“They’re So Wide…”

DSCF3267My Mom and Dad were both blue collar workers – hard workers.  Daddy worked hard to give our family what he thought they needed – a nice home, vacations, all the newest technology, which back then was a microwave, VCR and cordless telephones. We gathered at six each evening for dinner together at the table.  He grilled steaks most Saturday evenings on the brick charcoal grill he’d built in the backyard while first Lawrence Welk and then Love Boat played on in the background.

But for much of this seemingly idyllic childhood we lived with an ever-present fear, one that haunted our every moment.  We continued on as if all was as it should be, but each of us spoke each word, thought each thought with the image of ‘it’ coming back smothering our certainties.

My brother was almost four years younger than I.  When he was seven months old, I was told he had what the doctors called a ‘boil’ in his stomach and life was touch and go as they did surgery to remove it.  When he was seven years old he slid down the basement stair rails to carry dirty clothes to the laundry and fell, hitting his head on the cement floor below.  Seven months later he started having seizures as he slept and after long waits through test after test, it was found that he had a brain tumor between the two sides of his brain. The doctors said the basement fall would have had nothing to do with the tumor, but we pointlessly never stopped wondering.  Surgery was done at Duke Hospital but they were unable to remove all of it due to its location.  For three months, Mama spent days in the hospital with him as treatments were done and either Mama would drive them home for the weekends or my Dad and I would drive up – abour a four hour drive.

At the end of those three months, we were told the tumor was not visible on any of the tests they performed.  Medical advancements were not then what they are now – this was over forty years ago – most of the tests themselves made him very sick.  But, he was able to come home to resume his life with regular visits to Duke to periodically confirm all was still well.

I was eleven when he hit the basement stairs.  The seven months between the fall and the tumor was the last we were all to see of our normal family with normal joys and normal problems.  I remember one Monday morning when I was in the fourth grade when Mama and Roy (my brother) were dropping me off at school as they headed back to Duke.  I was almost to the door, and Mama’s car was almost to the road when I realized I’d left my can of Koby’s potato sticks in the car.  I literally ran trying to catch her car only see her make the turn and disappear.  A kind teacher took sobbing me under her wing that day and become a second mom to me as I dealt with my real mom not being home.

Daddy tried to do his best but he became unreachable.  He would either lie on the catch until he’d go to sleep watching TV each evening, or he’d sit at his desk writing letters to Roy and Mama.  I did my best to do housework and laundry, we’d eat whatever was there.  Basically, as my Daddy drew tighter and tighter inside himself with worry, I worked harder and harder to ease his burden.

Then, Roy came home.  We all were happy to re-adjust, again, and he to try to catch up with the schoolwork he’d gotten so far behind on.  The coming years found him joining the band, finding his love of fishing and for the rock band ‘Kiss’.  But just as our haunt predicted, seven years later the tumor returned, this time inoperable.

He went back to Duke for what treatments were felt could alleviate the pressure of the tumor, and sent home with the knowledge that the treatments ‘may’ have worked to let him live a long life, or they hadn’t.  The picture above is him with his new puppy shortly after these treatments.  I see it in his eyes here – the way he’d look at us with love mixed in with what wasn’t fear, but a knowing.  He played the trombone and one day asked me to come downstairs – he had a surprise for me.  He knew my love of the song ‘Edelweiss’ from ‘The Sound of Music’ -so he had taught it to himself to play for me.  It didn’t sound quite the same on a trombone but I loved him for it.

In just a few short months he began having stability problems, his eyes would suddenly roll up into his head and his head would loll.  When the breathing problems started, his Duke doctors said there was no need to bring him back to Duke, they had done all they could do.  One night as he lay in the hospital bed here in our hometown, Mama sang “Jesus loves me, He who died, Heaven’s gates to open wide” and he stopped her and said something she couldn’t understand.  As she put her head close to his mouth, he said “They’re so wide.”  Mama choked back tears and kept on singing.  Two days later she had to tell him to quit fighting and let go.  He died on the eighth day of the seventh month at 7:07 in the morning.

I made reference to his time of death for one reason.  So many marveled and took comfort in the sequence of sevens in his life – as they saw this number as God’s completion number.  Coincidence or not, I’ve listed them in this little story as I’ve gone along. There are seven of them.

