A Nonfiction Essay Showcase Award submission
I had a dream about my brother. We were at a family party like always, for Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl. I was grabbing a snack when I looked up and saw him standing there smiling, waiting to say hi. He looked normal, healthy, happy. I gave him a big hug and said how happy I was to see him. It felt so real, that hug.
I try and think about him like that, how he used to be, and not how he was the last time we saw him.
Mom got a text that day from Suzie saying his health was failing.
She showed it to me when she got home from work, and I immediately started bawling. We decided to go see him that night, not knowing how much time he had left.
When we got there it was quiet. I was so nervous to go see him, not knowing what to expect, never having been close to cancer before.
We went upstairs, and when I first saw him I thought he was dead. His mouth was wide open, eyes closed, but he was breathing, obviously in a deep sleep or stupor from the drugs.
He was skin and bones. A bulge in his chest from his organs, like the starving kids you see on TV. The only life was in the movement of his chest.
Mom walked over to his side and said she was there. His eyes opened and looked around the room, mouth still agape and breathing faster.
I just stared. This was not the brother I knew. I couldn’t help think of how awful it must have been, to wake up in a room full of crying people. People declaring their love, reminding you that there is someone on the other side waiting to guide you through. How final. How decisive.
I looked around the room. Mom was being strong, holding his hand. Jeff was hiding his face, obviously upset. Tyler, crying, struggling to catch his breath. Alex silent, torn. And Chris in the corner, eyes red and wet.
Mom told him she loved him, and told him Grandma was waiting. His eyes met with everyone. He looked right at me, dark and familiar. I could see him in there still. His breathing became more urgent. He could see the anguish. A tear fell from his eye.
I took my turn, held his cold, limp hand and looked him in the eyes and said I loved him. That it was OK. Not to worry, just relax. Everyone was crying.
Jeff said he loved him.
Alex came and held his hand and said he loved him, then Tyler.
His eyes rolled up and closed again.
It was time to leave.
I’ll never forget that look, the feeling in that room. The feeling of poison and pain. Cancer.
He was not ready. I could see the fear in his eyes. The horrible remorse he felt for his sons.
I will never forget.
The next day he died. No one needs to know the details of that . . . it was not easy. Not short. There was nothing to be done but to keep reminding him that he wasn’t alone. I can’t believe how strong my mother has been. I wouldn’t be able to stand up after all this. After losing a child . . . even a 42-year-old child.
Now it’s just relief. That his pain is gone. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, he’s in a better place.
I remember him being very at ease. If anyone knew how to relax, it was Jake. I love the beach because of him. He was one of the first people I smoked weed with. One of my best memories was getting ridiculously high in his bathroom, when he leaned against a towel rod and it broke under his weight. Jake, Jeff, and I laughed hysterically forever after that. I’ll never forget his laugh.
For anyone reading this all the way through, thank you. I miss my big brother, more than I can say. I’m sorry it took me this long to really get it.
I would give anything to hear his laughter again.