My younger brother became gravely ill less than a year after the birth of his son (who had entered the world three months early). It was an emotional time for all…first pulling for the little one and then pulling for his daddy.
Without going into details of my brother’s illness, he fought for his health and for his life over the next five years. He had numerous transfusions, sat on a transplant list, and had complications with multiple organs. His body seemed to be crumbling a bit at a time. Each time I saw him, he was thinner, becoming skeletal. Eventually, his appearance reminded me of the haunting images of Auschwitz’s prisoners. Eyes sunken in, arms gangly. Remaining properly nourished was a challenge when he couldn’t keep much down. In August 2016, I traveled to Colorado to visit him in the hospital. I didn’t realize these few days would be the last days of conversations between us. During that week, I spent every night in his hospital room. We talked and talked and talked: about life, about memories, about hopes for the future, about marriage, children, and family.
Surgery was scheduled for that week. Not only would this procedure improve current complications, it would also bump him up on the transplant list. Before rolling away for surgery, I leaned over and kissed his forehead. He gave me his quirky smile that said, “You’re my weird sister,” and I chuckled. However, I became startled when my lips met his forehead. He had no fat on his bones, I knew, but I wasn’t expecting the feeling that I was kissing his skull. His skin was so dry and so thin and stretched tightly across his forehead.
The night after surgery, I situated myself in a chair next to his bed. I yearned to take away his pain. He was in agony. When he slept, I let my tears fall. Seeing my baby brother this way tore at my heart.
When loss and grief take hope away and depression takes a nosedive.
Before the end of the month, I received a text from my brother’s wife stating that I needed to return. He had taken a turn for the worse and his nurse seemed to think he had only a short time remaining. Immediately, I scheduled a flight.
I don’t fully understand what was medically happening anymore. I entered his room while the nursing staff was adjusting him on his bed and taking his vitals. His wrists were bound to the bed in order for him to not hurt himself when struggling to move. More likely than not, he didn’t fully comprehend what was happening. I made eye contact with him as he fought to move and told him I was there and so was our older brother. I could see in his eyes he understood me. That was the last moment I saw his eyes; sedation was increased. Seeing him hooked up to numerous wires and machines was heart-wrenching.
The night before he passed, he was able to squeeze my hand when the nurse requested him to do so. He was in there, in that body, but hope no longer remained. Hope had dissipated. That Thursday morning, we allowed his friends and former co-workers to visit to say their goodbyes.
That afternoon, as we gathered around my brother’s bed, a nurse removed all life-sustaining measures. Less than a minute later, we hear the Jeopardy theme song being hummed. Before my confusion turned into disgust, we realized my innocent nephew was humming, and we couldn’t help but let out a laugh. My brother and his son had spent many a day watching Jeopardy together; it was a bond they shared. By 8:20, my younger brother took his last breath. His color immediately drained; he was no longer with us. Hope had left before this day, and now he, too, was gone.
Where was hope hiding?
I couldn’t feel hope anymore. Should I not feel hope within his family? My family? My husband and son? I felt guilty that I couldn’t feel hope. I felt nothing except grief, loss, and heartache. My baby brother, my best friend, my shared soul…gone. I didn’t know how to go on without him. He had been too young to leave us. He was only thirty-seven, and his son only six.
Hope eludes me, depression sets in, yet life purpose is found.
After my brother’s passing, I no longer could see the point of life. He had helped me hang on through my depression even though he, too, fought depression and so much more. How can I live life when he could no longer live it, too? It wasn’t fair. Where should I turn for hope? Throughout my years of battling for mental health, I felt God had let me down more often than not. So for me, hope didn’t exist in Him.
How can one live without hope? For months, life seemed pointless. I cared little about anything anymore. Work and home-life were daily trials. I didn’t want any of it, yet I didn’t want my dive into deep depression to hurt my husband and son either. I struggled.
Not until this past May did I feel I was finally turning a corner, feeling a purpose in living. I decided to live the life my brother had wanted to live: try new things, love family, seek happiness, help others…to not be held down by that which tethered me (struggles with mental health).
My hope was found within my brother’s memory.
I now share my hope through writing, through reaching out to others who battle mental crises, through being kind and loving to others.
Where do you find hope?
By the way, the same week my brother passed away, one of his closest friends was in California, being filmed competing on Jeopardy. How apropos.
Copyright © 2017 Alicia T-Rust. All rights reserved.