I’ve had this post on my mind for awhile and now that I’ve sat down to write it I’ve found that there are many posts out there right now involving ‘brothers’.  Maybe it’s a thought God’s given us all for some reason….But my writing on Roy has been to let go of some of it.  Yes, it’s been a great many years but just as all those years before he died carried the thought of whether the cancer would come back or not in our every action, the thought habits that those years created in me have been something I’ve tackled for a great part of my life.  I’ve always been the one to try to find a solution to every problem, to excel at whatever I do, to hide my feelings.  I think all of these character traits were formed in those years I was on the other side of Roy’s illness.  My parents were not there for many of my school functions throughout the years because of something or other that would come up with Roy.  The night I graduated high school we left immediately to take him back to Duke.  So much of my life, even though I never resented it, was put on the back burner to do what had to be done.  That carried over into my mistakes in marriage very soundly.  I bent over backwards and expected to be appreciated.  The lengths I went to, I realize now, were not only unhealthy but were part of my allowing myself to be the victim of an abusive marriage all in the name of ‘helping him – he doesn’t mean it’.  I shudder now.  Not only in my marriage, but in ever facet of my life I see traces of “why” I react in certain ways, where my own natural inclination to excel is driven from.

There is also the pain and the questioning of why.  I don’t question why I feel sad when families everywhere are having big get togethers.  Or when holidays roll around and my family is basically only my Mom and myself.  But I do so miss what could have been to the point that it is a literal pain.  But – the pain leaves me truly thankful for the blessings I have in my daughter and her family.  Truly thankful that Roy saw the gates and will be there to meet me at them some day. Truly thankful that God has turned the lessons I learned from those many years ago into the joy of enjoying each day with my daughter and granddaughter and so much more.

If you’re still reading, I thank you for hearing me out.  This is something I’ve never really talked to anyone about but something I also know had great bearing on my life.  I will never forget my brother – I miss him greatly now.  I get very melancholy when I think of what it might be like if he had lived, had his own family.  Life is so very different now from what it would have been.  My Daddy’s death was even a part of Roy’s story, but that’s all for another time as this post is going long.

Again, thank you.  And to each of my blogger friends – may God bless your every moment.

Tammi

65 thoughts on ““They’re So Wide…”

  1. Thank you so much for your kind words. And I especially like the fact that you say “I am not religious”. So often, and it’s bothering me more these days with all that’s going on, we who do openly express our faith are labeled with very unattractive and undesirable characteristics. This is in fact an issue I am dealing deeply with after finding a very disturbing article yesterday. My faith does not tell me that I am to distance myself from someone who do not hold the same beliefs as I – and I am so very glad you took the time to read my post and to comment. I really do appreciate it.

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  2. What a brave post and a strong woman you are…..because you had to be strong! I am not religious but I can see you are a deep thinker who takes solace in her faith. I could relate to the feelings of pain at family celebration times when large gatherings seem to be everywhere else. When we compare we are so often disappointed. I admire you for writing this post.

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  3. Thank you for sharing this moving tribute to your brother. I enjoy reading your posts…you write beautifully, from the heart. Thanks for visiting and following my blog. I’ll be back to read more!

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us-not only the memories but your wisdom about how this affected you. So much of this is sooo sad, and I am so very sorry for your loss. You have woven great beauty and wisdom to share with others from it.

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  5. Tammi, thank you for visiting my blog as I have now found you. x Your words and memories are so honest and poignant. Your reflections on how these early years shaped your later decisions in life are wise, so very wise. Hugs for you my lovely, and your brother is never far from your side. Your Mum, yourself and your daughter are a strong trio of women… ❤

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    • Thank you, Jane, for your beautiful comments. It has been many years, but I can still feel my brother’s spirit alive in my soul. You have a wonderful gift for weaving words into emotions and inspiration. May God bless your every endeavor!

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      • Tammi how lovely and kind of you to say so. There are so many uplifting and loving connections that come through blogging. Many blessings. Hugs for you. Xx

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  6. Thank you for sharing your story Tammi, it was compelling reading. I’m with the others that said, well done for not getting bitter about missing out on your carefree childhood. You were a precious daughter and sister who gave those around you the loving care and tenderness they so dearly needed. To that child I say, well done little one! 🙂

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  7. Thank you, Julie. Cancer is a devastating experience. I fought a battle with breast cancer alittle over a year ago now. I couldn’t have made it through without the support of my daughter. I know how very much your presence meant to your Mother as well. God bless your every moment.

