UncleAndy’s birthday is Friday. A birthday he isn’t here to celebrate. I’ve spent the evening scrolling thru an old journal that I kept several years ago, rereading the entries where he was battling the brain tumors. And I realized that it’s been two years, seven months and three days since my baby brother was in my house. In many ways it seems like it was only yesterday.
I didn’t just lose my baby brother. I lost so much more, so MUCH MORE!!!! He was my best friend, he was my confidante, he was my bargain shopping buddy, he was my laughter, he was my holiday phone call, and he knew me better than anyone else in this entire world and I mean that literally.
The people in our lives know bits and pieces of us, they know the parts we allow them access to, but seldom do people have a person in their lives who knows them inside out . . . UncleAndy was my person.
I can’t help but wonder how different my life had been if he had never been diagnosed with brain cancer.
March 20, 2007
Last night while Rebekah and Mark Jr were picking up their UncleAndy, I was standing at the kitchen counter crying as I prepared dinner, wondering if this would be the last time they picked him up? would this be the last time we shared Taco Salads with him? does he even remember the many times we’ve gotten together for Taco Salads? wondering if he’d respond the way he always has? does he have the same memories?
My heart breaking further when he came in the door and just sat down in the chair instead of booting me over like he always does – helping me with dinner. Silence. No conversation, no exchanging, just silence, waiting for him to speak, but nothing. Asking him questions, receiving simple answers but nothing more. No conversation, just a childs game of Twenty Questions. Plastering a smile on my face while inside I’m so angry that I’m losing my baby brother, wanting to stomp my foot and scream in rage at the unfairness of it all.
We haven’t been together in over a week and in the midst of trying to talk to him, he reaches for his cell phone, realizes he has voicemail, and walks away. Fighting off the tears as I try to cut lettuce, instead finally pounding the knife over and over again into the lettuce, biting my lip to keep the screams inside.
Angry that he’s not standing beside me laughing and playing like we always do! Angry that he’s checking his stupid voicemail when I want his attention! Angry that HE DOESN’T EVEN KNOW! We’ve always been so in-tune to each other and I’m hurting and he doesn’t even realize it. Then feeling guilty because I’m angry, because I’m hurting, because I want my baby brother back the way he used to be. I want the man back who would hear my “hello” on the phone and instantly know something was wrong with me and wouldn’t stop hounding me until I finally offloaded what was wrong. I’m dying inside and the one person in my life who’s always understood me isn’t able to help me because he’s the reason I’m hurting. Angry that there’s not a damn thing I can do. NOTHING. I can’t make this better for him. I can’t make it go away, I can’t rewind the clock, I can’t protect him, I can’t do anything, I CAN’T DO ANYTHING ! ! !
Hearing a car pull up in the driveway, digging deep inside, searching for another piece of strength I didn’t know I had, shoving the anger down deep, pasting another smile on my face, pushing aside my hurt, time to play hostess.
Bustling about, putting dinner on the table, getting everyone seated, keeping an eye on him, watching Rebekah take care of him – making sure he’s eating, listening to her laugh and tease, but I’m her mom, I alone can hear the brittleness in her voice, catching her eye across the table and seeing her pain. Watching Mom as she struggles with her emotions, completely at a loss in how to help her, as hard as it is to watch my brother this way I cannot begin to imagine the agony she much be feeling watching her son. Thinking she’s strong but then wondering if she hates that phrase as much as I do, wondering if she’s feeling as angry as I am.
And then I see Mark Jr and UncleAndy sitting side-by-side interacting. And it’s as though nothing has changed and for a few moments there I watched my perfectly healthy brother interact with his nephew, him coaxing Mark Jr to hurry up so something can be passed, watching over him making sure he’s not getting too much or too little, just like he has every single time we’ve shared this meal together over the past ten years.
The meal goes on, everyone talking, he’s silent, seldom speaking, only when addressed directly and then again his responses are simple words or phrases, no verbal interaction, no conversating.
Looking over at him I realize that instead of scooping taco meat out of the bowl, he’s spooned onto his plate the last bit of juices from the bottom of an empty bowl, I mentioned to him that there was more meat in the other bowl but he was content with that. It was pitiful. He didn’t even know the difference. I wanted to just jump up from the table and scoop him up in my arms, to hold him on my lap, to stroke him, to kiss the top of his head, to comfort him, to make it all go away. And yet, he didn’t notice anything. He’s completely oblivious.
He smiled big when Eddie, Jackie and the kids came in the house. At that point I sort of shut off emotionally, I couldn’t handle anymore, I stopped looking his direction, I knew if anything happened there were plenty around to jump in. I was drained emotionally and couldn’t take another step forward.
As I handed Jackie a set of photographs I had printed earlier, UncleAndy stuck out his hand wanting them, he had already looked at them several times but sat beside Jackie sorting through them like he’d never seen them before. Over and over and over he went through those pictures. One after the other, never commenting, never slowing down, just sitting there with his head bowed over the handful of pictures, looking at them over and over again. Pulling out the one that was taken while he was in the hospital, asking for that one. Jackie explaining to him that there were more pictures in the pile from the hospital but he couldn’t find them, hadn’t seen them . . . yet he had been going through the pictures for over a fifteen minutes. Numbness had set in by this point, no longer excruiciating pain, just blessed numbness, watching Jackie with him, glad it was her and not me because I was worn out, there was nothing left inside me, my strength was tapped out and I don’t think I could have held it together, but she did. She went through it patiently with him. Conversation and laughter were taking place all around him and yet he just sat there silently sorting through pictures.
He stood up suddenly, wanting to go outside, I thought for a smoke. As cold as it was he went out without his jacket, we sent his jacket outside to him, he’s stopped smoking, just wanted out for a bit. Eddie went out with him, Andy watched the boys play, saying little.
When he came inside I noticed he looked tired, asked if he wanted to lay down and take a nap, he said, yes. I asked if he wanted to lay on the sofa or on Rebekah’s bed. He said he wanted to go home. Just a simple “I want to go home.”
Hugs and kisses all around, a great big smile and funny look – a glimpse of the old UncleAndy surfacing when Megan wanted to hug him good-bye. Just a few priceless seconds of the brother I once had. Then out the door Rebekah and her Uncle Andy went.
Silence is not something often heard in my home but pain and silence reigned at the sound of the door closing behind them. A room full of people hurting, sitting around the table talking, filling in the gaps of what took place when, endeavoring to understand, each trying to draw comfort from the other. It’s a worknight, tomorrow the kids all have DSTP testing, hugs and kisses all around, the door closes.
I sit, too drained to think, too hurt to cry, unable to do anything but sit.