January 21, 2015 – Loss of a sibling

I was going to write about this yesterday but I ran out of steam.  Not good to be sitting listening to the President speak and trying to write. Just does not work does it???

I lost my oldest brother 2004. It was quite unexpected really.  John was 8 years older than I and when we were kids he was someone I looked up to. I remember living in Buffalo and his friends coming over to fix up cars or build a signal tower higher than the garage in the back yard. He was very talented musically and would listen to jazz and play various instruments. He was in school orchestras, choirs and musicals. He also ran and that was him. He loved running and did so throughout his life. He even wrote a column for a while in Maryland called ‘Running without Socks” that you can still find on line.

He was also very smart. He knew so much about so many things. He never lauded it over you he just loved to have conversations on various topics that he was currently passionate about. When the internet was invented and we all got on line he would love to throw out some controversial statement and then sit back and watch everyone else in the family respond. He did not like to argue, he was more about conversation or getting others into arguing politics, religion etc. He was a big fan of Dr. Mirkin who was on the radio in the DC area and has a website. My son still reads it since Uncle John got him started.

When I was young he was just my older brother. I was not involved in any of his activities but would be a watcher from the sidelines. He was very outgoing and had lots of good friends. But as we grew older we became very good friends. Over the years we spent hours on the phone talking. Late at night he would call if there was something bothering him that he wanted to run by someone, or if he was unhappy with life in general.  One time when his marriage was breaking up he called me totally distraught and was threatening weird things. I was very upset and called my mother. We decided I would go down there and confront him about what he was talking about. I got my younger brother to pick me up at the airport in his car and we would do this together.  We got John at his office. He was like “what are you doing here”? I said “you cannot go around threatening to do things and not expect a response.” We made him get in the car and we were then trying to figure out where to take him. He threatened to jump out of the car if we took him to a hospital. So we decided to take him to his house. In the end he promised to go see someone and that he would never again call in the middle of the night making threats.  But that was him. He was at the end of his rope and called me.

In 2003 he and his new young family were up in Canada at the lake. Everyone was having a fabulous time to end the summer. They went out to Snake Island and while there he slipped on the rocks and hit his bottom hard when he went down. He was very sore and continued to be especially in his neck. He was figuring a bad sprain or something. When they arrived home he was not doing any better so he went to the doctors and was put on pain meds and anti-anxiety pills to relax him and muscle relaxants. Lethal combination to be sure.  At some point his doctors did some blood tests and X-Rays and determined he had a big problem. He had myaloma which is a blood cancer.  The bones in his neck were like egg shells and he needed help right away.   I won’t go into his stay in the hospital in Baltimore where he was sent for treatment other than to say – his chart seemed not to have gone with him and the folks in Baltimore thought he was an alcoholic in severe withdrawal who also had cancer. If you ever worked in a hospital you will know treatment is different if you are delusional and they think it is alcohol withdrawal rather than withdrawal from all the prior drugs you were on.  I don’t think they cared where they aimed the radiation at in my unprofessional diagnosis.

Anyway, the poor fellow returned to Frederick in terrible shape, They had nuked and destroyed his salivary glands and he had to be on a liquid diet and it was just very unpleasant.  Eventually his doctor decided to put  him on a chemo drug that was pills you take at home and the cancer actually went into remission which we were all so happy about. But then something else happened…   Everyone in the house and visitors were getting what seemed like a stomach virus. He knew what it was – the ultra violet light on the water pump that killed bacteria was not working. So what we probably all had was some level of e-Coli.  And eventually he got it as well and because of his compromised immune system did not seem to be getting any better.

I was back at work in NY and I got a call that they were going to up his pain meds and he would die. I was asked for input on this but to be honest my head was spinning and I had no idea what the appropriate response was. If I had been clearer thinking I believe I would have said I will be there in 6 hours tell the doctor I want to speak with him. But not being clear thinking I just went along. It was such a shock.  I cried all the way down and am not sure really how I got there. The pain at the thought of losing him was just more than I could stand. But the die was cast.

I went to the hospital and some of the rest of the family was there. It was a tough day for everyone. My niece was age 13 and was a “star” of her school musical that weekend. The boys age 11 were just going through their paces. That afternoon the kids came in to say goodbye to their dad.  We all stayed in the family lounge area to give them privacy. Then we heard noise coming down the hallway. The kids were singing their favorite songs they use to sing with their dad. We walked to the hallway to listen. All the nurses were standing there crying as we were and some were sitting on the floor just bent over with sadness.. It was so touching and hit right where it hurt.  Once the kids left the siblings, and one of his older daughters came and the sibling that were there joined his wife in the room. We took turns getting some dinner but he was never alone. We ended up being quite noisy especially in the middle of the night but there was laughter, tears, singing, hugs, etc. A nurse came in and said not to change our behavior, that it was wonderful that we were there and just to keep the door closed.  Then at some point it was obvious that the end was near. We all took turns being alone with him and saying our goodbyes. It was a very tender time. At some moment his daughter was resting in a rocking chair or reclining chair and she bolted up and said “Dad just came and talked to me’ He had been comforting her and when we turned and looked at him he was gone. That was both a wonderful moment and a sad moment. His going to her was something she will have to comfort her for the rest of her life and it was the moment of real loss for all of us.  So many unsaid things, lost opportunities, memories not yet made, all gone.

It has been almost 10 years and yet I still want to go to the phone and tell him the latest genealogy find since this was something he got me into.  Or if I am having a bad day he is not there to call and work things out. He had great insight into life.  I just plain miss him every day.   Those couple of years were ones of many losses in our family. My mothers side was being decimated with cancer deaths, one after the other people I was close to were dying.  No two cancers were the same either.  By the end of the decade I had certainly had enough of death. We were all too young to be dying off this way.  But it continues….  We started out as 26 first cousins on the O’Connor side. 24 lived to be 19 or older.  We are now 16…  in 12 years we lost 6 to cancer, and only 2 to other causes.

I guess the final message I would have for people is to hug your family and friends, tell them you love them, and don’t stay angry.  Siblings or relatives, or parents and children who have not spoken to each other for almost 40 years should be ashamed of themselves because when they lose each other to death, they cannot take any of that back.  I am so grateful to my family who love each other and show it on a regular basis. We are all different, don’t agree on everything but the bottom line is we are family, we forgive and forget and let things go because in the big picture of my life those things don’t matter. So many people who have been angry and punishing for years don’t even know what they are angry about but they need to be right so they just keep it up.  I feel so sorry for them. Nothing is worth that.

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