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  8. When some people suffer, quite often they get the idea they are the only ones who know what suffering means. You have written your story so well that many can relate. Both you and your brother suffered on different levels. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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    • Thank you, Beth, for your very kind words. I actually had to go back just now and read it again myself from the perspective you mention. I didn’t realize I had done that, but thank you for bringing that to my attention – I’ll remember that as I write. It’s hard to believe that my brother’s been gone so long and writing this has brought up alot of long-forgotten memories – memories I cherish. Thanks again for your comments. God bless you!

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      • Have you seen the WordPress most recent long reads? There is an article there about a little boy with half a brain–not born that way but because of surgical removal to relieve his body from as many as 40 seizures per day. I was particularly moved as the author did a time shift with the various members of his family and their reaction to the child’s birth and his surgery at 11 months of age. At the same time he was able to get the “pain from all perspectives.” Isn’t it a blessing we do not have to endure these things alone? [[[hugs]]]

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  9. This is so open and honest…thank you for sharing it! I’ve had a couple of experiences like this, one involved myself and a bad car accident, and the other was an inoperable brain tumor in my brother-in-law. It was discovered when he was just 11 years old, and he passed away at age 31.

    We all have trials and sorrows which are mixed in with this life. One can go either way. They can go “down for the count,” or they can try to trust in the goodness of the Lord to see us through. Most of the time, it is a combination of these two.

    I believe that the bad things only help to enhance the good things in life. We need to try to take the hurt from the bad experiences and turn that into an attitude of hope for better things in the future. It can be hard for us to do, but we are better off if we can master this challenge.

    Faith in prayer can be very helpful for those who believe…

    The True Light

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    • I spent alot of years being a fence straddler – a combination of the two, as you put it. It had my own bout with breast cancer last year and I was very much aware of God’s comforting presence throughout the process. He finally got my attention enough for me to say, enough’s enough. Either I listened to God’s still voice and followed Him all the way, or I didn’t. I knew well enough to finally get off my laurels and get to work – all for Him. That’s another blog I’ve planned down the line somewhere, but my breast cancer turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me – just another way God blessed and used to get my attention.

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      • What a beautiful testament, Tammi, for both your faith and your God!

        We don’t always know nor understand His plans, His works, nor His intent. But we are told that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, (Rom. 8:28).

        Take care and best of all things to you.

        The True Light

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    • That’s how I feel as well, that we will see them again. And there have been so many things that have enforced that belief right here on earth. I know people may say we see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe. But too many little things, too many blessings, too much of God’s great, beautiful world and too many miraculous heartbeats with souls to believe otherwise. May God bless you, Alicia. Thank you for stopping to comment.

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  10. Thank you for writing about your brother in such a loving way that shows how much you have learned over the years since his death, without minimizing the good times you shared. My cousin also suffered from a brain tumor and died far too young. These are healing words you’ve written here. Keep your journey strong!

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    • Even though he was so young when he died, and it’s been so many years ago, I do still remember the wonderful spirit he had and remembering that has reminded me many times that things could be worse. And I get up and carry on just as he did. Thank you for your beautiful words. God bless you!

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  11. Tammi, I’ve stopped by several times read, nodded and even wept. Thanks for dropping by With Heart Wide Open and following . Keep writing with such Transparency and Truth. It needs to be said. Bless you Friend.

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  12. Tammi, it’s obvious this comes from deep in your heart and not only has shaped who you are but will always be with you. The difficult circumstances in our lives do have an impact on us, and if we stay open to the lessons, the impact will be positive. Sounds like you have learned many lessons along the journey. What a blessing you know you will hug your brother at this journey’s end, only to begin the eternal one with him.

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  13. Thank you Lorrie. Even though I haven’t been commenting on your posts, they are truly beautiful. I can’t imagine how you find the time to return comments to all the comments you receive. You are truly a blessing to many!

