My 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.