to go a rehab facility, get stronger, and then to either have a second surgery or get chemo. It was after that that everything went downhill, he had infections that were not responding to antibiotics, his kidneys starting failing, his blood pressure fell, and then, on December 20, the cancer won. It like a movie I play over in my head sometimes and the irony is how fast it all happened. You hear stories about people who get a year or two with their families but we never had an opportunity to rest from one curveball before the other hit. We were at the hospital every evening and my sisters and I barely saw our kids for the majority of the time. My mom spent every minute by his side praying for a miracle and watching the last 31 years of her life slip away. Our lives were turned upside down and in the end, we had nothing to show for it. The hardest part is that we are forever changed and, if anything, it feels like we woke up older.
In less than two months, my brother was gone. The death certificate says that the immediate cause of death is “multiple organ failure,” as a consequence of the cancer. It is so surreal even as we get close to a month since we lost him. We always say that once someone dies, they are forever gone. The truth is that they are not really gone. They leave evidence behind that they were here – pictures, items that they owned and our memories so they in a way – they still exist or at least existed. Everyday, as I deal with the aspects of my brother’s life – mostly financial affairs but some personal affairs – I find out things about him that I didn’t know and I also find out how loved he was and how many lives he touched. He is one of those people whose loss is really unfortunate but God called him home and while hard, we accept that.
Life is definitely a challenge for all of us as we grieve but we can hold on to our memories of him. This is one of those curveballs that we can’t easily get past. Generally, we get better at dealing with curveballs but this one was probably the hardest we have been hit and in a long time. It has been fifteen and a half years since we lost Dad and we had a lot of time to grieve and grieving is like curveball after curveball. You can’t easily get past the blow you have been given but with time, you learn to move on. What have learned about curveballs is that, it is not really about winning. It is about how you play the game regardless of the defeat. Sometimes, the game is easier and other times, it is downright hard. Lately, it seems like the game has been downright hard.