My brother died and it has left an empty place in my life that I’m struggling to accept will always be empty.
Every time I move out of the U.S. for any length of time, someone in my family passes away. It’s happened three times now and it’s to where I think I should just stop traveling, as if somehow there’s an invisible connection between the two events. I know there isn’t, but grieving nearly always suspends my logic for a few days as I go through a period of thinking I could have done something to stop them from dying.
When I got the call, I was already having a strange day. It was windy and cold and I’d spent the better part of the afternoon with my desk pushed as close to the radiator as possible. Every so often I would hear a creaking noise coming from somewhere in the room and I’d stop typing and wander around to try to locate the source. It was clear the sound was coming from the ceiling when a section of the ceiling began to warp and bulge. Soon two men were on ladders poking and prodding to see if there was a leaking roof or a burst pipe. One poke too many and the creaking grew louder and louder. The men dove out of the room and left me standing by my desk as all of the plaster peeled in chunks from the ceiling and fell in pieces all around me. When the noise stopped I was covered in white powder from head to toe and that’s when the phone rang.
My father sounded so sad. My brother was alive but he was on a helicopter en route to an emergency room. “We don’t know how bad it is yet,” my father said. “Your mother and I are meeting the helicopter in 40 minutes.”
The world fades away when someone you love is fighting to live.
I spent the night cleaning up plaster until the room was spotless, but it was the most insignificant task I’ve ever done. It was nothing more than something to do while I waited for another phone call.
When the call came, I couldn’t open my eyes. I didn’t even turn on the light, I sat in the dark with the phone pressed to my ear. My father’s voice was calm and he spoke slowly, so softly. There were long pauses when he said nothing at all. All of my siblings and some of my aunties and uncles were with my parents in the waiting room. The doctors were telling them that once they turned off the machines, he would pass quickly. Everyone went to get a few hours of sleep and agreed to meet in the morning to discuss the situation. After they left, I called the hospital and asked a nurse to put the phone to my brother’s ear. The doctors said he was brain dead, but I want to believe with every fiber of my being that he heard my voice that night.
In the morning the family gathered around his bed to say goodbye. I was on speakerphone and the phone was placed near him. The doctors pulled the tubing from and my mother spoke to him, her hand on his forehead or stroking his hair. Within ten minutes he took one deep breath and then he was gone. In the moment he passed, we all cried and no one spoke for a long time. My uncle stood and opened the window so my brother’s soul could get out.
There is nothing you can say to make death easier, all you can do is be present.
There is nothing that brings my parents any comfort and nothing ever will. My brother’s death is a heavy, heavy grief that we all share and we do it quietly, mostly. Sometimes we remember stories or special moments with him, but it makes it harder on my mother because she misses him so much. “I have to try not to think about it, or I can’t get out of bed,” she tells us.
The thing that hurts me the most is knowing that my brother left this earth when things in his life weren’t the way he wanted them to be. It wasn’t the happy ending he’d hoped for and it breaks my heart.
I hope in time it will get easier, but I have good days and I have bad days. And on the really bad days, I force myself to try not to think about it, just like my mother does.
I wasn’t able to do that today, but perhaps tomorrow. It’s hard to stop thinking about the people you love.