My little brother. One of my earliest memories is the day he came home from the hospital. He had our mom on bed-rest for a long time, so I believe we were all ready for his arrival. I remember being in the family room, and mom was holding him low so I could see him. He held my little finger with his tiny hand, and I immediately fell in love.
We called him Jon Matthew. He slept in his crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. My bedroom was a straight shot down the hall. At night, when I was supposed to be in bed, I would creep down the hallway to his crib. I’d gaze at him and give him little “love pats”. If I heard Mom or Dad coming, I’d dart off down the hall and fly into bed and under the covers. I did get caught at least once, though. Mom asked me what I was doing, and I said, “I’m taking care of my baby.” I had declared ownership. He wasn’t just my brother…but mine to be responsible for.
I remember wanting to be his protector no matter what. One time when we were young, we were riding bikes that our grandfather had repaired (a hobby of his). Other neighbor kids were out riding, too. I believe we were in one of their yards when J.M. rode through a scant flower bed. The boy, whose yard it was, yelled at my brother, and J.M. began to cry. I went to put my arm around him as comforter and protector and yelled back over my shoulder, “They’re ugly flowers anyway!” I wasn’t going to allow anyone to make my brother cry.
As the years went on, we grew, and he began losing his baby teeth. I remember while sitting at the kitchen table…looking at him and thinking, “He used to be a lot cuter.” Well, we all definitely had our goofy-looking stages, but he was still my beloved little brother. Of course, we had times where we didn’t always get along, but we also grew to become best of friends. Eventually, when I would tell him I loved him, he would reply with, “That’s good,” or “You’d better.” It always made me smile.
Flash-forward to his freshman year of college. He wrote me a letter about his girlfriend, Jennifer, telling me, “I could describe what she means to me, but words cannot describe everything. The words that can describe it would not even fit on 100 of these pages. I love her. I trust her totally, and she is the best friend that I have ever had.” My little brother had grown up. We all had. One of my favorite pictures of the two of us was taken on Jennifer and J.M.’s wedding day.
Eventually, when they moved to Colorado, my heart sunk. I wasn’t going to see him as much anymore, but I was also happy for them.
In 2003, I became a mother. Over the years, I saw and felt so many similarities between my son and little brother…in appearances and personality. To this day, I interchange their names often when talking about either of them. And, there have been times when my son, too, will often respond with something other than “I love you too” when I tell him I love him.
Life’s not fair. My brother became ill in 2011 and fought hard for five years. I remained in denial that there would be anything he couldn’t overcome. If any of us were to pass away first, I always expected it to be me. I spent plenty of time in and out of hospitals as a child, plus I’m a klutz, accident-prone, and a magnet for motor-vehicle accidents. In fact, before I married, my mother warned my future husband that I was medically expensive. Well, J.M. more than outdid me on that.
In August 2016, I traveled to Colorado with our parents to spend a week. I didn’t want to go back to his house to sleep. I spent every night in my brother’s hospital room, oftentimes sleeping in a chair next to his bed. We spent hours talking about absolutely everything…and he told me again how much he loved his wife and son. Our dad referred to my time with him as brother-sitting, but I just thought of it as catching up on brother-sister time that we just didn’t have enough of. On my brother’s worst night that week, he thanked me twice for staying with him. I wanted to be his protector, yet I couldn’t protect him from what he was battling. Yet, even during his most painful days, he remained optimistic and with humor. Those were my last conscious days with him.
During his final week, the end of that very same month, I did all the talking with him (for he was heavily sedated), and I continued to sleep in his hospital room during the nights. The few hand-squeezes I received that week will always be cherished.
I am happy to have been with him till the end. J.M. gave me a sister, and they gave me a nephew. I will always be there for both of them, just as J.M. and I were always there for one another.
Copyright © 2018 Alicia T-Rust. All rights reserved.