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  14. Thank you for sharing. The post about your brother was moving, but something else struck me. For years I have had an overwhelming sadness on holidays. I always just attribute it to my general loneliness, but talks of get-togethers and friends and family getting together for cookouts or big family meals… they sting a bit. Grieving over what could have been for all of us…

    I have to hope that this is just one more thing God will give back to me in some form eventually…

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    • Yes, Child, that is the hardest part of it for me. And as time goes on it seems to get worse rather than better. BUT – there are so many other blessings God bestows on me so I end up feeling guilty when those times roll around. I’m beginning to feel His nudging hand to start reaching out to others around me who may be feeling the same way, to create our own get togethers during these times when I struggle. It takes a great effort, one that I haven’t made yet – but I’m praying for my eyes to be opened to ways to get around this and and eyes to see when He’s leading me to the solution. I pray for the answer in your life as well.

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  15. Tammi, I’m so glad you were able to your story. It’s cathartic and gives us some perspective. While this will always be a part of your story, it will fade over time. I agree with the above post, it is good you didn’t allow this to make you bitter. God bless, you, honey and I hope your future is bright with possibilities.

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  16. I’m sorry for your loss Tammi, but I can tell you, that every single thing that happens to us on our journey on Earth, shapes us into the wonderful people we are. I think you are a superstar and should be so proud of yourself for not becoming bitter. Rather, you’ve turned your tragedy into a triumph, and that is rare. Stay happy my love, it’s a beautiful world x x

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  17. Thank you for sharing this…it is hard sometimes, remembering. Events from childhood definitely help to shape who we become. Guiding children in our lives seems to carry more meaning for me now that I am old enough to have watched Lawrence Welk and The Love Boat on one of the three tv channels. Maybe we get to a point where we just get weary of the suffering in our world…we don’t have to look far to see it. Believing that everyone can do something..our journey continues.

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    • Yes, Angel, you are so right. So many of my life experiences have given me compassion and empathy for others and I watch for any way during my days that I can genuinely share another’s load. I believe life experiences give us stronger shoulders to bear others pains if we don’t get mired up in wallowing in regrets and grief. I’ve come to realize that blogging can really be a positive influence in others lives and I’m happy to have become a part of this cyber-existence. May God bless your every moment. Enjoy your Labor Day!

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  18. Tammi my heart goes out to you. You had to grow up so fast and I am sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. It is good to write about the things in life that shape who we are. Treasure each day and thank you for sharing your life story with us.

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    • Thank you for your kind words. This was something I felt a ‘need’ to write about, although I tried to cut it down to an easily readable post. I could have really gone on and on, as I’m sure you know. As I wrote I remembered much more than I have in a long time. I do believe those years gave me a much greater appreciation for life and I know I am blessed beyond measure.

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  19. What a moving post! By your references to Lawrence Welk and The Love Boat we aren’t too far apart in age. I’m glad you were able to pour this out into this post. It was very compelling until the very end.
    I can appreciate your ponderings on the “what ifs” but I’ve learned to let mine go, lest they drive me insane. Somethings we will never understand, but that’s okay too.
    Thanks for stopping by today so I could “find you.” I look forward to reading much more. Peace to you!

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    • Thanks, Lilka. For the most part, I have let it all go – but it’s just something I’ve never had the outlet to discuss before. There are still people in my life who were there then also, my Mom and a dear friend, but they were really too close to it all to really dig down and talk to them about how it all affected me. It helped me realize how very much children are affected by the things in there life that they have no control over, all the horror that some of them are exposed to not considered. Those type of horrors break my heart above all others. I look forward to talking with you again! May God bless your each and every moment!

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      • I think when we were kids people didn’t tune into how children are affected by things.

        I have to be careful with my own kids now not to make that same mistake. We’ve had our own health “scares” and I often wonder how much my oldest son is affected by his siblings autism.

        So many questions, not nearly enough answers but we get through. I suppose God allows us to experience things that will allow us to bless others in similar circumstances.

        I don’t think I”ll ever think about the gates to Heaven the same way again after reading your post. 🙂

        Peace and Blessings to you Tammi!

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    • Thank you again, Lilka. You’re right – people really weren’t too concerned about the effects of children in our childhood years. And like you, that’s exactly why I strove so hard to not make the same mistakes, as much as possible anyway, with my own daughter. I am so proud of her today. After seeing what my parents went thru losing a child, it was with the birth of my daughter that I truly began to lean on the Lord. I was so scared to lose her that I totally had to turn her over to Him shortly after she was born and trust Him to take care of her in order for me to stop fearing and start loving. I’ll never forget that and the lesson I learned from that I have to keep reminding myself to do over and over again even today – to turn it over to Him. God bless you!

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